The Sixty Second Commission on the Status of Women (CSW 62) might have ended on March 23 2018, but for Malawi, the meeting was a timely push for the country to spearhead the women empowerment agenda.
Held from March 12 to 23 in New York, the CSW62 brought together delegates from various movements, largely women, under the theme Challenges and Opportunities in Achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Rural Women and Girls.
The CSW62 focused on women and girls’ works and experiences in five thematic areas which are critical for the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The thematic areas are access to and control of land and other productive resources, gender and climate change, violence against women and girls, decent work and equal pay and rural women and governance.
Malawi’s participation at the CSW62 was led by Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Jean Kalilani.
The minister told the commission that Malawi has reduced child marriages from 50 percent in 2015 to 42 out of 100 in 2017.
“In Malawi, over 50 percent of women aged between 20 to 24 years were married before the age of 18 between 2015 and 2016. About four percent of the population was married below the age of 15 while 24 percent was married before 18,” she said.
“However, the investments in ending the vice have reduced the prevalence rate from 50 percent in 2015 to 42 percent in 2017. More girls are now going to school in the country because of strong efforts to end child marriages.”
Kalilani touted the harmonisation of the marriage law, the amendment of the country’s Constitution to increase the marriage age to 18 years, the introduction of chief’s by-laws that seek to end child marriages and the 2017 National Strategy on ending Child Marriages as some of the reforms that have led to the achievement.
Women Caucus in Parliament chairperson Jessie Kabwila, who also attended the CSW 62, said the positive strides in addressing matters affecting women is also a result of unity that has gone beyond political differences.
“We have shown the world that we are able to work, transcending our political colours. We are able to show that the woman question is a development issue and should not be reduced to political football,” she said.
But, despite the gains registered, Malawi government reckons there is a long way to go in women empowerment and eradicating all forms of gender-based violence.
In February this year, Kalilani told the Rural Women Conference in Dowa that systemic inequalities and discriminatory practices against women still persist.
“These barriers prevent women from breaking the vicious cycle of poverty to fully enjoy their human rights and contribute meaningfully to the achievement of the SDGs,” she lamented.
Kalilani said notable areas of discrimination are in economic empowerment, education, gender-based violence, health and well-being, among others.
The minister’s concern is well etched in UN Women’s Global Data-base on violence against women, which puts the prevalence of physical or sexual intimate partner violence at 34 percent in the country.
To tame the tide, ActionAid Malawi, one of the civil society organisations that attended the CSW 62, reckons that it is now time to empower grass-roots based women-led organisations to challenge and shift patriarchal socially constructed norms, practices or systems that facilitate and rationalise violence against women and girls including, systematic denial of access and control of productive resources.
“There is also need for coordinated efforts to address structural barriers that limit women’s political participation and representation in leadership and decision-making positions,” says ActionAid Malawi executive director Grace Malera.
She further calls for strengthening of women’s agency and voice to advance women’s economic empowerment by influencing changes in the economic environment, and macroeconomic policies that perpetuate inequality and poverty.
Malera’s remarks resonate well with the commission’s resolution that emphasises the mutually reinforcing relationship on achieving gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, including those in rural areas.
The commission further acknowledges that gender equality and the empowerment of rural women and girls and women’s full and equal participation and leadership in the economy are essential for achieving sustainable development, promoting peaceful, just and inclusive societies, enhancing sustained, inclusive and sustainable economic growth and productivity. n