Gender and Development in Malawi

Gender and Development in Malawi

Gender and Development in Malawi

Introduction

Malawi is located in the South Eastern part of Africa, bordering Tanzania, Zambia and Mozambique. It has an average size of 118,000 square kilometers and has its capital in the City of Blantyre. The national population as of the latest United Nations Estimates stands at around 18.1 million people.[1] There are slightly more women in Malawi than there are men with the ratio at an average of 51.5 percent for women against 48.5 percent for men.

Health in Malawi is a major issue of concern. The public health sector and the private sector work hand in hand to deliver health services to the people. The private sector is much more advanced with state of the art hospitals having been put up in different places across the country, the challenge with such hospitals is the cost and they therefore serve to cater mainly for the needs of the upper class and the middle class. The public sector on the other hand ranges from state of the art referral hospitals in various locations to community based dispensaries that are under the direction of community health workers.[2]

Health in Malawi

  • Family Planning

In the recent years, there has been an increase in the number of women in Malawi who want to avoid pregnancy. It is estimated that only a mere 30 percent of Malawian women have access to contraceptives or are actively using it to regulate child birth. The more startling statistic is that more than 54 percent of pregnancies in Malawi are unplanned pregnancies which points at the need for an improved family planning system.[3]

Being a traditionally patriarchal society, most married women abide by their husbands opinions and it is safe to say that many men across Malawi lack faith in the use of contraceptives and other family planning methods. There is the notion among men that the use of contraceptives makes women promiscuous as it releases from them the burden of knowing that such acts of promiscuity may lead to pregnancy. The other reason why many men would not approve the use of family planning in Malawi is the traditional mindset that a man with many children is seen as more powerful in society. Many men in the rural areas of Malawi still believe in this old practice and therefore are reluctant to buy into the new practice. Some basically reject family planning projects because of the fear of what society may think about them. Myths and misconceptions are therefore behind the curtailing of family planning projects in Malawi.[4]

While a considerable percentage of men in Malawi buy into the idea of their wives using contraceptives a way of family planning, a very low percentage accept the use of male birth control methods.[5] Vasectomy is a surgical procedure that is used to enhance birth control for men. Most Malawian hospitals are well equipped to carry out vasectomy for men but the acceptance of this procedure among men is very low. There are concerns among many of the men as to the success of this; many believe that it would make them impotent while others believe that conducting vasectomy on a man makes them lose their sex drive.

The Malawian government has put in place various programs to help increase voluntary family planning. This is with a view to reduce the high population growth rate in the country and helping to prevent unwanted pregnancies, and also to reduce maternal and child mortality rate. Despite the many challenges it is believed that these family planning programs would help increase economic growth by making it easier for the state to pace development with economic growth among a host of other advantages.

  • HIV/AIDS Challenges

HIV/AIDS is highly prevalent in Malawi. It is estimated that a total of more than a million people in Malawi are living with HIV/AIDS which is about 10.4% of the population. This makes Malawi one of the countries with the highest prevalence rates of HIV in the world and in Africa. The prevalence rate is higher among women than it is for men with the percentages ranging at around 12.2% for women and 8.4% for men. Sex workers and people who inject drugs are the most likely to be infected by the virus.[6]

Young women in Malawi at the age of between 16-24 years are four times more likely to be infected with HIV/AIDS as opposed to their male counterparts. The disparities in the prevalence rates between men and women can be attributed to biological factors as well as the difference in physiological vulnerabilities between the two genders. It is important to look into detail the reasons as to why women are more likely to be infected than men. Most people infected are infected through sexual transmission. The traditional society setup dictates that women remain subordinate to men in terms of sexual matters and as a result women are mostly passive in these matters.[7]

Infidelity is higher among men as compared to women. Most men have a number of different partners and this increases the prevalence of infection among married women. Similarly, polygamy is a widespread practice in Malawi. Many men seek to marry a number of wives with the social norm being that this is more prestigious. In such situations, a man that is infected with the virus would then transmit it to more women.

The traditional African society setup dictates that men are the breadwinners in a family. This means most men have to take up jobs where they have to stay away from home for long sustained periods of time trying to make a living for themselves and for their families. This increases the chances of infidelity among such men seeking to satisfy their sexual desires and as such leads to an increase in infections. Some traditional religious beliefs also preach against the use of condoms and this puts a considerable percentage of the population who believe in this faith at high risk of infection. Women also lack the economic empowerment to make their own decisions. Most depend on men to provide for them and as a result they can be easily manipulated.[8]

Conclusion

Gender based issues in the health sector are a major issue of concern in Malawi. As a developing nation, more measures ought to be put in place to ensure that the disparities arising from gender differences are addressed. Community health strategies need to be put in place to ensure that participation of both men and women in health related issues is guaranteed. It is important that both men and women participate in family planning decisions.

The government needs to increase budget allocation to the health sector to address issues surrounding family planning and HIV/AIDS infection. Human resource in the health sector should also be increased; more nurses and health workers ought to be employed and posted to different areas of the nation. There should be a mechanism in place to ensure that there is increased access to information for the public as regards health matters.

Women empowerment and gender equality needs to be approached in a better way. It is clear that women in Malawi are more affected by health issues than men. It is therefore important that measures are put in place to ensure this is addressed.

Gender issues in the developing world are a major issue of concern. After doing this analysis, I can categorically state that there is a lot of work to be done in achieving Gender balance in the developing world. This is because of the patriarchal nature of society in these areas. However, there is substantial amount of progress being made already and things can only improve moving forward.

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