DSC_0013Almost all four Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) that are unlikely to be met in Malawi are deeply related to gender issues (MDG1, MDG 2, MDG 3 and MDG 5). The Gender Index indicates that women’s economic and political power in the country is weak, with disparities relative to men being particularly noticeable in agricultural household enterprises; in paid employment, and in senior positions across all sectors of life.

Malawi’s progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment has been below expectation and attributed to inadequate gender structures in the country to drive gender equality at a policy level. Many of the initial structures to coordinate the national response following the Beijing Platform of Action were informally institutionalised, and have therefore fallen away. As a result, support for gender programming and projects has often been fragmented and disparate, with little institutional support available from the National Gender Mainstreaming Division within the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare which itself faces serious human and financial capacity constraints and lacks institutional support to fulfill its mandate.

Irrigation farming in Zomba District, Malawi.In an effort to address this pattern in MDG achievement before 2015, the UN system, Government and Civil Society need to take strategic position on addressing gender issues (Gender Inequality ratio of 0.758) at the community level, by focusing specifically on the positions of girls. There is an urgent need to integrate and focus multi-disciplinary and inter-institutional programmes that address issues like nutrition (43.3 percent of girls under five are malnourished), education (less than 30 percent of girls finish primary school) literacy, life and livelihood skills, maternal health (MMR stands at 675/100,000), employment and economic empowerment (70 percent of labour in agriculture is female), traditional position of women in decision-making at the community level, male role behaviour and general family values.

While it is clear that there is a flurry of activity, a national strategy that focuses all efforts and achieves synergies between different programmes and project based interventions is necessary. This national strategy must also ensure significant up-scaling of efforts that lead to resounding and sustained impact on the position of women and national MDGs achievement. To inform these programmes a UN inter-agency fact finding mission was organised in June 2011 to assist the UN Country Team (UNCT) to identify constraints and challenges that hinder the achievement of gender-related MDGs, whilst also focusing on potential opportunities including entry points to accelerated progress.