Malawi - An Overview of Women's Work, Minimum Wages and Employment

An Overview of Women’s Work and Employment in Malawi. Minimum wage, wages, labour employment, unemployment, women employment, working conditions, Labour market structure, Legislation, Labour relations, Literacy, Literacy and skill levels of female labour, etc...

Decisions for Life MDG3 Project Country Report No. 6

University of Amsterdam /Amsterdam Institute for Advanced Labour Studies (AIAS)
Maarten van Klaveren, Kea Tijdens, Melanie Hughie-Williams, Nuria Ramos Martin
Amsterdam, Netherlands, December 2009


This report provides information on Malawi on behalf of the implementation of the DECISIONS FOR LIFE project in that country. The DECISIONS FOR LIFE project aims toraise awareness amongst young female workers about their employment opportunities and career possibilities, family building and the work-family balance. This report is part of the Inventories, to be made by the University of Amsterdam, for all 14 countries involved. It focuses on a gender analysis of work and employment.

History (2.1.1). Malawi is one of the world’s least developed and most densely populated countries. After 30 years of dictatorship after independence in 1964, the country’s population in 1994 voted for a multiparty democracy. The successive administrations till recently maintained a pro-western line.

Governance (2.1.2). The government generally respects human rights, though restrictions of freedom of assembly, speech and press occur. Traditional justice forums have been formally suspended, but they continue to throw a shadow over women’s emancipation. The physical integrity of women is not sufficiently protected. Press reports of rape arrests and convictions are an almost daily occurrence. Sexual harassment is not specifically prohibited by law.

Prospects (2.1.3). In 2008-09, Malawi’s economy shows a growth spurt. It seems largely insulated from the global downturn, most likely due to a small financial sector and limited FDI inflows.

Communication (2.2). In 2008, 15% of all inhabitants were cell phone users. Internet coverage is rapidly growing, though with in 2008 2.3% as users still low. Nearly 15% of the population may have access to the Internet. Unless government restrictions, independent (paper) media are active. TV coverage is low.

The sectoral labour market structure (2.3). In 2005, nearly 90% of all employed women worked in agriculture, against 9% in services, broadly defined. About 13% of the labour force worked in the formal sector. Female unemployment nearly doubled male unemployment, and was with 28-38% highest in the two largest cities. Also, unemployment was high among those with completed secondary and higher education, again especially among females.

Legislation (2.4.1). Malawi has ratified the core ILO Labour Conventions, but recognition procedures may hamper union organizing. Strike procedures are cumbersome.

Labour of children under the age of 14 is forbidden, but widespread.

Labour relations and wage-setting (2.4.2). Wage setting is traditionally heavy influenced by governmental pressure for wage restraint. 2008 estimates point at a union density of about 25%, if potential union membership is limited to the formal sector.

The statutory minimum wage (2.5.1). There are two statutory minimum wage rates, of which the urban rate accounts for 20-25% of average wages in the urban formal sector. Between 2000-2008, the SMW upratings did nearly keep pace with consumer price inflation.

Poverty (2.5.2). Whereas in 1997-98 65% lived below the national poverty line, this share gradually fell to 40% in 2007. In 2005, 22% lived below the ultra poor poverty line, and could not meet daily food standards. Poverty is gendered: on average, female-headed households earned only 60% of the annual income of male-headed households.

Population and fertility (2.6.1). Population growth has fallen slightly, to an expected 2.4% in 2009. With 6.6 children per woman the total fertility rate in 2006 was very high, though some sources project a fall to below 6. The adolescent fertility rate, 178 per 1,000, also remains high. The average marriage age is low: by 2006 about two third of the girls and young women 15-29 of age were married.

HIV/AIDS (2.6.2). Malawi has a rather high HIV/AIDS infection rate, though it fell from 14.4% in 2003 to 11.9% in 2007. In that year, 930,000 inhabitants lived with HIV. There is some evidence of behaviour changes than can reduce the risk of HIV infection, mainly among young people.

Women’s labour market share (2.6.3). In 2005, women’s overall share in employment was 48%. Women’s share in larger private companies was highest in construction, and low in manufacturing. It was 20-28% in commerce, finance and business, and 30% in social and community services, including government. The share of women in wage employment in the non-agricultural sector was in 2008 15%.

Agriculture (2.6.4). Agricultural productivity is low, slowly rising and extremely vulnerable to climatic extremes. Young women with more education living in urban areas and trying to make a career cannot rely on a “fall-back scenario” in which they can go back to their families living from agriculture.

Mining and manufacturing (2.6.5). There is no significant manufacturing sector, industry is mainly based on agro-processing and textiles.

Commerce (2.6.6). Paid female employment in formal sector commerce is rather limited, but 30-35% of women working informally in urban areas do so in commerce, implying that 27-31% of all females employed in urban settings may work in this sector.

Services (2.6.7). About 30% of the total female urban workforce do so in commercial services and in finance and other business. The sector at large may offer interesting job opportunities for young women, also because of the relatively high earnings.

Government (2.6.8). Government in Malawi has always been regarded as an attractive employer, and for young women that still may be the case. Yet, in the near future vacancies will be limited.

Literacy (2.7.1). The adult literacy rate –those age 15 and over that can read and write-- was in 2006 66%, but for females 10%points lower. In that year the youth literacy rate was 78%, and 73% for females aged 15-24 years.

Education of girls and young women (2.7.2). In 2005, the net enrollment rate in primary education was 73%, with girls 6%points higher than boys. The primary completion rate was with 55% in 2007 much lower, with girls just 1%point higher than boys. In 2006, secondary education enrollment was only 11%, with girls at 13%. Although Malawi has four universities, the total enrollment rate in tertiary education may be 1-1.5%. Women to men parity at universities is only about 50%.

Female skill levels (2.7.3). The average skill levels of the population are low. Malawi is an exception, where skill levels of women are even lower than those of males. In 2006, 22% of all males aged 15 and over had at least secondary education completed, against 12% of females. We estimate the current size of our target group at about 10,000 girls and young women, working in urban areas in formal labour in commercial services; including informal labour may add an additional 30,000.

Wages (2.8.1). An overview of yearly remuneration in larger private companies revealed huge differences, with earnings in financial services 25 times those in agriculture, construction and real estate.

Working conditions (2.8.2). Data on working conditions in Malawi is missing. The official labour inspection capacity is minimal, and the lack of governmental expertise in the working conditions area is immense.


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