09 Jul Empowering Malawi’s Women through Health Workforce Employment
When women are economically empowered, they re-invest in their families and communities. This creates a ripple effect, increasing economic growth and contributing to global peace and stability. No other sector employs more women than health— 70 percent of the health workforce is made up of female health and social care workers. Employment in the health sector empowers female health workers, their families, and communities.
The sun is shining through a doorway at the Lumbadzi Health Center. Brighter still is the smile and optimism radiating from Mayengiso Mumba, a PEPFAR-supported laboratory assistant who says, “I am able to save my own money to put towards my school. I am also able to assist my siblings’ needs!”
This is no small feat. In Malawi, while many young women may go to school to become future health workers, their dreams are frequently dashed once they graduate and face unemployment. High rates of youth unemployment exacerbate Malawi’s growing youth bulge and do nothing to ease the battle against HIV, especially among adolescent girls and young women. Under the weight of one of the world’s highest HIV burdens, Malawi needs more health workers. But the nation faces critical health worker shortages as districts often lack funding to cover salaries.
With support from the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), the USAID HRH2030 program has recruited more than 300 health workers in Malawi since 2017. The health workers have been deployed to both public and faith-based facilities in two high-burden districts, Lilongwe and Zomba, to fill critical gaps in health service delivery. By creating these jobs and increasing opportunities for women in the health workforce, there is a triple dividend: improving health services, advancing gender equality, and promoting sustainable development.
The employment of health workers in Malawi fills a critical workforce void. The PEPFAR-supported health workers bring the necessary skill and training to positively impact health outcomes. HRH2030 found that with the surge of health workers—as well as new treatment policies and other interventions—the number of facilities providing adult antiretroviral therapy and viral load monitoring has grown from 29 to 40 sites, an increase of nearly 40 percent.
Employment in the health workforce also provides a reciprocal benefit: while the female health workers provide communities with HIV services, they, in turn, have stability and reduce their own vulnerability to HIV.
In addition, several female health workers reported that the health workforce employment provided them with benefits of economic empowerment. Charity Msosa, a PEPFAR-supported pharmacy assistant at Chitedze Health Center remarks, “I am now independent and able to support my relatives.”
Women’s participation in the workforce is also creating female leaders and mentors. Olivia Mitambo, a PEPFAR-supported medical assistant at Thondwe Health Center shares, “I am a role model in my community. Girls are encouraged to work hard in school to become like me.”
Furthermore, the employment of women is allowing a new space for the creation of support networks, a critical aspect of empowerment and upward mobility. Brandina Kuyere, a PEPFAR-supported nurse midwife technician at Nasawa Health Center, explains, “the nature of my work has empowered me to expand my network of interaction, both at professional and community level, thereby improving my confidence in the way I act in various capacities.”
The culminating effect of improved health services and advancing gender equality is sustained development. The U.S. Government’s Women’s Global Development and Prosperity Initiative supports this idea, explaining that when women are economically empowered, they create a ripple effect by re-investing in their families and communities, which increases economic growth and subsequently contributes to global peace and stability.
The female PEPFAR-supported health workers in Malawi are examples of how women can unlock a triple dividend; they are improving health services, advancing gender equality, and contributing to sustainable development. Dorothy Munthali, a PEPFAR-supported medical assistant at M’mambo Health Center, sums it up. She says, “I work as an in-charge of a health facility, which means for decisions that run it, I am the final authority… This responsibility has empowered me in terms of managing the teams that make decisions on the best ways to support the lives of people [that we serve]. I am financially stable, hence able to support my children’s education, my extended family, and even the education of some family relations.”
Photo: Brandina Kuyere credits her employment as a PEPFAR-supported nurse midwife technician at Nasawa Health Center in Malawi for boosting her personal confidence and strengthening her professional support networks. Photo credit: Michelle Byamugisha for USAID HRH2030.