Eight years ago, Chikuli ward councillor Beatrice Mlatho found it challenging to advocate for fair participation of women in the development of her area.
As one of the three women councillors in 18-member Mulanje District Council, she said male dominance in development committees made it difficult to advance a gender-responsive agenda and women were usually left out in the development discourse.
“Development discussions were dominated by men … and the result was that the achieved development did not meet the needs of other people such as girls and women,” she says.
However, Mlatho said the situation is now changing following the gender-responsive budgeting project with support from the European Union, UN Women and other local NGOs. The government has been implementing the project since 2015.
“Currently there is equitable distribution of resources and this has created equal opportunities as witnessed by the number of girls that are completing their education in districts that had high rates of child marriages,” she said.
The project supports councils to implement budgets and interventions that address the needs of both men and women to reduce the development gender gap in the country.
The guidelines were recently validated and now form part of the budget by-laws for district councils.
The National Local Government Finance Committee and local councils are expediting the operationalisation of the guidelines so that development projects in local councils are aligned with the Malawi 2063 development agenda, which aims to build an inclusively wealthy and self-reliant nation.
The 2019 Human Development Report found that gender disparities remain among the most persistent forms of inequality and gender inequality is arguably one of the greatest barriers to human development. The gender-responsive budgeting guidelines will assist in promoting inclusive development, said Malawi Local Government Association executive director Hadrod Mkandawire, which is responsible for the implementation of the programme.
“We can’t be talking about development if some quarters of the society are left behind in the process. We need to have all members of the society coming together working for the social-economic development of the country,” Mkandawire said.
Mkandawire said district assemblies that had started implementing the guidelines had already started benefiting from the project through training offered to council members on how they can come up with gender-responsive budgets.
Faith Mvula, communications for development officer at UN Women in Malawi, said the project has capacitated local councils to demand accountability on how allocated financial resources are used and to track whether the resources are being put to the intended use.
“Where inadequate resources have been allocated at the planning level, knowledge of gender responsive budgeting has capacitated the beneficiaries at the local level to lobby for increased funding,” she said.
But one of the challenges in implementation has been an understanding of the concept of gender-responsive budgeting itself, Mvula said. Adding that this could somehow affect the outcomes of the project as other sections of society would feel that they are sidelining men in the development discourse.
Human rights and gender activist Emma Kaliya believes Malawi is making strides in the promotion of women’s participation in socioeconomic development because it has adopted the strategy.
She said one of the outcomes of gender-responsive budgeting has been an increase in women that have been elected to decision-making positions at both council and legislative levels.
The number of women elected in the national assembly rose from 16 percent in 2014 to 23 percent in 2019 while at local assemblies the number rose from 11 percent in 2014 to 13 percent in 2019.
Senior Chief Kachindamoto of Dedza District, who abolished over 850 child marriages in her territory, said the gender-responsive budgeting has not only promoted the participation of women but has also assisted to bridge the gap between men and women.
“They incorporate the needs of all community members,” she said. “This has resulted in a drop in child marriages in her area.