Malawi's local government budget has been growing by the day, and local authorities say the trend is a direct trickle-down effect of women marginalisation, according to District Commissioners (DCs) interviewed by Africa News. .
Traditionally, Malawian women are deemed as 'goalkeepers" for the home, often doing nothing to prop up their own income as they have long been used to the dependant tag. Analysts say this is mainly to blame for the lack of a saving culture, even among the country's males, as the little they earn is fast swallowed up by domestic demands.
DC for the Southern Malawi district of Balaka, Cliffton Thyangathyanga, said in Balaka in an interview marginalisation of women in the district has has deep-surface repurcasions on the social development budget.
"Imagine, during the 2007/08 local government budget for our district we have spend over MK2.8 million paying school fees for children who are pursuing studies at secondary school level. This is because most women in Balaka are illiterate due to prevalent cultural misconceptions that women are for the home. If they were educated, they would have been empowered and we would not have the scenario where people depend on government to pay school fees for their children," said Thyangathyanga.
Thyangathyanga said Malawian society was beggining to reap the fruits of disefranchisement and warned that without deliberate policies to reverse the trend, the country would soon begin to spend hugely only the already over-crowded social budget instead of shifting focus towards the development budget.
The country's budget is already overstretched by a fertiliser subsidy programme targeting 2 million people. Finance Minister Goodal Gongwe has already indicated that the 2008/09 budget could include about K16 million for the programme.
This is despite the fact that the World Bank and International Monetary Fund initiated the phase-out of subsidy programmes in the early 1980s. Malawi's has, however, been a success story as- from almost perenial hunger and poor harvests-the country has rose above the tide, importing 400 000 metric tones to Zimbabwe (though delivery is yet to be finalised) and Soth Africa eying Malawian beans, according to officials at the National Food Reserve Agency.
Nsanje DC Tobby Solomon said the best way to begin empowering women was through government projects' recruitment. He cited the multi-billion Kwacha Shire/Zambezi Waterway one one of the projects that will help improve the economic status of women in the district and, thus, help them move out of poverty.
"They will be able to pay school fees for their children, even widows. But more importantly, women will be able to invest part of the money in entrepreneurship training and thus empower themselves and their families. We are beggining to see a change of mindset but, otherwise, social spending bacause of women disefranchisement is really there," said Solomon.
Jean Mkwanda, Family Development Services Executive Director, said most women venture into prostitutiton due to lack of alternative means of income. She said increased social spending budgets on women will continue to increase if entrepreneurship trainings were not initiated.
"That is why FDS empowers women through training. We have been training Balaka women in business management and pig realing, for example, and the result is that most women are now able to fend for their families and even pay school fees for their children, unlike in the past where they depended on their male counterparts for everything.
"The other problem we have found was that most women were doing crossborder trade and were being abused. The best thing for them to do is to start animal rearing because there are good returns. A piglet goes at K8 000, which is far too much for some civil servants who receive less than that a month to carter for their families, house rent, and other basic necessities," lamented Mkwanda, herself one of Malawi's most successful farmers.