Janet Mwangomba is GOAL Malawi’s Head of Programmes. She has been working with GOAL for almost five years based out of our office in Blantyre. Janet is also the GOAL Malawi focal person for gender, inclusion and safeguarding, and is part of the organising committee for the International Women’s Day events in Malawi.
With only three days to go until International Women’s Day, planning in Malawi is in full swing. The vision is a fun, celebratory event that will peacefully promote equality for all. Marches are planned in the country’s three main cities – Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu – and these are due to be accompanied by key note speeches, performances, a DJ, and an expo highlighting organisations and businesses that work for or are run by women.
GOAL Malawi’s head office is based in Blantyre, so that’s where we are most involved. Permission for the march only came through yesterday from the city council, so now the organising committee (which consists of volunteers from a number of different agencies) is hectically trying to finalise the police escort, tie down the speakers, design posters, organize press coverage. Oh, and work out how to pay for the whole thing! But in Malawi, we’re good at getting things done, even if at the last minute, and I’m sure this event will be no exception.
This year, the theme for the International Women’s Day campaign theme is #EachforEqual – ‘an equal world is an enabled world’. The idea being that we are all responsible for our own thoughts and actions, and that as individuals we can actively choose to challenge stereotypes, fight bias, broaden perceptions and create a gender equal world.
It’s an important message anywhere in the world, but particularly so here in Malawi. Although Malawi’s Constitution guarantees equal rights to men and women, significant gender disparities still exist in many aspects of life. Even women’s experiences of poverty differ from those of men; Female-headed households are disproportionately represented in the lowest income brackets, and they typically have more dependents, lower income-earning capacity and fewer assets than male-headed households. Women are more commonly involved in agricultural wage labour, which is low paid and casual, and are underrepresented in the formal employment sector, in part because they are hampered by a disproportionately large domestic work burden. Gender inequality is also in evidence in other areas; HIV/AIDS prevalence rates amongst women are statistically higher than they are amongst men, for example. These sorts of disparities produce gendered inequalities in power, participation, and control over resources and decision-making, as a result of which Malawian women remain disadvantaged in the socio-economic, legal and political arenas of society.
But it’s not all doom and gloom – Malawi also has a plethora of impressive women to celebrate. Two of our three national Advisory Committee Members, for example. One, Mary Nkosi, a banker by profession, is a former Deputy Governor of Malawi’s Central Bank. The second, Esmie Tembenu, was a Juvenile Court Magistrate until her retirement, focused on family law. Esmie is also a vocal advocate for children’s and women’s rights, and as she lives right here in Blantyre, we are hoping that she will be one of our speakers at Sunday’s event.
Ultimately, the point of International Women’s Day is not just to raise awareness about gender inequality, but also to take a step back and celebrate the social, economic and cultural achievements of women all over the world. That’s what we are hoping that the planned events in Malawi will do this Sunday, and we invite you to join us, in body or spirit. Let’s all be #EachforEqual!