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publicationJune 9, 2022

Breaking the Cycle of Reduced Economic Opportunities for Malawi’s Women and Girls

While government efforts to close gender gaps have brought positive impacts, new gender and GBV assessments say more needs to

While government efforts to close gender gaps have brought positive impacts, new gender and GBV assessments say more needs to be done.

Photo: Homeline Media/World Bank


  • Gender gaps in Malawi are driven by inequalities in human endowments, economic opportunities, ownership, and control of assets
  • The latest gender assessment for the country shows that early marriage and childbirth, low levels of economic independence, and low levels of education among women causes gender-based violence and intimate partner violence
  • The assessment notes that Malawi’s recent gains in gender equality require accelerated momentum in implementation of existing policies and other additional priorities to help close remaining gaps

LILONGWE, June 9, 2022—With more than 12 laws, 10 policies, and nine international or regional treaty obligations related to the regulation of women’s issues, Malawi has a relatively progressive framework anchored on a progressive constitution and relevant pieces of legislation.

Government policy reforms to support greater gender equality and women’s empowerment cuts across several sectors including education, health, and protection from gender-based violence (GBV), employment and access to assets. Such efforts have already brought positive impacts in reducing the total fertility rate and increasing the rate of family planning use in Malawi.

Despite these gains, the latest World Bank Gender Assessment for Malawi reveals that more efforts to reduce the current gender gap and continued incidences of GBV are needed. The report identifies the main drivers of gender gaps in Malawi, including inequalities in human endowments, economic opportunities, ownership and control of assets, gender-based violence and low agency. According to the report, these drivers are interrelated and often compound each other.

On the other hand, the Malawi Gender-Based Violence Assessment Report has identified that the drivers of high rates of gender-based violence and intimate partner violence, IPV are early marriage and childbirth, low levels of economic independence for women, and low levels of education among women.  

Challenges For Women and Girls Linger

Economic empowerment for females in Malawi is acutely constrained by relatively high levels of early dropouts among girls in upper primary school. Out of every 100 girls who begin standard one of primary school, only three will enter secondary education. Of those three, only one will enter university.

The total conditional gender gap in agricultural productivity is 31%and is often driven by women being less likely to farm cash crops, women farmers having less access to male labor, and women having less access to agricultural technology and mechanization. Additionally, women have limited ownership of assets and access to credit.

Women entrepreneurs’ sales are 46% less than those of male entrepreneurs because men are more likely to use their own agricultural savings as startup capital and are likely to have workers and pay them more.

Women wage workers in Malawi receive lower wages and are more likely than men to not be paid for their work.

“Empowering women and girls to stay in school, pursue employment and entrepreneurship opportunities and live free from violence benefits everyone. Economies that invest in women grow faster and are more resilient to shocks,” said Hugh Riddell, World Bank Country Manager for Malawi.

Building on strong foundations

The recent successes that Malawi has experienced in closing gender gaps require further acceleration in many areas, such as by improving schooling rates for girls at the upper secondary level, lowering maternal mortality rates, further decreasing the fertility rate, and addressing child marriage and adolescent pregnancy.

There is also a need for a greater focus on identifying and addressing those constraints related to access to various assets that hold back women’s productivity as farmers, entrepreneurs, and wage workers.

Part of the strategy for building on recent gains in gender equality, according to the reports, requires the need for improved implementation of existing policies including identifying additional priority policies and interventions that can help close remaining gaps.


To address GBV, the report recommends that the government and partners increase investments towards the development and strengthening of systems, structures, and mechanisms for GBV response and service delivery. This will ensure the availability, accessibility, usability, responsiveness, and accountability of such services across the entire service delivery structure, including the judiciary, health, social welfare, and the Malawi Police Service.

There is also need to scale up programs that support economic empowerment initiatives of GBV survivors and those at risk, the report notes, and to support efforts to promote harmonization of laws and policies to make it easier for survivors to access justice.

Recommendations to improve women’s economic opportunities include:

  • Support adolescent girls, both in school and out of school, to make decisions that set them on a more productive path and continue building on successful efforts on reducing fertility
  • Increase women’s agricultural productivity through incentives, providing extension services that are more tailored to women’s specific needs, and supporting women’s access to mechanization and labor-saving technologies to compensate for their lower use of farm labor
  • Improve women’s entrepreneurship outcomes through savings mechanisms that give women greater control and privacy over their savings as well as supporting their socio-emotional skills
  • Increase women’s agency and reduce their exposure to GBV by engaging men and boys in behavior change interventioink