Malawi embarks on a new programme to address poverty among women and girls

Women and girls empowerment

23 April 2024
A mother carrying her child with a smile
UNICEF Malawi/2023/HD Plus Creations
A mother carrying her child with a smile.

LILONGWE, 23 April 2024 - The Government of Malawi has embarked on a new three-year social protection programme to empower the most vulnerable women and girls in nine districts to get out of extreme poverty. The districts are Mzimba, Ntcheu, Balaka, Chikwawa, Mulanje, Mwanza, Neno, Nsanje and Zomba.

The programme, called Social Protection for Gender Empowerment and Resilience (SP-GEAR) or Amai Titukuke, supports implementation of the Malawi National Social Protection Strategy (MNSPS), the Social Cash Transfer Programme and targeted socio-economic empowerment activities, which are expected to benefit more than 500,000 people between 2024 and 2026.

Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, Honourable Jean Sendeza, MP, will launch the programme on Wednesday, April 24, 2024 at St. Martins Primary School in Mayaka in Zomba.

The programme signifies a significant step forward in efforts to address the unique challenges women and girls face in Malawi. Recognizing the critical role women and girls play in society, this initiative is designed to provide targeted support that not only enhances their socio-economic status but also strengthens their resilience to crises, shocks and disasters.

In addition, the programme will increase access to social services related to social behavior change, nutrition, early childhood development, sexual reproductive health and prevention of gender-based violence in the nine districts.

More than 20 per cent of Malawi’s 19.6 million population lives in extreme poverty, which disproportionately affects women and girls. In Malawi, women also head over 75 per cent of the families living in poverty amid prevalent violence and harmful practices that undermine their participation in economic activities.

Under the new initiative, which combines the efforts of Malawi Government, UNICEF, the European Union, the Government of Ireland and other partners, a total of $26.5 million (about MWK46 billion) has been mobilised to tackle challenges that narrow women’s access to economic opportunities and essential social services. The amount includes $23.6 million (about MWK41 billion) from the EU and $2.9 million (about K5 billion) from Ireland.

Available evidence highlights that, cash-plus programmes that combine cash transfers with complementary components such as human capital services, livelihood opportunities and access to sexual and reproductive health services, can deliver social protection rights, empower people and better enable them to participate fully in the social and economic lives of their families, communities and nations. This programme will help generate similar evidence for Malawi.

Sendeza said Malawi has made progress in expanding social protection to reach more vulnerable people, but significant gender gaps remain.

“This social protection programme is designed to reduce poverty, inequality and social exclusion of women and girls, and strengthen their resilience and livelihoods,” said Sendeza. “The Government of Malawi wants to protect and empower women to meaningfully participate in economic activities and improve their incomes so they can adequately support their families.”

UNICEF Representative Mr. Shadrack Omol said the programme promotes inclusive social protection which is essential to safeguarding the rights of children.

“Where parents and caregivers lack sufficient incomes and resources to raise their children, children cannot fully enjoy their rights. With this programme, Malawi can intensify efforts to ensure that children and women live in dignity to thrive and realise their full potential,” said Omol.

EU Ambassador to Malawi Mr. Rune Skinnebach said the new programme offers an opportunity to break the intergenerational poverty cycle in the targeted families, adding the EU values gender equality and empowerment of women so that they can effectively participate in society.

“Women and girls in Malawi, especially those on the social cash transfer programme, often bear the brunt of poverty, discrimination, and exclusion. This project seeks to change that narrative by providing them with tailored cash plus initiatives that combine cash transfers with targeted interventions designed to enhance resilience, promote sustainable livelihoods and improve their access to various social services designed to their specific needs and priorities.

“By addressing the multifaceted barriers to empowerment, we aspire to create an enabling environment where women and girls can thrive and contribute meaningfully to their communities,” said Ambassador Skinnebach.

Irish Ambassador to Malawi Mr. Séamus O'Grady said stronger and inclusive social protection systems have shown to be efficient in reducing extreme poverty.

“Women and girls face particular vulnerabilities and therefore have special needs. Apart from providing a safety net against poverty, we are delighted to note that this programme is uniquely positioned to tackle interrelated challenges such as gender-based violence that limit women’s access to opportunities,” said Ambassador O'Grady.

Among others, the programme will strengthen government policies, strategies and capacity to effectively implement social protection interventions such as social cash transfers, and work with district and local structures to empower women and girls through platforms such as savings and loans groups, early childhood development centres and community victim support units.

Media contacts

Eulette Ewart
Chief of Communication, Advocacy, and Partnerships
UNICEF Malawi
Pauline Kaude
Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare
Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare
Tel: +265999296020

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