Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

When a Woman Becomes President: Implications for Gender Policy and Planning in Malawi

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

When a Woman Becomes President: Implications for Gender Policy and Planning in Malawi

Article excerpt

Abstract

Recently gender discourse in Malawi changed dramatically when Joyce Banda ascended to the office of president following the sudden death of the incumbent, Bingu Wa Mutharika. A relentless women's rights advocate, Joyce Banda became the first woman president in Southern Africa and the continent's second woman leader, after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. President Banda has told the nation that gender equality and women empowerment shall remain the central policy priority of her government. She affirms her government's commitment to increasing representation of women in decision making positions and is promising to scale up women's economic empowerment activities.

Against this backdrop this article examines the existing National Gender Machinery in Malawi within the context of having a gender activist as president. Will her passion for gender equality make a difference for gender policy and planning in Malawi? The article reports on a study that critically examines the existing National Gender Machinery and proposes mechanisms to improve its harmonization, coordination, and impact. The study finds that the reluctance by government decision makers to invest adequate resources or create relevant frameworks, strategies, mechanisms and accountability systems for implementing gender-related policies and programs is impeding the achievement of gender equality in this male dominated society. Finally the article provides an analysis of how a woman president might accelerate the process of gender mainstreaming and women empowerment in Malawi.

Key Words: Gender and Development, Women in Politics, Qualitative Research

Introduction

Malawi has over the years gained a reputation as a country that is resistant to change when it comes to gender equality and women empowerment. Many women and men still embrace cultural values and norms that are oppressive to women and other marginalized groups including sexual minorities, people with disabilities, people living with HIV/AIDs, and orphans. A small landlocked country in Southern Africa, Malawi is one of the poorest countries in the world with 60% of its 13 million citizens living below the poverty line. Women represent 70% of the rural poor engaged in small holder farming and household food production with limited farming inputs and resources. They have less control over land, reproductive rights, and household decision making. Historically, leadership positions in politics, government, and the private sector are dominated by men, and women who aspire to such positions are undermined and ostracized.

But on April 7, gender discourse in this nation changed dramatically when Joyce Banda ascended to the office of President of the Republic of Malawi following the sudden death of the incumbent, Bingu Wa Mutharika. A relentless women's rights advocate, Joyce Banda became the first woman president in Southern Africa and the continent's second woman leader in modern times, after Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. A prominent personality in business, civil society, and politics, and because of her fearless fight for gender equality in a male-dominated society, Joyce Banda remains the embodiment of a strong woman and role model to many women in Malawi and Africa (Chester, 2012).

Having a woman's rights advocate as president has implications for the national gender agenda in Malawi. For example, in her State of the Nation Address delivered at a recent opening of Parliament, President Banda affirmed her government's commitment to increasing representation of women in decision making positions in all sectors of society. Further, her government is committed to uplifting the economic welfare of women by engaging them in income generating activities. Banda is promising to scale up women's economic empowerment activities by transitioning women's business groups into cooperatives that are commercially viable, and link the groups to industries, viable markets, and financial services (Nyasa times, 2012). …

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.