In Malawi, the Global Hunger Index classifies the food security situation as “serious”. Lack of food security causes child undernutrition and child mortality. Levels of malnutrition are alarmingly high. About half of all children under the age of five show signs of chronic malnutrition. One-third of the population is food-insecure, with disrupted eating patterns and reduced food intake.
Women in Malawi play a critical role in agriculture, and agriculture plays a critical role for the livelihood of women. Purposively empowering women and focusing on their unique challenges within agriculture and climate change will greatly reduce poverty and enhance productivity. The UN’s Special Rapporteur on the Right to Food underlines that the empowerment of women should be at the centre of food security strategies, both in order to guarantee the right to food for women, and because it is the most cost-effective measure to reduce hunger and malnutrition for all.
The female share of economically active persons in agriculture in Malawi reached 60 per cent in 2010. This is among the highest average agricultural labour force participation by females in the world. In addition, women smallholders produce 70 per cent of food that is consumed locally and perform 50–70 per cent of all agricultural tasks. Furthermore, women spend on average 1.2 hours a day getting water and fetching firewood, adding to their time poverty.
However, women continue to have poor access to and control over the means of agricultural production, including agricultural inputs, improved technologies, extension services, credit and land. Women’s weak bargaining position within households results in a situation where they may not be able to decide on priorities in the household budget.