Food Security Policy Innovation Lab

Gendering Malawi’s National Nutrition Policy

23 August 2016

Integrating gender in policies is mandatory for policy makers in various policy domains, however, mainstreaming gender is not as easy as it sounds. There are several tools that have been developed to help policy makers integrate gender into policies, however, weak enforcement of gender mainstreaming remains the status quo. If we do not address issues of gender equity, we will not be able to meet the Sustainable Development Goals.

The Institute for Food Nutrition and Well-being is involved in an international project funded by USAID, in partnership with Michigan State University and the International Food Policy Research Institute. The project aims to influence food security policy change by building the capacity of the media to report on food security policy issues, amongst other efforts.

As part of this initiative, the University of Pretoria, in collaboration with the Civil Society Organisation Nutrition Alliance (CSONA) and the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare hosted a one-day policy dialogue in Lilongwe in August. The purpose of the policy dialogue was to assess the extent to which Malawi’s forthcoming National Nutrition Policy integrates gender. Participants included the Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS, USAID, UN Women, CARE Malawi, Mothers to Mothers, Network for Youth Development and several journalists. Mr Charles Mazinga Deputy Director of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare provided opening remarks. He expressed that, “The University of Pretoria, Institute for Food, Nutrition and Well-being has partnered with government, especially the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and CSONA to look at the National Nutrition Policy.”

Ms Elizabeth Mkandawire, a PhD candidate at the institute co-facilitated the workshop with Prof. Lucy Mkandawire-Valhmu. “It’s a great privilege for us to work together as professionals from different disciplines. Scholars have argued that for us to meet the Sustainable Development Goals, it’s important for us to come together, because the problems that we face in terms of nutrition, health, HIV/AIDS, climate change and all the problems that have implications for us as a people are very complex and they require a multi-disciplinary approach. They require that we come together to identify innovative solutions and to work with people who are also engaged in research so that we can advance evidence-based interventions and evidence-based policy” said Prof. Mkandawire-Valhmu. Ms. Mkandawire presented sessions reflecting on the previous National Nutrition Policy and Strategic Plan 2007 – 2012, highlighting areas in which the policy overlooked gender issues. She also presented a session on the facilitators, limitations and barriers to men’s involvement in maternal and child health interventions.

Lucy Kayenga, Lesten Nyangulu and Weston Kammwamba, local community members from traditional authority Champiti in Ntcheu District were invited to participate in the dialogue and also share their experiences of men’s involvement in maternal and child health. The dialogue provided a platform for various stakeholders to reflect on the areas where the policy could integrate gender more effectively. The experiences shared and the sessions presented by Ms Mkandawire provided an evidence-base on which the discussions could be grounded.

Participants applauded the Department of Nutrition, HIV and AIDS for their recognition of the importance of gender in nutrition policy. They highlighted key areas where the policy needed to integrate more gender statements, pointing out that it is not sufficient to have one priority area for gender. They suggested that the Department should consider integrating gender into each of the priority areas that the policy highlights. Although it’s important to have a separate gender priority area, according to Andrea Medaas UN Women “We run the risk of people saying that ‘gender is included because we have a whole priority area dedicated to it’ without necessarily being able to prove that gender has been mainstreamed through other priority areas.”

Participants expressed that community participation in such dialogues was important, not only for policy development but also for policy implementation. One participant, Thokozani Khonje, reflected that “We go to a community and we think that they don’t have the solutions. But they know what they want. If you go with something and they don’t agree with it, what happens is that they just agree with it because you have gone there to their district, but what happens is that they won’t practice it. We need to apply a bottom-up approach. We need to ask what their views are.” Another participant, Chisomo Kintu, reflected that “To have them here and tell to tell us what strategies have worked would help inform policy.”

A media report on the workshop can be found at:

Gendering nutrition policy by Rhoda Msiska, Voice of Livingstonia

Men's involvement in safe motherhood by Rhoda Msiska, Voice of Livingstonia