The Malawi Government through Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare in conjunction with UNFPA is implementing the Gender Equality and Women Empowerment (GEWE) project. As the name suggests, GEWE aims to promote gender equality and women empowerment with support from state and non-state institutions to accelerate attainment of national development.
Women constitute 52 per cent of about 15 million people in Malawi but for many years illiteracy and some cultural practices have put many women in a disadvantaged position. The GEWE project is for three years and is funded by UNFPA and the European Union. It started in 2012. The project target s vulnerable groups, mainly survivors of gender based violence, people living with HIV and AIDS as well as girls who dropped out of school because of gender or poverty related reasons.
The overall objective of GEWE is to contribute towards acceleration of efforts to advance gender equality and equity as a human right for the reduction of HIV and AIDS and poverty in line with the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy (M GDS), the National Gender Policy (NGP) and the future Gender Sector Wide Approach. This objective is in line with the goal of the 7th Program of UNFPA in Malawi which is being implemented in the period 2012-2016. GEWE is being implemented in 13 districts. These are Chitipa, Karonga, Nkhata Bay and Mzimba in the northern region; Dedza, Dowa, Mchinji and Salima in the central region and Chikwawa,
Chiradzulu, Machinga, Mangochi and Nsanje in the southern region. These districts were chosen because of their social-economic factors such as poverty, HIV and AIDS prevalence and illiteracy among girls and women.
The GEWE programme is, therefore, being implemented with a view of achieving the following key result areas that would create an enabling environment to meeting the aspirations of the MGDS and the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs):
Result Area 1: Institutional capacity of the national 'gender machinery' strengthened (defined as civil society, public and private sector actors working towards gender equality and equity)
Result Area 2: Capacity of mainstreaming gender in the National AIDS Commission (NAC) and key priority sectors of agriculture and transportation, as well as other key sectors of education and health are enhanced.
Result Area 3: Equality between women and men improved through economic, social and legal empowerment.
Through the GEWE Programme community members have formed village savings and loan (VSL) clubs. These clubs are helping women to access loans to start or boost their small-scale businesses so that they are economically empowered. From their profits, the VSL members are also able to buy more shares in their respective clubs, thereby earning higher dividends.
Besides the village savings and loan clubs, GEWE has also facilitated establishment of one stop centres in all the 13 districts. Situated in the communities and at the district level, the centres are aimed at providing comprehensive services to survivors of gender based violence.
To ensure the comprehensive service delivery, the GEW E programme supported the training
on law enforcers from the police, magistrate's courts and the Department of Social Welfare in gender related laws and rights. "As health workers we provide medal care to victims of gender
based violence such as rape or defilement. We work in partnership with the law enforcers such as the Police," said Christopher Mussa, who is a medical assistant at Milepa Health Centre in Chiradzulu district.
The Government of Malawi instituted sector working groups and the sector working group on gender, children youth and sports was institutionalized with support from GEWE. Community action groups including mother groups, girls' only groups, men only groups and women only groups have been established to monitor violations of women's rights, including gender based violence. The groups aim at promoting gender equality.
With guidance from state and nonstate partners traditional leaders have formulated bylaws to curb issues of child marriages and cultural practices that impinged on the girl child and women.
According to Traditional Authority Kameme of Chitipa, women were never considered for leadership positions in the district but the situation is now different because of the GEWE programme. "Culturally, we could not allow a woman to become a chief. Never! But now I have six group village head women in my area. This is so mainly because of GEWE," the chief said.
There is also gender responsive budgeting in government departments, following a circular by the government that all government budgets should have elements of gender responsiveness in them.
Different women groups in the thirteen districts where GEWE is being implemented have received loans to either start new businesses or improve the existing ones. Principle Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Mary Shawa said that that Malawi is in the right path towards the realization of gender equality and women empowerment, as stipulated by the Millennium Development Goal 3. But for this to become a reality there is still need for concerted efforts at family, community and national level.