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Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women considers the report of Malawi

6 November 2015

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the seventh periodic report of Malawi on its implementation of the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

Presenting the report, Patricia Kaliati, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare of Malawi, stated that Malawi recognized that the achievement of a meaningful and equitable social and economic development of the country hinged on the effective mainstreaming of gender and progressive women empowerment. In addition to the Gender Equality Act of 2013, Malawi had enacted two significant pieces of gender related legislation: the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act, both in 2015. In order to address high rates of school drop-outs and the low retention of girls at both primary and secondary levels, the Government was implementing the National Girls Education Strategy to accelerate interventions aimed at strengthening girls’ education.

In the interactive dialogue that followed, Committee Experts asked questions about the prevalence of early marriage and legislation in that regard, and polygamy and other harmful practices, such as female genital mutilation and violence against persons with albinism. They wanted to know what was being done to combat trafficking in human beings and how the State party addressed the issue of prostitution. Questions were also asked about access to justice and free legal aid, the role and capacities of the National Human Rights Commission, domestic violence, marital rape, worrisome rates of sexual violence against girls, passing of citizenship from women to their spouses and statelessness.

Ms. Kaliati, in concluding remarks, thanked the Committee for the opportunity given to the Government of Malawi to explain what it was doing. Concerns raised would be addressed in subsequent reports. The Government remained open to provide further information to the Committee, as needed.

The delegation of Malawi included representatives of the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Ministry of Justice and Constitutional Affairs, Human Rights Commission, Law Commission, Malawi Police Service and the Parliament of Malawi.

The Committee will next meet in public on Monday, 9 November at 4 p.m. for a discussion with non-governmental organizations and national human rights institutions from Madagascar, Timor-Leste and Slovakia, whose reports will be considered next week.

Report

The seventh periodic report of Malawi can be read here: CEDAW/C/MWI/7.

Presentation of the Report

PATRICIA KALIATI, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare of Malawi, stated that the Government of Malawi had placed women’s rights, gender equality and the empowerment of women at the centre of its development agenda. Malawi recognized that the achievement of a meaningful and equitable social and economic development of the country hinged on the effective mainstreaming of gender and progressive women empowerment. In addition to the Gender Equality Act of 2013, Malawi had enacted two significant gender related pieces of legislation: the Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act and the Trafficking in Persons Act, both of 2015. The Government was currently developing regulations and guidelines for the effective enforcement and implementation of the gender related laws.

The Government had also completed the technical review of the Prevention of Domestic Violence Act, which would be considered by the Cabinet soon. The dissemination process of the gender-related laws was ongoing. Malawi had also developed user-friendly versions of the gender-related laws for use by duty bearers and the public; they had been translated into two local languages – Chewa and Tumbuka. The Government had embarked on capacity building of all the stakeholders using the recently revised Gender Equality Training Manual. The Cabinet had approved not only the National Gender Policy, but also the National Social Welfare Policy in fall 2015. The aim of the National Gender Policy was to guide all the gender mainstreaming, budgeting, auditing and women empowerment efforts in the development processes. The National Social Welfare Policy would strengthen the protection and rehabilitation of vulnerable and marginalized groups. The Government had already oriented 13 out of 28 district councils on the newly enacted Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act.

The Government had launched a study report on Violence against Children and Young Women in Malawi with a corresponding response plan, in July 2015. Those documents had been disseminated, with the view of integrating gender equality, women rights and empowerment in all district council plans. The recommendation by the Committee to have disaggregated data on gender-based violence had been adopted. The information management system would be vital in the planning and designing of future gender-related programmes. A lawyer had been hired by the Government to provide legal counsel, and handle and coordinate gender-based violence cases, all with the view of improving access to justice by all women and girls.

In light of the increased poverty that women in both urban and rural areas faced, the Government had facilitated the development of the Women’s Economic Empowerment Implementation Plan. Its implementation would further address the existing gender stereotypes and ensure that vulnerable groups benefitted from socio-economic empowerment initiatives. To address the high rates of school drop-outs and the low retention of girls at both primary and secondary levels, the Government was implementing the National Girls Education Strategy, to accelerate interventions aimed at strengthening girls’ education. Over 650,000 girls had been readmitted back to school using the provision of bursaries at all levels of education.

Women’s representation in Parliament had gone down from 43 in 2009 to 32 in 2014, which was why the Government was now working with the Electoral Commission on introducing political quotas proposed under the Law Commission’s Gender Equality Statute Report. The electoral law review process was also underway. The Government was working with all relevant partners to increase the budgetary allocation and identify and place gender focal points in all Ministries, Departments and Agencies in the public sector. The President of Malawi was one of the eight global He For She Champions.

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked whether the report submitted to the Committee had also been submitted to Parliament.

The Expert praised Malawi for adopting several very important acts. It was disconcerting that the National Gender Equality Act was not fully implemented – what was the reason for that? What was being done to disseminate that important piece of legislation?

What was the current status of the Law on Trafficking, the Expert inquired. Was it already being implemented? A question was also asked about a number of other outdated laws.

The delegation was asked about the strengthening of the National Human Rights Commission and making it more independent. Did it have adequate human and financial resources?

Another Expert noted that women could still not invoke the Convention in the courts.

What limited women’s access to formal justice, the Expert asked. How would both informal and formal justice sectors be regulated and aligned? Was there any data, disaggregated by sex, collected on the outcomes of legal processes involving women?

A question was asked about the allocation of a budget in the formal justice sector.

Would the State party consider the creation of mobile courts in order to increase access to justice for rural women?

An Expert asked about the contradiction between the new legislation on marriage and divorce and the Constitution.

What was being done to ensure that perpetrators of sex and gender-based violence were brought to justice? Was DNA testing in place?

The delegation was asked to inform about the review of the Malawi Criminal Code with the view of eradicating discrimination based on sexual preference and gender identity.

Replies by the Delegation

The Government worked closely with Parliament, particularly through the relevant committees. The Government and Parliament were working together on the implementation of the Gender Equality Act. Support was also provided by UN Women.

The marriage age had been established to ensure that the gap between boys and girls was closed and that girls could stay in schools.

The bill on HIV/AIDS would be taken to Parliament, the delegation stated.

The Human Rights Commission was provided a budget by the Government. In every piece of legislation, a review was done through the consultative process.

Efforts were being made to ensure access to justice for rural women. The lawyer hired by the Government was engaged on that issue, and UN Women provided support in that regard. In each and every district and in traditional authorities there were courts accessible to women.

United Nations agencies financially supported the provision of services to Malawian women, the delegation informed.

The adopted legislation would not resolve all the issues from day one, but would create the right framework for a long-term improvement and combatting certain phenomena. Women had to be informed about their rights and play a full-fledged role in society.

When the budget was submitted to the Parliament, the Human Rights Commission had the right to ask for an increase if they found it necessary. It was the Commission which had proposed only one woman to be a member of the Commission; the Government had not been involved in the process.

The Law Commission was looking into the issue of the Law on Marriage and Divorce and its perceived contradiction with the Constitution, which allowed for marriage to persons under 18. A lot of efforts were being put in place to ensure that child marriages were annihilated. If, in exceptional cases, youngsters between 15 and 18 were to enter into marriage, they would need the explicit approval of their parents, which could be challenged by the State if the decision was believed not to be in the best interest of the child. The new Law essentially subjected itself to the Constitution, which would eventually be reviewed.

The Trafficking in Persons Act had been operationalized for six days now, the delegation explained. The Witchcraft Act was currently under review. The Human Rights Act, 18 years old, was also due for review.

Leadership of the Legal Aid Bureau had been appointed and was now recruiting further personnel at district and regional levels.

There were 300 community victim-support units across the country, where all cases of gender-based violence were reported. Information on that type of violence was thus regularly collected. In the past month, DNA testing had been conducted in three cases, and one person was punished by eight years in prison.

Questions by Experts

An Expert inquired about the priorities vis-à-vis women’s problems and challenges. Would there be a timeframe for deciding on such policies or indicators? Details on the cooperation with Parliament were sought.

Who enacted the bills, the Expert asked. Who was responsible for amendments to the laws and proposals of new bills?

Did the Ministry of Gender have offices in different regions to alleviate women’s access?

Another Expert raised the issue of temporary special measures, which should aim at narrowing gender disparities and imbalances. State parties ought to impose quotas to increase women’s political representation, or have seats reserved for women. What strategies were in place in that regard?

An Expert commented that the Ministry of Gender had a role to play in ensuring that the National Human Rights Commission was more gender balanced.

A question was asked about complaints mechanisms which were available for women?

Replies by the Delegation

The delegation stated that women represented 70 per cent of all beneficiaries of State social protection programmes. Women were also benefiting from public works and micro-financing programmes.

Ministries would work with the Law Commission on future laws, but Parliament, naturally, played a critical role in that regard. Malawi believed in the empowerment of women. The executive and the legislature worked together on that goal.

The State party perceived education as a path to social and economic development and was undertaking efforts to ensure girls’ readmission to schools. Absenteeism in schools was dealt with.

The possibility of quotas was being looked into, the delegation informed.

The Ministry of Gender worked together with non-governmental organizations and had a significant presence on the ground, across the country.

Under the Constitution, all Government departments, in addition to the Ombudsman, the Human Rights Commission and the courts, were obliged to take citizens’ complaints. All Government departments were supposed to inform the public about their rights.

On electoral law, the delegation said that a more comprehensive reform programme was now commencing, which would look into all areas of the electoral process.

The Law Commission worked with the Government on spearheading the legislative process.

A policy on elderly persons had just been approved by the Cabinet, and the Ministry was now looking into its implementation.

Questions by Experts

Harmful practices were prohibited by several laws, an Expert stated. While such practices were undoubtedly unlawful in Malawi, forced child marriage, early marriage, violence against persons suffering from albinism, women’s sexual cleansing, female genital mutilation and polygamy all still existed in practice.

What was being done to eradicate polygamy and female genital mutilation, and when would the latter be criminalized?

Another Expert asked about measures taken on increasing awareness on the elimination of all forms of discrimination against women? What were the roles of the media and education in that regard? Were women aware of the Convention?

The delegation was asked to provide information on the implementation of the Domestic Violence Act. Was marital rape penalized? What was being done nationally to prevent gender-based violence?

The terms of the Trafficking Act were quite comprehensive, noted an Expert. Most Malawian victims were reportedly trafficked within the country. However, prosecutions seemed to be low. There was a general lack of knowledge of the law and a lack of an adequate number of shelters. What strategies, timeframes and collaborations were planned to increase training for judges, prosecutors and the police in that regard? What kind of sentences were traffickers sentenced to?

How many convictions had been attained for running prostitution rings and brothels? How many prostitutes had undertaken possibilities of alternative livelihoods? Had root causes of prostitution been tackled?

Replies by the Delegation

Trafficking was a global problem, the delegation said, and Malawi had a number of programmes in place. At every border post, police officers paid attention to potential trafficking victims; in every police unit, there were dedicated officers dealing with it. Traffickers could be sent to jail for up to 21 years. Within the police, there was a committee to assist those who needed help. The Trafficking Law was a brand new law; one of its goals was to raise awareness, and it also considered trans-national aspects.

Work was ongoing with local chiefs to eliminate harmful practices, including killing persons with albinism. Perpetrators were brought to justice. Mass media and billboards were used to raise necessary awareness. Female genital mutilation did not exist in Malawi, a delegate stressed.

A bill on prostitution was being drafted now. Sexual workers would no longer need to be taken for compulsory counselling. Some 2,000 sex workers were now running their own businesses; some of them were working with other women in productive branches. The law prohibited the establishment of brothels. The legislation prohibited all kinds of exploitation, the delegation stressed.

Rape itself was criminalized, and there were no provisions specifying if the rape was conducted within or outside of marriage. Grounds on which partners could refuse sex to each other were listed in the family law.

The delegation explained that work regarding polygamy was still continuing. Polygamous unions were protected under the law.

The question of paternal leave was being currently considered. Activities were being taken to increase awareness amongst men on the need to share family responsibilities with their wives.

One in every five girls and one in every seven boys were sexually abused, the delegation informed.

Questions by Experts

The representation of women in senior positions in both public and private sectors was still unsatisfactory, an Expert noted. Their representation in senior diplomatic posts was also low. The State party should consider temporary special measures in that regard. What was the Government doing to help promote women’s advancement in different spheres?

There were discriminatory provisions in the Citizenship Act, another Expert said. Malawian nationality could be withdrawn from a woman for marrying a foreigner. Could Malawian women confer their nationality to their non-Malawian husbands? When was the review of the Act supposed to take place?

Children born in Malawi to non-African parents were not granted citizenship. Similarly, Zimbabwean children born in Malawi were also at risk of being stateless.

Replies by the Delegation

The Government was trying to ensure that women were represented in all Ministries, departments and agencies. The Army and the Police Forces also needed to have female representation. Capacity building on gender was conducted at all levels. Women in local governments received appropriate training.

The law on nationality and citizenship was currently under review, with the view of providing the best possible protection to Malawian women. It should be completed by January.

Questions by Experts

An Expert congratulated Malawi for achieving almost universal primary education, with girls slightly more represented than boys. However, their enrolment rates dropped significantly in secondary education, which was worrisome. Could details be provided on the two initiatives currently underway to address this issue, and on the monitoring and evaluation mechanism? Traditional attitudes placed low value to girls’ education. To what extent did mother groups support continued education of their daughters?

There was an extremely high rate of adolescent pregnancy. Almost 50 per cent of girls were reportedly already married by the age of 18. After delivering babies, girls would return to school, but would soon often drop out again because of the stigma.

The Teachers’ Code of Conduct did not mention sexual abuse in schools. Teachers were in a position of power and authority compared to students. What actions were taken to curtail such abuse?

The gender pay gap was addressed by another Expert, who said that the anecdotal evidence proved its existence. What were the policies in place to address the gender pay gap? Were statistics desegregated by sex collected? What gender-specific job classification methods were in place, the Expert inquired.

To what degree was the Ministry of Labour mainstreaming gender, and were there labour inspectors in place to monitor the full implementation of Article 11 of the Convention? What were the steps being taken to eliminate occupational segregation?

Maternal mortality rates were still rather high, another Expert noted. What was being done in that regard? Although sexual education and contraceptives were formally available to all women and girls of child-bearing age, accessibility remained a problem.

What was being done to address the issue of girl pregnancies?

The issue of legislation on abortion was raised by the Expert.

The prevalence of HIV stood at 10 per cent, and it was higher among women than men. What was the anticipated timeframe for the law on HIV prevention? A question was also asked about compulsory HIV testing.

The delegation was asked to be more specific in answers it provided and to address the issue of impact.

Replies by the Delegation

On discrimination in the police service, the delegation said that training was regularly conducted among security and armed forces.

At each level of Government, wages were the same for women and men. There was also a minimum wage in place. The Ministry of Labour was working with the Ministry of Gender to address any issues that came up.

There was no overlap between the initiatives to address the issue of girls’ dropout.

Teachers were really punished and arrested if they violated girls; they were not transferred – if you transferred a teacher, you would transfer a problem. The Ministry of Education had an information management system which tracked all the relevant developments.

The delegation stated that mothers were empowered through cash transfers to ensure their children’s school attendance. Children were also fed at schools, which was one of the ways to increase attendance rates. Results showed that with more cash at home, children’s attendance in schools had increased by 19 per cent, while early pregnancies had decreased.
Girls were not discriminated against when they returned to school. The majority of them were still in secondary schools; details on their graduation rates would be provided in the subsequent report. There should be more women teachers in rural schools to provide further support to girl students. The Government provided counselling and support to alleviate that process.

Family planning services were provided by the authorities. Nurses were continuously trained, and the rationale was that nobody should be left behind when it came to sexual and reproductive health.

When persons were found to be HIV-positive, they were immediately placed on therapy; the goal was to come close to zero rates of transmissions and maximum treatment coverage by 2030. A bill on HIV would now be taken to the Parliament; the Law Commission had made its proposals years earlier, but amendments and changes had been made since then, taking into consideration new issues and discoveries. Commendable efforts had been taken on preventing mother-to-child transmission. All pregnant women were tested in pre-natal clinics.

Those suffering from obstetric fistula were treated and re-integrated into society. More than 2,500 fistula repairs had been undertaken in Malawi up to date.

Employment in Malawi was divided into several sectors: civil service, public employment and others, which were supervised by different commissions. For females to compete with males for certain employment, the playing field ought to be levelled. Challenges were particularly present in the informal sector. When a woman delivered a baby, she could go on a 90-day maternity leave; paternity leave was being looked into.

Labour unions and labour courts would deal with problems which could arise in recruitment and labour market processes.

Questions by Experts

Considering the high rate of women living under the poverty line, an Expert asked about gender perspectives used in social programmes. The patriarchal attitude was exacerbated when it came to elderly women, who were sometimes victimized or associated with witchcraft. Were there programmes particularly targeting those women?

More information was sought about access of women to micro-credit and loans.

How were women entrepreneurs supported, the Expert inquired. Was there specific technical assistance provided to women in the mining industry?

Another Expert asked about the delay of the adoption of the bill on land reform.

What steps had been taken to promote the land rights of women? How about their access to land resources?

What steps were being taken to encourage women to take preventive actions to cope with natural disasters? Food insecurity was a serious problem in Malawi. The Expert asked about measures taken to address food insecurity.

Malawi had made great efforts to protect refugee rights; the country was hosting one million refugees, the Expert said, asking about access of refugee girls and women to services, including education?

Replies by the Delegation

Malawi used to have problems with the implementation of certain legislation because of the lack of a National Social Policy, which was now in place.

A cash transfer system benefited women on a monthly basis; women represented 70 per cent of the beneficiaries. Women-headed households and women with disabilities were among the priority groups. Some 319,000 households were now covered nationally.

Women represented 70 per cent of agricultural labour and 80 per cent of food producers, which was why they were at the core of the Government’s policies.

Stunting and related indicators had all been reduced in recent years, a delegate explained. A system was developed to calculate the percentage of pregnant and lactating women every year, who would benefit from certain State programmes and were particularly targeted during periods of food shortages. During the food shortage in 2015, more than two million people had been affected and helped by the Government.

The Malawi Government was making a deliberate effort to encourage women to engage in mining. Their access to banking and micro-finance was promoted, and best practices had been taken from South Africa.

It was impossible to meet all the international standards when it came to the treatment of refugees because of the size of the country and its resources. The country was not yet at a stage to be able to register all the refugees.

Questions by Experts

An Expert asked about the collection of disaggregated data.

What were the judges in the plural legal system doing with the training they received and how was that monitored?

What were the delegation’s views on strengthening access to justice as soon as possible?

It was critical that the national women’s machinery had a Cabinet status which was necessary for having the right clout. The Committee would appreciate receiving a copy of the National Gender Policy.

No child in today’s world had any business getting married at the age of 15, the Expert stressed. Especially given the role of the President of Malawi as one of the champions in combatting child marriage, it would be great if Malawi completely eliminated that phenomenon.

The issue of marital rape was also raised by the Expert.

Women’s financial and non-financial contributions were not fully taken into account when the marriage was dissolved. Was the equal distribution regime in place in Malawi?

Replies by the Delegation

Really vulnerable people needed to have access to justice. The Gender Ministry’s lawyer worked hard to ensure that this was the case across the country, but there was a need for more lawyers. The Minister of Gender had so far appealed in 40 cases pertaining to women.

The data on the vulnerability of poor people in Malawi was collected by the Ministry of Finance.

Marriage courts considered marriage-related issues. Child and justice courts, as well as albinism courts, were in place.

School readmission programmes applied to both girls who were married and unmarried. In such cases, young men were also more likely to return to school in order to avoid the inferiority complex. Adult literacy programmes were also in place, in both English and local languages.

On inheritance, there were procedures guiding magistrates so that property would be shared equally.

The delegation stated that the President was not only a champion of fighting child marriage, but also promoted high education across Africa and championed the He For She campaign. The Government did not uphold child marriage, the delegation reiterated. A review of the Constitution was envisaged in that regard. If at all a child had to get married, there had to be a demonstration of its best interest.

Bylaws produced by local chieftains reflected national laws. The monitoring system in place covered everything from the community to the national court level.

Concluding Remarks

PATRICIA KALIATI, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, thanked the Committee for the opportunity given to the Government of Malawi to explain what it was doing. Concerns raised would be addressed in the subsequent reports. The Government remained open to provide further information to the Committee. Ms. Kaliati, as the Minister of Gender, said she would do her best to improve women’s access to justice and other areas of concern.
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