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#FillTheGap! Breadwinners and homemakers in Malawi

Farming First Farming First

This is the final post of Farming First’s #FillTheGap campaign to highlight the gender gap facing rural women working in agriculture. 

Malidadi Chilongo may only be 27 but she is already a small-scale farmer, a mother-of-four, and her husband’s second wife.

She met her husband when she was 15, fell in love, and married. She has a good relationship with her husband’s first wife, who has five children.

“I was nervous at first to come here but it has been fine,” she said. “We get along well. We help each other out – I care for her children and she cares for mine if we need to do other things.”

One of the children from her husband’s first family lives with a severe physical and mental disability, which is a significant burden on the household, and on their resources. The teenage girl suffers from epilepsy, her seizures can be severe. Often, her husband and the child’s mother are away with their daughter, receiving treatment in hospital, or purchasing medication that she needs to help to manage her condition.

Malidadi has a small plot of land on the family farm in Kaphika village, northern Malawi, and uses it to grow her traditional staple, cassava, as well as upland rice to feed the family and to sell for extra income. She has also joined a local village savings and loans group, and has borrowed from this to buy dried fish – “kapenta” – that she sells locally to supplement her income.

Malidadi Chilongo and her husband’s first wife, Margaret, Kaphika village, Malawi, 2017. (Photo: Self Help Africa)

Through Self Help Africa’s DISCOVER program, Malidadi has also learned to diversify her farm, and invest in livestock, including goats, pigeons and chickens. In doing so, she has not only improved her family’s diet, by providing more animal-source protein, but has also invested in a back-up to sell if her crops fail because of extreme weather, making her family more resilient in the face of climate change.

She is an example within her community of how women farmers can be economically successful, contributing to a better life for her children and her family, and responding to the challenge of a changing climate that is affecting her area.

Malidadi’s two older children are currently attending school, and she also aims to send her other two. She left school herself after third grade, or after primary education, and does not read or write.

With her family provided for, Malidadi hopes one day she too might return to education. “Maybe in the future,” she said. “Or perhaps if there is a class for mothers.”

For more stories of bridging the gender gap, visit Farming First’s Fill The Gap page or follow #FillTheGap on social media.

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