SPEECH BY U.S. AMBASSADOR VIRGINIA PALMER
FARMERS UNION OF MALAWI (FUM) GENDER EQUALITY AND HIV/AIDS POLICY LAUNCH
Wednesday, August 12, 2015
Sunbird Capital Hotel, 6:00 P.M.
- The Guest of Honor, Minister for Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Hon. Patricia Kaliati, MP
- The President of Farmers Union of Malawi, Mr. Alfred Kapichira Banda
- The Principal Secretary of Gender Children Disability and Social Welfare, Dr. Mary Shawa
- The Chief Executive Officer of Farmers Union of Malawi, Mr. Prince Kapondamgaga
- Board of Directors and Council Representatives for Farmers Union of Malawi
- The UN Women Resident Representative, Ms. Alice Shackelford
- The Country Representative, We- Effect, Malawi
- The Gender and Development Specialist from CIMMYT, Dr. Vongai Kandiwa
- Representatives of Development Partners
- Members of the Press
- Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
- All protocols observed
- I am very pleased to join you on this important occasion – the launch of FUM’s new Gender Equality and HIV/AIDS Policy. Gender inequality is an issue about which I am extremely passionate and, with Malawi ranking 174 out of 187 on the UN’s Gender Inequality Index, I believe it is one of the most significant impediments to the country’s growth and development. So thank you for the invitation to address you this evening on this topic.
- I don’t have to convince anyone in this room of the centrality of agriculture to Malawi’s economy. Agriculture accounts for 30% of GDP, and employs nearly two-thirds of the labor force. But women comprise an even larger share of the agricultural labor force than men; a full 70% of women are employed in agriculture. Add to this the approximately 15% of women who are purely subsistence farmers, and we can say that fully 85% of Malawi’s women depend on agriculture for their livelihood (compared to 70% of men).
- Yet women generally have less access to land; modern technologies, such as improved seeds and fertilizers; and extension services. In Malawi, less than a third of individual holders of agricultural land are women, and half of female-headed households own less than half a hectare as compared to only one-quarter of male-headed households. As a result of such imbalances, women produce 25% less than their male counterparts globally, a loss of potential that Malawi simply cannot afford.
- Clearly, there remains much scope for raising the productivity of Malawi’s agricultural sector in general, but also for Malawi’s women in particular. The vision espoused by FUM’s new Gender Equity and HIV/AIDS Policy is laudable: “a farming society where women and men farmers equally and effectively participate in and benefit from the Malawi agricultural sector.” Practically, though, this means that much more must be done for Malawi’s women farmers.
- One area in which FUM can translate its vision on gender equity into practical reality is in its provision of extension services. “Mainstreaming” gender in the provision of extension support will mean, for example, accounting for women’s traditional household responsibilities in determining when and where extension services are offered to ensure women obtain access. And, increasing the number of female extension agents – who are generally more sensitive to such factors – will improve the likelihood that women will be able to access and utilize extension services.
- FUM can also seek to improve women’s engagement in the marketing of agricultural production. Too often, women contribute their labor to production but do not derive the full benefits from it due to their absence from the marketing end of agricultural value chains.
- Giving Malawi’s women greater access to economic opportunities in such ways is not just good for them and the development of Malawi’s agricultural sector. It will also go a long way in addressing Malawi’s rapid population growth, which, at current rates, could reach 40 million by 2040, placing untenable pressure on scarce land, straining already-stretched social services, and threatening Malawi’s hard-won development gains.
- Arresting this situation is perhaps Malawi’s most critical long-term development challenge, and it requires putting women at the center of Malawi’s future development. That is something the U.S. Government – and I personally – are very anxious to support.
- In fact when President Obama recently visited Africa, he announced a package of new initiatives that will establish the foundation for future economic empowerment for thousands of Malawi’s adolescent girls.
- Let Girls Learn will ensure that adolescent girls are able to remain in and succeed in secondary school.
- The DREAMS initiative will reduce HIV infections among adolescent girls and young women by addressing some of the structural drivers that directly and indirectly increase girls’ HIV risk, including poverty, gender inequality, sexual violence, and lack of education.
- And, finally, Malawi has been designated as a high-priority country for U.S. Government-support to reduce the harmful effects of gender-based violence.
Such new efforts will only add to what was already a strong focus of U.S. assistance on empowering Malawi’s women in all sectors that we support.
- Let Girls Learn and DREAMS will build on our new ASPIRE program, which promotes literacy skills and the adoption of safe health behaviors among upper primary school girls, while addressing key cultural barriers that limit girls’ access to schooling. Such efforts are a natural extension of past and on-going U.S. Government investments that expanded girls’ access to basic education and early-grade literacy in Malawi. They are also an expansion of efforts to address some of the issues that lead to high rates of grade repetition and leaving school, especially among girls.
- The United States’ “Feed the Future” food security initiative is already implementing some of the best practices noted in FUM’s new Gender Policy by bringing ever-greater numbers of women into selected agricultural value chains, providing them with both more nutritious crops to eat and economic opportunities that offer them greater financial independence. We are working hard to strengthen women’s leadership skills and ensure that they increasingly play leadership roles as Lead Farmers and Lead Mothers and in farmer’s organizations. Of course, FUM has been an essential partner in those efforts.
- I will be in Mangochi tomorrow to launch ten new grants that will train farmers on the benefits of gender empowerment to decision-making around land use. These grants are a fundamental component of our $350 million Millennium Challenge Corporation compact designed to rehabilitate Malawi’s energy sector. Soil erosion and deforestation are significant environmental and natural resource challenges in the Shire River Basin that impair downstream electricity generation. Men and women in targeted villages along the river will receive training in business and marketing skills, leadership, and adult literacy and numeracy, as well as improved land management. These skills will enable them to equally benefit from and contribute to improved livelihoods for their families and increased sustainability of their own land while averting negative down-stream effects on power generation.
- I want to assure the men in this room that you need not fear these types of efforts that will help to expand women’s economic opportunities in Malawi. Empowering women in the agriculture sector for success does not take away from your role in the home and community, but it does make your home, your community, and everyone in it better off. It is good for your families, it is good for Malawi’s agricultural sector, and it is good for you.
- Inspired by the Malawian chapter of the African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program (AWEP), a woman named Thoko Unyolo launched a new company in 2014 that will work with women villagers to grow and distribute certified seed. Women like Thoko are helping Malawi recapture some of its lost agricultural potential, and we should be holding them up and celebrating them for their contributions to the sector.
- FUM’s adoption of the Gender Equality and HIV/AIDS Policy represents an important step toward this. I congratulate the entire membership of FUM for its vision and urge everyone here to review the new policy and ask yourselves: what is one specific action that I can take personally to contribute to its objectives? Share your ideas on what action you can take with the others you chat with tonight. As you go home to your communities or home areas, tell your friends about the specific ideas that you identified or heard about from others. Make a plan to turn your idea into action.
- Ultimately, we did not come here tonight to celebrate a document. We came here tonight to envision a Malawi that is transformed – producing more, forging more prosperous families, and doing so more equitably. So go forward and be the change that you want to see. Let’s indeed make Malawi’s agricultural sector one in which women and men farmers equally and effectively participate in and drive Malawi’s transformation.
Thank you. Zikomo kwambiri.