Monthly Archives: March 2014

Cop. Farmer. Nutritionist. Rockbreaker – Irish Times

Malawi has a female president, but women still play a subservient role in the home, have limited access to education, and suffer violence and ill health. Four mothers describe their lives, hopes and role models

Dorcus Jussab. Photograph: Sally Hayden

International attention turned to Malawi in April 2012 when President Joyce Banda came to power. Only the second woman head of state in Africa, she was named last year by Forbes as the most powerful woman on the continent.

Banda took charge after the death of her predecessor, Bingu wa Mutharika, at what was economically a very difficult time. After the IMF encouraged her to devalue the kwacha, in 2012, the country experienced widespread food and fuel shortages. Recent events have made her term no easier. The attempted assassination of the government budget director, last September, led to a corruption scandal, dubbed cashgate, that saw Banda sack her entire cabinet, and the EU, UK and Norway withdraw funding.

Her leadership could come to an end in May with the presidential election, a highly contested poll that will coincide with Malawi’s 20th anniversary as a multiparty democracy.

Although her success in most areas hasn’t been fully evaluated, she has been commended internationally for her efforts to improve women’s rights. Working for gender equality is also a priority of Irish Aid, the Government’s overseas development programme, and Malawi is one of its priority countries.

There is a lot of room for improvement. Malawi is 124th in the world for gender inequality, according to the UN. Women make up 22.3 per cent of seats in the Malawian parliament, and only 10.4 per cent of women have a secondary education, half the rate for men.

January Mvula, director of the Sustainable Rural Community Development Organisation, says Malawian women are physically strong. “African women carry a baby on their head, one load on their back, and others in each of their arms.” But when your measurement extends beyond the physical, the empowerment of women in Malawi is still in the early stages. “We are from a background where women are often disregarded.”

Issues such as gender-based violence are widespread. Early marriages and pregnancies prevent women completing their education. One in seven Malawian women is infected with HIV or Aids…


Teen Clubs aim to speak up and end the silence surrounding HIV – Irish Times

Through plays, debates, games and quizzes, young Malawians are learning about ending the stigma of HIV

The Ntchisi region of Malawi. One in seven people in the Southern African country has HIV/Aids.  Photograph: Sally Hayden

Jake* is 19. He found out he was HIV positive when an ad on the radio station he was listening to mentioned that the hospital he had been attending every month was a HIV/Aids hospital. “At first I was refusing to eat, stopped going to school, thought maybe I will die soon.”

Jake is one of a pretty unique sector of young people.

Those in his age group were the last to be born before medical advances reduced the chances of perinatally transmitted HIV from 25 per cent to less than 2 per cent, but still born late enough to benefit from antiretroviral drugs (ARVs), which hugely lengthen the expected lifespan of those infected.

Although Jake’s mother died from the virus she passed on to him during childbirth, he has survived. Along with all the other confusions that surround adolescence, he has had to come to terms with his diagnosis.

One-third of all those currently infected individuals are youth, aged between 15-24. Last Monday the World Health Organisation warned that governments were failing to provide adequate youth-specific services, something which has contributed to the 50 per cent increase in Aids-related deaths among 10-19 year olds between 2005 and 2012…