The case of Malawi shows that while legal reform, transition to political pluralism, and adoption of the language of international human rights may facilitate the formation of a constitution that guarantees and respects all people's human rights, a cultural discourse that presents contradictions and ironies regarding women's status may limit the extent to which these processes are translated into automatic and predictable gains for women. Precolonial gender roles and historical processes in the colonial and postcolonial period have resulted in a fluidity with which the concept of culture is used. Under Kamuzu Banda's rule, the state appropriated the mbumba culture to create a mass-based political organization, and yet did not give women real power. Since the transition to liberal democracy in 1993-1994, the Malawi government has shown a willingness to preach gender equality by adopting a nondiscrimination clause in its constitution and undertaking legal reform and policy initiatives; however, the political will to act is not in evidence. Women have resisted the cultural opposition to their empowerment by utilizing their matrilineal role as kingmakers and adopting arguments consistent with traditional participatory decision-making processes to push for changes in their favor, albeit with little effect. Currently, civil society seems the most viable option for speeding up women's participation in the political process and the legal sphere. Through it, women can push for legal changes, provide legal literacy to women, address constraints to women's participation in the cultural arena through civic education, and work closely together within and outside the formal political process.


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pp. 77-99
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