Malawian women fight to improve lives

Poverty levels in Malawi are high, with the majority of the population living on less than one dollar per day. Women in the country bear the burden of poverty more than men, since they have to look after families. This makes them rely on men, who sometimes abuse them, for financial support.

However, in recent years, the situation is slowly changing as the women venture into various activities to improve their lives.

For example, women of Wenya, group village head Mwenekalowe in the northern Malawi district of Chitipa were always looking up to men for financial support. But in 2003, they got fed up with this dependency lifestyle and decided to start a group business.

“We were 10 and we were tired of asking for every little thing from our husbands, and some of us were sometimes abused by our husbands, who called us beggars,” said Nolifa Kaiya.

The women formed Kutemwa Women’s Group and Kaiya was elected vice- secretary.

“We agreed to make K100 monthly contributions, from which members would borrow with interest. After sometime, the money grew,” said Kaiya.

The next thing was to find the type of business to run considering that women are involved in several businesses. The group settled for dairy farming.

“The reason was that dairy farming is not popular in the area so we were assured that we would not have much competition. We also looked at the nutritional value of milk to the community,” said Jean Simwaka, another group member.

With the help of agricultural officials in the area, the women had two more cows out of the four they initially had. They sold one and the money was shared among the group members.

The women of Mwenekalowe have since seen their lives change for the better due to team work and dedication.

“We mostly realise profits. I usually take the money to my husband so that, together, we can decide what do with it,” said Eliketi Kaluwa.

In Mlondoma Village, T/A Mwalweni, Rumphi, there is Tiyezge Coffee Group which plants coffee on a large-scale for sale.

Formed in 2005, Tiyezge initially had 25 members but the group has swelled to 49.  In 2006, it started planting coffee and in 2008, harvesting started. The group does not use fertiliser but manure.

“From coffee sales, I have built this house and bought furniture which you can see. The good thing with coffee is that you work very hard at the beginning, but once you start harvesting, then it is annual,” said Nita Mkandawire, chairperson of the group.

Another  woman, Tionge Kaluwa says she bought a vehicle from coffee and banana farming, while Doris Manda said in addition to the monetary gain, she has learnt to work in a group.

While some women have resorted to desperate measures to earn a living, such as prostitution which has also increased the spread of HIV and Aids, Manda says they do not have that problem since they have the money they need.

One group that supports women to become self-reliant is the Economic Empowerment of Women (EEW).

EEW is an initiative of DanChurchAid, Church and Society of Livingstonia CCAP Synod and government.

The EEW resulted into a Lilongwe Declaration in May 2009. DanChurchAid hosted a landmark conference on ‘EEW—a call to action towards gender equality’ as one of its commitment towards gender equality and women empowerment under the National MDG 3 call to action campaign.

EEW noticed five major gaps and challenges in the area of economic empowerment of women. These are socio-economic and cultural barriers to economic empowerment of women; women excluded from the financial sector; lack of efficient coordination across sectors towards economic empowerment of women; current efforts towards economic empowerment of women; lack of men’s involvement; and impediments in the structural barriers within the legal, financial and political systems.

The conference agreed to involve men as partners in economic empowerment of women; strengthen accountability to gender equality and women empowerment; improve the legal environment and policies related to women’s economic empowerment; increase resource allocation; capacity building towards women participation in economic and political sphere and strengthening political leadership, ownership and coordination of economic empowerment of women.

Jacob Nkhambule from Livingstonia Synod believes this is achievable.

“There are positive signs where women are moving away from relying on men by engaging in economic activities. EEW strives to give support for the cause,” said Nkhambule.

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