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19 October 2023
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today concluded its consideration of the eighth periodic report of Malawi, with Committee Experts commending the State’s commitment to development, while asking questions about the participation of girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects, and Malawi’s abortion law.
A Committee Expert said Malawi had made tremendous efforts in committing the country to development, in the context of systemic crises. Progress was clear in many areas, including the legal framework, the law on equality, and contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations, among others. The systemic implementation of the Convention based on the fundamental rights of women was a central response to sustainable development efforts in Malawi.
One Committee Expert commended Malawi for the strides made since the last report, including progress in teacher training. Could results be provided on the performance of girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects? Another Expert asked how big was the gap between the capital and rural areas regarding science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects and girls? How could rural girls enter into these subjects if there were no opportunities?
A Committee Expert said Malawi had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, despite a 2021 High Court ruling that allowed abortion in cases where the mother’s life was in danger, including their physical and mental health. Could the delegation clarify the circumstances in which abortion was legal under this definition; what was being done to educate healthcare workers in these circumstances? Would the review of the law on abortion be implemented? Was there a timeframe?
The delegation said significant progress was being made in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. Malawi had a whole university dedicated to science and technology, and clubs had been established in primary schools to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics in secondary school. There was also a national commission for science and technology, which highlighted the country’s serious approach to these subjects. Malawi had a ground-breaking innovation called My Lab, which helped rural children to experience a laboratory set-up virtually.
The law provided for abortion when the life of the mother was in danger, said the delegation. There had been instances where the woman was not medically in danger, but rather mentally, which created an issue. Discussions were being carried out with health professionals to try and define the definition further. There was a possibility that the bill would come up again through the private members motion, as it did last time. This was being supported by the Ministry for Gender Equality due to the high number of deaths due to unsafe abortions. The bill would return to parliament as soon as all the processes were done.
Introducing the report, Jean Muonaowuza Sendeza, MP, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare of Malawi and head of the delegation, said the Government of Malawi was working tirelessly to promote and protect the rights of women. Women were specifically recognised in the Constitution as a group of marginalised persons that required special protection. The Government was implementing several programmes to economically uplift the lives of women. The Social Cash Transfer Programme, also called the Mtukula pa Khomo Programme, was currently benefiting 297,138 ultra-poor and labour constrained households of which 205,025 were female headed. The Government had also put in place policies and regulatory frameworks to promote women’s participation in the economic development of the country, including the National Action Plan on Women’s Economic Empowerment. Malawi appealed to national and regional partners to provide necessary assistance to help the State implement the Convention.
In concluding remarks, Ms. Sendeza thanked the Committee for the questions posed and insights shared. Malawi looked forward to receiving the concluding observations, which would be a continuation of the country’s journey of the prometon, protection and fulfilment of women’s rights in Malawi.
Marian Bethel, Committee Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue with the Committee which helped the Experts to better understand the situation of women and girls in Malawi. The State party was commended on its efforts and encouraged to implement all the recommendations provided by the Committee.
The delegation of Malawi was comprised of representatives of the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare; the Ministry of Education; the Ministry of Justice; the Reproductive Health Service; the Law Reform; the Legal and Advisory Services; the First Secretary of Labour; the First Secretary of Political Affairs; and the Permanent Mission of Malawi to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women’s eighty-sixth session is being held from 9 to 27 October. All documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage. Meeting summary releases can be found here. The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed via the UN Web TV webpage.
The Committee will next meet in public at 10 a.m. on Friday, 20 October, to review the tenth periodic report of Uruguay (CEDAW/C/URY/10).
The Committee has before it the eighth periodic report of Malawi (CEDAW/C/MWI/8).
JEAN MUONAOWUZA SENDEZA, MP, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare of Malawi and head of the delegation, said according to the 2018 Population and Housing Census, there were 9,042,289 women in Malawi, with 1,415,119 residing in urban areas and 7,627,170 residing in rural areas. Notwithstanding the huge population, the majority of women faced hardships and inequalities in their communities, schools and places of work. The Government of Malawi was working tirelessly to promote and protect the rights of women. Women were specifically recognised in the Constitution as a group of marginalised persons that required special protection.
The Government was also currently reviewing the Gender Equality Act of 2013 to make the law more effective. The review proposed to extend the issue of quotas to the private sector, provide protection to witnesses of acts of sexual harassment at the workplace and gender-based violence, and to enhance penalties in the Gender Equality Act. Additionally, the passing of the Penal Code (amendment) bill in December 2022 made sexual intercourse with a child punishable with up to life imprisonment. The Government had concluded the development of the Public Service Workplace Anti-Sexual Harassment Policy and Guidelines, which was awaiting cabinet approval. The Policy was a framework for preventing, reporting, and addressing sexual harassment in public service workplaces. Since 2021, the Malawi Government had facilitated the formulation of gender policies for public and private universities to promote gender parity for students and employees.
Access to justice for women in Malawi was constrained by multiple factors, including discriminatory cultural practices, limited awareness of legal rights, and economic disparities. Despite this, the Malawi judiciary was working towards improving service delivery and had introduced specialised High Court divisions, developed the capacity of judicial officers, increased the number of judges, and scaled up the use of mobile courts, among other measures. Women could also seek access to legal services for free through the Legal Aid Bureau, which was established in 2011. To improve prison conditions for women in detention, the Malawi Prison Service recently designated three prisons for women only: Kachere in central region, Mzuzu Prison in northern region and Thyolo in southern region. The law in Malawi prohibited same sex relationships; this was currently being challenged in court.
Malawi was actively enforcing the Gender Equality Act, 2013, which provided for 60/40 or 40/60 of either sex during recruitment, appointment and promotion in the public service. Currently, 41 per cent of Cabinet Ministers were women, and 22.7 per cent of the 193 legislators in Parliament were women. For the first time, after the 2019 Tripartite Elections, the Malawi National Assembly had elected a female Member of Parliament as Speaker. Additionally, Malawi had a female Director of Anti-Corruption Bureau, a female Ombudsman, a female head of the Law Commission, a female head of the Human Rights Commission, and a female Inspector General of the Malawi Police.
The Government was implementing several programmes to economically uplift the lives of women. The Social Cash Transfer Programme, also called the Mtukula pa Khomo Programme, was currently benefiting 297,138 ultra-poor and labour constrained households of which 205,025 were female headed. The Government had also put in place policies and regulatory frameworks to promote women’s participation in the economic development of the country, including the National Action Plan on Women’s Economic Empowerment.
The Malawi Government had implemented the National Plan of Action to Combat Gender Based Violence 2016-2021. Since then, Malawi had made substantial progress in the prevention and response to gender-based violence. Recognising that engaging men and boys was an important component in gender-based violence prevention and response, Malawi had launched the National Male Engagement Strategy on Gender Equality, Gender Based Violence, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights, and HIV 2023-2030. The Government had established Police Victim Support Units across the country, and 23 one stop centres had been set up in central and district health facilities to provide integrated services to women and children facing violence and abuse.
An institution in the Malawi legal system which was crucial in the promotion and protection of the rights of women was the Malawi Human Rights Commission, which enjoyed an “A” status accreditation. Efforts to create a better Malawi for women and girls had recently been affected by adverse natural events such as the devastating Cyclone Anna, Cyclone Freddy, the COVID-19 pandemic, and the cholera outbreak. Programmes were still challenged by persistent harmful customs and norms that perpetrated violence against women. There was a need to continue investing more resources to enhance programming, implementation, accessibility, and quality of women’s programmes. Malawi appealed to national and regional partners to provide necessary assistance to help the State implement the Convention.
MAYA MORSY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said the State party had demonstrated its commitment in the implementation of the Convention with several policies, national action plans and strategies, including gender equality related legislations to ensure women and girls enjoyed their rights in Malawi. Progress had been noticeable in the interventions implemented, including enacting gender equality related laws and issues promoting gender equality, but a lot still needed to be done. The Committee commended the ground-breaking achievement of having a women Speaker of Parliament, which was a great milestone for Malawi.
A Committee Expert said Malawi had made tremendous efforts in committing the country to development, in the context of systemic crises. Progress was clear in many areas, including the legal framework, the law on equality, and contributions to United Nations peacekeeping operations, among others. The systemic implementation of the Convention based on the fundamental rights of women was a central response to sustainable development efforts in Malawi. The Malawi Constitution was progressive, recognising the principles of equality and banning discrimination. Did the Commission for legislative reform have a global vision for the implementation of the Convention? Would domestic legislation be strengthened with the adoption of the Optional Protocol? Would there be a definition of indirect and direct discrimination adopted within the Constitution?
The Expert said the fight against all intersectional discrimination needed to be integrated into the legislative framework and the persons concerned must benefit from effective legislative and judicial protection. This included women with disabilities, women from ethnic minorities, women with albinism, elderly women, or women accused of witchcraft. Could Malawi address the law which restricted the activity of non-governmental organizations? Did the Supreme Court truly believe the Convention had value at the same level as the Constitution? How were the mobile courts evaluated? How many were there and what actions did they take? How many people benefitted from them?
JEAN MUONAOWUZA SENDEZA, MP, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare of Malawi and head of the delegation, said capacity building training sessions on gender-based violence had been provided at national, district and community levels. This was being funded and supported by the European Union. Through the Ministry of Gender, the Government had already initiated the signing of the Optional Protocol to the Convention. Social programmes were in place to help women with housing and access to land. On the issue of witchcraft, the Malawi Constitution did not recognise witchcraft and anything to do with this was prohibited in the State. The Law Commission was in the process of reviewing the law on witchcraft, and Malawi was appealing for international and technical assistance to allow for all the necessary tools to deal with issues of human rights.
A Committee Expert congratulated the State party on the relentless efforts made in fulfilling its obligations under the Convention, including the adoption of the National Gender Policy, and the Gender Equality Act and its implementation and monitoring plan. Could information be provided on the operational linkages between the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, the Gender Empowerment and Social Inclusion Working Group charged with gender mainstreaming into national development programmes, and the Malawi Human Rights Commission? Who led on gender mainstreaming? What policy measures and government instruments were available to assist the Ministry to deliver its oversight mandate and handle emerging concerns in artificial intelligence and climate change? What achievements had occurred following collaboration between the Malawi Human Rights Commission and women’s organizations? What percentage of the national budget was allocated to the Ministry annually? What had been the substantive impact of gender-responsive budgeting in Malawi? How did Malawi utilise gender-disaggregated data to inform policy making?
MAYA MORSY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said the recent appointment of high court judges satisfied the 50 per cent benchmarks. However, female appointments in politics still lagged and the 60/40 quota was far from being achieved. What were the processes and measures in place to enjoy the implementation of the 60/40 quota? How was the presence of women with disabilities ensured within this quota?
JEAN MUONAOWUZA SENDEZA, MP, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare of Malawi and Head of the Delegation, said the Ministry of Gender had many entities that fell under it, with directors focusing on different sectors, including children and women with disabilities. Every ministry, department and agency had a gender officer, who was responsible for looking at issues of gender at all levels. The Government was reviewing the current Gender Equality Act to make the law more effective. A national taskforce committee had been formed to review and analyse existing gaps in the Act. The budget for the Human Rights Commission was very small and Malawi relied on support from United Nations agencies and other partners.
A Committee Expert asked when the new Gender Equality Act would be implemented. What was the budget in the Ministry and the National Implementation Plan, as well as the critical sectors? What measures did Malawi have to enhance the capacity of the Ministry for Gender Equality?
MAYA MORSY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, asked if there was a costing plan put towards United Nations agencies for them to resource and fund, in order to achieve gender policies and the Gender Equality Act.
The delegation said women in Malawi were involved in agriculture. Work was being done with the Ministry of Agriculture to implement programmes which could be accessed by women. The Ministry of Education allowed for free primary school education without discrimination. The review of the Gender Equality Act should be completed by next year. Costing was provided to United Nations partners and they implemented the programmes lined up.
A Committee Expert said there were some residual harmful practices that Malawi needed to address, including the practice of ‘Fisi’ where a girl was visited by an adult man, and vagina stretching. Was the free and informed consent of women and girls taken into consideration in these harmful practices? How would Malawi consider criminalising gender-based violence? Were female genital mutilation, marital rape, virgin cleansing and incestuous rape criminalised? Were there punitive measures for chiefs and family members involved in such practices? Although witchcraft had been banned, yet a religious leader had extolled this practice. What did this mean in relation to women being falsely accused of witchcraft or sorcery? How would Malawi address the superstition that people with albinism had magic in their bones? How would sexual harassment against women in politics be prevented?
Another Expert said it was commendable that the Government had identified 199 trafficking victims in 2021, an increase from the 140 cases identified the previous year. At the same time, the Government recognised that the corruption of officials in trafficking crimes remained a concern. Had there been any measures foreseen in the National Action Plan against Trafficking to fight corruption of officials when it came to trafficking cases. What measures did the Malawi Government have in place to investigate cases of trafficking taking place in private houses? What measures was the Government taking to protect women in prostitution against exploitation and violence?
The delegation said Malawi did not have any cases of female genital mutilation. Cultural practices like “Fisi” were under control and the chiefs were aware of these practices. Previously they were rampant in rural areas, but due to awareness raising, these issues did not happen anymore. For persons with albinism, the Government was implementing a national action plan to end violence and discrimination against this group. Previously the Government had engaged the Chief of Justice to help expedite cases against persons with albinism. The Gender-Based Violence Act was being reviewed to address existing gaps. The Electoral Act was being reviewed to ensure women could participate in political and public life freely and safely.
The Government of Malawi was setting up a governmental computer emergency response team, which would establish clear guidelines for all stakeholders, particularly when it came to reporting of cyber issues. A data protection bill was currently being approved before being put before parliament. Malawi had the Trafficking in Persons Act of 2015, but there were still challenges of women being trafficked, despite security regulations being in place. The Government was using the Trafficking in Persons Act to protect women from being exploited in private houses. Anyone involved in trafficking in persons, including police officers, were arrested.
A Committee Expert asked if perpetrators, who had participated in the post-electoral violence and rapes of 2019, been brought to justice? Were there charges made against the police officers and had they been brought to justice? Were there gender provisions in the data protection bill? Would Malawi consider a gender equality or anti-discrimination law?
An Expert asked what the State party did to prevent child marriage, besides changing the law, which was very important? Were there any emergency services for those who were in early marriages and wished to escape? Were there statistics on femicide correlated with age?
The delegation said police officers who abused their power by having sex with sex workers had to face the law once they were reported. From January to date, 20 elderly women had been murdered in Malawi. The Ministry was formulating a piece of legislation to protect older persons. Malawi faced challenges of child marriages, but this was even more prominent in the COVID era. Girls had been entering these marriages due to economic reasons. The Government was doing as much as it could to ensure girls continued with their education. A number of chiefs in the country were working hard to prevent girls from entering early marriages.
A Committee Expert said the gender profile of 2019 indicated there were fewer women than men in decision-making decisions in the public service. What steps were being taken to improve the participation of women in these decisions? What remedies were being adopted to improve the participation of women in diplomatic positions? What was being done to enable women with disabilities to participate in voting in elections effectively?
MAYA MORSY, Committee Expert and Country Rapporteur, said it had been observed that non-Malawian women married to Malawian men faced issues to transfer nationality. Were there plans to raise public awareness on the citizenship amended bill? What was planned to enforce the law on nationality? The National Registration Act made birth registration compulsory, working towards the reduction of stateless persons. Could information be provided on whether the study undertaken would contribute towards efforts to reduce statelessness and raise awareness of citizenship rights?
The delegation said Malawi had a fully-fledged programme which focused on promoting women’s participation in politics. Through this programme, the Government championed the 50/50 quota, and ensured women could contribute positively towards policies and laws which affected them. During the parliamentary elections, women candidates with a disability were given funding for their campaign and were exempted from paying a nomination fee. Dual citizenship was available in Malawi. Following the amendment, the citizenship law was under implementation. All persons who wished to have dual Malawi citizenship were permitted to do so.
A Committee Expert commended Malawi for the strides made since the last report, including progress in teacher training. Could results be provided on the performance of girls in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects? Why, despite corporal punishment being prohibited, did private schools still administer this? When would the Education Act be reviewed to specifically prohibit corporal punishment? What steps were there to eliminate school fees totally at secondary levels? How would girls who dropped out of school due to pregnancy or marriage be tracked? How would the lack of support for these girls and stigmatisation against them be addressed? What measures were in place to ensure adequate facilities for girls with disabilities in school, including assistive mobility devices, braille and other measures? What was the percentage of schools which were disability friendly? How was education administered in refugee camps? How was the issue of low teacher moral being dealt with?
The delegation said significant progress was being made in science, technology, engineering and mathematics education. Malawi had a whole university dedicated to science and technology, and clubs had been established in primary schools to encourage students to study science, technology, engineering and mathematics in secondary school. There was also a national commission for science and technology, which highlighted the country’s serious approach to these subjects. Malawi had made efforts to remove several fees for secondary education. One day, when the economic situation of the country improved, secondary education would be free, but this had not yet happened. Refugees had dedicated spaces within the country and primary and secondary schools had been built to enable refugee children to participate in education. The first step was to ensure Malawi teachers received their monthly salaries on time. Teachers were permitted to do self-development. A programme was in place which constructed houses for refugees in rural areas.
A Committee Expert asked how many girls compared to boys were enrolled in science, technology, engineering and mathematics subjects? The Expert stressed the importance of making secondary education free, especially for girls. If girls were in school, they were less susceptible to early marriage.
An Expert asked if there were any materials in the education system about equality within the family and marriage?
Another Expert asked how big was the gap between the capital and rural areas regarding science, technology, engineering and mathematics and girls? How would rural girls enter into these subjects if there were no opportunities? What did the situation look like in reality?
A Committee Expert said Malawi had dealt with the spike in child marriage strategically, through cash transfers tied to school attendance. Post Covid, what kind of cash transfers were being utilised to keep girls in schools and overcome child marriage?
The delegation said Malawi had a ground-breaking innovation called My Lab, which helped rural children to experience a laboratory set-up virtually. The project had been developed by one of Malawi’s universities which used artificial intelligence to package most of the experiments to allow children to have the laboratory experience using laptops and projectors.
E-government emergency response teams were being set up to facilitate reporting of cyber incidents.
Malawi had career subjects which discussed equality and the family, within the school curriculum. Bursaries were in place for rural and vulnerable girls in secondary education. The social cash transfer programme was ongoing to improve the education of children.
A Committee Expert commended Malawi on the progress made to improve health care since the last dialogue in 2015. However, concerns remained. Malawi had some of the world’s highest rates of teenage pregnancy and HIV prevalence amongst adolescents, and almost 50 per cent of unmarried and sexually active women aged 15-49 had unmet family planning needs. How was it ensured that all women, particularly rural women and those with disabilities, were ensured access to health care? How did the State party work to address harmful, cultural and social barriers, particularly when it came to HIV treatment, contraception and family planning? What percentage of HIV discrimination cases were prosecuted? What support services were available to encourage those women to report discrimination?
What was being done to reduce the high rates of maternal mortality? Malawi had some of the most restrictive abortion laws in the world, despite a 2021 High Court ruling that allowed abortion in cases where the mother’s life was in danger, including their physical and mental health. Could the delegation clarify the circumstances in which abortion was legal under this definition; what was being done to educate healthcare workers in these circumstances? Would the review of the law on abortion be implemented? Was there a timeframe? Would the State party rectify issues with the Public Health Act and the Mental Health Treatment Act to ensure a human rights-based approach to disability?
The delegation said Malawi had one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy, around 30 per cent, which was concerning. Youth friendly health services within facilities were in place to take care of the needs of the youth. The law provided for abortion when the life of the mother was in danger. There had been instances where the woman was not medically in danger, but rather mentally, which created an issue. Discussions were being carried out with health professionals to try and define the definition further. It was hoped that by early next year, the Sexual and Reproductive Health Policy would be ready and would cover all the current gaps. The Public Health Act was currently under review and was waiting to be submitted to Parliament.
Human Rights Commission of Malawi commended the Government of Malawi for the concerted efforts towards promoting and protecting the rights of women in Malawi, even though a number of challenges remained. The Government should be the main funder of the implementation and monitoring plan of the Gender Equality Act. The Commission commended the Government on the amendment of some laws which hindered women from realising their rights and their effective participation in the country’s development. The Commission urged the Government to expedite the process of effective operationalisation and rolling out of these structures, as well as the effective enforcement of the amended laws.
The Commission recommended that the Government provide adequate funding to the Legal Aid Bureau, the Human Rights Commission, Police, Judiciary and other frontline offices to be able to carry out their services. The Commission urged the Government of Malawi to ensure that effective evidence-based strategies were put in place for addressing the problem of child marriage and early pregnancies. The Government should ensure that victims of human trafficking stuck in foreign countries such the United Arab Emirates and Oman were urgently brought home safely.
The delegation said the social cash transfer programme aimed at improving health and education for the beneficiaries. Assistance was given to each person with a disability in Malawi. Currently efforts were being made to ensure access to essential services was provided to those with disabilities. The public language broadcaster used sign language interpreters and it was hoped these services would also be available in hospitals.
A Committee Expert reiterated the definitional issue of abortion raised earlier. Was there a timeline when Parliament would debate the changes to the law on abortion?
The delegation said it was unfortunate that when the bill was presented in Parliament, it did not see the light of day. There was a possibility that the bill would come up again through the private members motion, as it did last time. This was being supported by the Ministry for Gender Equality due to the high number of deaths due to unsafe abortions. The bill would return to parliament as soon as all the processes were done.
A Committee Expert was concerned that 54 per cent of those unemployed were women and most women were employed within the informal sector, while women generally earned less than men for similar work. Sexual harassment in the workplace continued to be a barrier for women. What measures did the State party intend to take to address the high unemployment rate of women? What would be done to transition women from the informal sector into the formal sector? Did the State party collect gender disaggregated data on employment and could this be provided? What measures targeting stereotypes was the State party taking to divide women’s share of household work? How was the individual and unpaid work of women in rural areas recognised? Did the State party intend to adopt further economic empowerment programmes for women with disabilities?
The delegation said employment quotas for women were provided for under the Gender Equality Act and were currently limited to the public sector. Initiatives were being undertaken to empower women to utilise skills, such as in the electrical realm, to give them fair access to the labour market. The Government had implemented several measures to combat stereotypes, including the “He for She” campaign, in conjunction with United Nations Women. The campaign had yielded a significant impact in Malawi, where various male champions pledged to support women. Women had multiple roles within the home and men were intended to compliment these roles. Very little progress had been made towards increasing the employment rate of persons with disabilities. Malawi had funds available for all women, including those with disabilities, to access to credit. These funds were provided by the World Bank. Malawi aimed to have a piece of legislation which covered every gap.
A Committee Expert congratulated the Malawi Government for its recent election to the Human Rights Council. Women in Malawi faced hardships, including women with disabilities. What measures had the State party planned to improve the implementation of existing policies and projects to remove barriers which undermined women’s equal access to financial services? What measures had Malawi taken to establish affirmative measures to increase women’s access to credit and loans? What had been done to ensure that all women and girls, including marginalised women, participated in economic empowerment projects? Had the State party undertaken a comprehensive impact assessment of the cash transfer initiative and access by women beneficiaries?
Another Expert said four out of five people in Malawi were living in the countryside. The Customary Land Act allowed individuals of all states to own land and established land committees which had the ability to allocate land. The Government was implementing the Mobile Money for the Poor programme, which aimed to increase access to mobile banking and payment services in rural areas, funded by the United Nations Development Fund. What were the positive and negative components of the Mobile Money programme for women? How did Malawi ensure the protection of women’s land rights in rural areas where customary practices often impacted women’s right to land? How many heads of villages were women?
The delegation said there were indeed barriers for women to access financial funds. The Government was speaking with financial institutions to allow for more flexible conditions for women to be able to take out loans. The Women Empowerment programme provided loans for women, enabling them to have enough security. Women were encouraged to participate in the village savings loan groups, and to use their social cash transfers to buy livestock, to help them after they graduated from the programme. The Government was doing more to improve sports, especially for school children. Partners such as the Special Olympics Malawi and Paralympics Malawi had been supporting schools with equipment. Legislation was in place to ensure that if a female athlete faced abuse, perpetrators were subjected to the law of Malawi. The Government was implementing an agriculture project, which dealt with crop farming and animal farming. Women were chairing the cooperatives. The Customary Land Act was being implemented with the Chiefs, and now women were owning land. Due to the high rate of adult illiteracy, mobile banking had been dispatched to rural areas to enable women to deposit their savings. There were many challenges in the rural areas, including a lack of structures and electricity, which was why the mobile banking structure was vital.
A Committee Expert asked what steps had been taken to scale up the programmes, such as the social cash transfers and the access to credit, to reach all women in Malawi? Had the Government considered partnering with innovators, such as those who invented solar backpacks, to improve the access to electricity?
Another Committee Expert asked if there was “men’s work” and “women’s work” in Malawi? Could women not use machinery without men?
The delegation said Malawi was not collaborating with innovators on a large scale; not everyone had access to solar backpacks.
Sometimes the women required the machinery to be pushed, and young men were hired to push the machinery as it was very heavy and the women were not strong enough to push it alone.
A Committee Expert applauded the State party for its efforts to provide legal aid, and the mobile courts. Was statistical data available for women in civil and criminal procedures? How many women underwent divorce proceedings unrepresented in the last three years? What was being done to educate women on their legal rights? How was access to the courts guaranteed for women with disabilities? What was being done to supervise customary justice mechanisms to ensure they were not discriminatory against women?What was being done to eliminate cultural practices which enshrined inequality in marriages? How was child custody determined within Malawi? What was done to secure adequate child support? Did polygamy occur in Malawi and what was done about it? How were the rights of lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex women upheld when it came to family rights?
The delegation said access to justice for women in Malawi was constrained by cultural practices, limited awareness of rights, and cultural disparities. Malawi had mobile courts and although there were not enough, this service was being scaled up to ensure all women in hard-to-reach areas had access to justice. Malawi currently did not allow same sex marriages, and this was being challenged in the courts. Polygamy was allowed in Malawi as it was a cultural issue. Child custody agreements took into account several factors, including the best interest of the child. Social workers had the responsibility to conduct mediation talks in divorce cases, and women were put on a counselling scheme, enabling them to receive assistance for the emotional distress which came with divorce. The Legal Aid Bureau was established to provide free legal services to those who could not afford private lawyers. The Government, in collaboration with the Malawi Law Society, had launched the national pro-bono scheme which provided for additional lawyers to help marginalised persons, including women. This guaranteed quality legal representation to these women.
A Committee Expert asked if the family courts were governed by Sharia law, and what other areas were governed by Sharia law.
Another Expert asked if the rules affecting polygamy could be clarified. Could those married under the State law also contract polygamous marriages?
The delegation said Sharia law was not used in Malawi. There were four regimes of marriages in Malawi, one of which was customary law. The new Marriage, Divorce and Family Relations Act had recorded equal rights and obligations in all these respective marriages. Those who contracted marriages under the civil law could not contract a polygamous marriage. The law ensured women would not be discriminated against on the grounds of customs. However, what happened on the grounds of practice might differ. There was a disconnect between what the text of the law said and the reality for women. However, there were many efforts to ensure those gaps were closed.
JEAN MUONAOWUZA SENDEZA, MP, Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare of Malawi and head of the delegation, thanked the Committee for the questions posed and insights shared. The dialogue had been very constructive. Malawi looked forward to receiving the concluding observations which would be a continuation of the country’s journey of the prometon, protection and fulfilment of women’s rights in Malawi. The State was committed to ensuring that the provisions of the Convention were implemented to the fullest extent possible, to benefit the rights of women. International partners were called on to provide technical assistance to address areas which fell short within Malawi.
MARIAN BETHEL, Committee Rapporteur, thanked the delegation for the constructive dialogue with the Committee, which helped the Experts to better understand the situation of women and girls in Malawi. The State party was commended on its efforts and encouraged to implement all the recommendations provided by the Committee.
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