A recent World Bank publication on Malawi vividly exposes growing gender disparities between men and women.
The 14th edition of the Malawi Economic Monitor (MEM), which is titled “Addressing macro and gender imbalances,” and was launched recently reveals that women in Malawi continue to be disadvantaged across several areas of economic participation.
Picture this: of all married women in Malawi, only 30 percent are paid in cash, compared to 61 percent of men paid in cash.
In the agriculture productivity sector, plots managed by men produce an average of 25 percent higher yields than plots managed by women.
Even the recent Malawi Business Pulse Survey by Malawi Confederation of Chambers of Commerce and Industry (MCCCI) found out that 84 percent of businesses experienced a decline in 2020 and this was more pronounced in female-owned firms.
As if that is not enough, the Malawi Covid-19 High Frequency Phone surveys revealed that 50 percent of female-headed households had reported reductions in their total income, compared to 40 percent headed by men.
No wonder, the 2021 World Economic Forum gender gap report exposes that the country ranks 111 out of 151 countries in the Economic Participation and Opportunity index, lagging many other countries in Sub- Saharan Africa.
Currently, Malawi remains one of the world’s 15 national economies most dependent on agriculture and in 2017 alone, agriculture contributed 26 percent of the country’s GDP.
Despite accounting for most of the socio-economic activities in Malawi, it is also estimated that that only 4 percent of the agricultural land is registered to women.
It is against such a miserable backdrop that ActionAid Malawi (AAM) has rolled up its sleeves and has gone full-throttle on the ground to reverse such uninviting trajectory.
AAM is implementing a four-year Partnership for Social Accountability (PAS) project which is helping the country improve in social accountability areas, especially gender responsive public service delivery in health and agriculture sectors.
The project, which is being jointly implemented with other implementing partners, started in June 2019 and will wind up in July 2023.
The first phase of the project started in 2016 and wound up in 2019.
The project is funded by Swiss Agency for Development and Co-operation (SDC) through PSA Alliance in Mozambique, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Tanzania and Malawi.
Specifically in Malawi, two districts, namely, Mchinji and Nsanje are benefitting from the project.
In Mchinji for example, women farmers are now able to demand their rights and it is paying off dividends, according to Sarah Kanthiti from Pitala Village, Mkanda area in the district.
Kanthiti oversees a total of 18,301 women farmers from the district as she is the district’s chairperson for Coalition of Women Farmers in Malawi (Cowfa), a key stakeholder of AAM in the project.
Apart from Cowfa, other key stakeholders include Malawi Health Equity Network (Mhen), Tiphedzane Community Support Organization (Ticoso) in Nsanje and National Association of Smallholder Farmers in Malawi (Nasfam).
“Before the project, we were so squeezed and we could not have the voice to demand accountability and gender-responsiveness in public resource management. We had no voice in the national budget as only the district council was involved by now we are engaged as women farmers with the help of ActionAid.This is also helping us track and monitory every penny allocated at the council,” says Kanthiti.
This year, she says with the aid of the project, Cowfa has been aggressive in exposing Affordable Input Program (AIP) hitches, saying the grouping has proposed to government a number of proposals as a way of improving the program, going forward.
In the 2021/22 National Budget, government has allocated K142 billion solely for AIP, and such an allocation represents half of the entire agriculture budget of K284 billion. But many agriculture experts have questioned such an allocation, arguing that subsidy program is depriving resources other high impact areas such as extension, research and development, and livestock development, among others.
Kanthiti, for instance, emphasizes that under the project, Cowfa is vigorously advocating for increased number of government extension workers, stating that it is estimated that each Extension Planning Area (EPA) in the district has an average of only 12 extension workers against the recommended 18 workers.
But according to information gathered from Mchinji Agriculture Development Office, by December 2021, the district had seven EPAs, 90 sections and 54 agriculture extension development officers (AEDOs).
The sections were reportedly established in early 1990s, based on a ratio of one AEDO to 500 people.
However, currently, one AEDO covers two or three sections, serving about 5,000 people in each section, a situation which is denying other farmers access to the AEDOs.
Senior Assistant Land Resource Conservation Officer Rhoda Njikho agrees with Kanthiti that the district is in dire need of more AEDOs to ensure that women farmers are resilient to climate change effects, among others.
Towards the end of last year, Cowfa petitioned Mchinji District Council, demanding that Capital Hill should recruit more extension workers and involve them in climate change adaptation programs.
Presenting the petition then, Cowfa secretary in Mchinji Prospelina Nyambose said inadequacy of AEDOs in the district was depriving women smallholder farmers of climate change adaptation farming techniques, leading to loss of crops and livelihoods.
AAM Social Accountability Project Manager Wales Chigwenembe is all praises, stressing that the project is reaping the intended fruits.
According to Chigwenembe, through the project, AAM has strengthened the roles of five target groups namely parliamentary committees (District Council), relevant Ministries, Departments and Agencies (MDAs), (District departments), issue-based civil society organisations (CSOs), smallholder farmer organisations and the media which include community radios.
He recalls, for example, that prior to the project, a lot of services were just imposed on women farmers in Mchinji such as manure making at the expense of other equally important services such as seed storage at community level.
According to Chigwenembe, the objectives of PSA model also aligns to the mandate of parliament that ultimately purports at strengthening democracy and good governance in Malawi through its key functions of legislation.
Specifically in agriculture, Chigwenembe said the main focus is on climate resilient and gender-responsive agricultural public services (including input and extension) which benefit smallholder farmers through promoting agroecology and community-based seed systems.
Nasfam head of policy and communication Beatrice Makwenda observes that the project is also helping their organization to monitor allocation of resources towards neglected agriculture sectors such as extension services department.