Malawi

Can feminist leadership principles and practices help change current top-down leadership models on the African continent? If social transformation is our vision for the future, business as usual is not taking us there. Rarely do we ask, “What kind of leadership do we want to create through and with women?”
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This case study shares the experiences and perceptions of HIV positive women in Malawi who have organized to change how they view themselves, how they are treated and how to demand their right to decent health care.
Over 250 women activists from across the continent gathered in Lilongwe, Malawi in September 2013 to forge a new path in women’s leadership. The Women Steering Innovative Leadership in Africa Conference was an exciting space for exploding traditional notions of women’s activism and leadership, linking women across generations and contexts to think about leadership for transformation. 
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Malawi has almost one million estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS (924,800 PLWHA - UNAIDS 2009). Malawi’s HIV/AIDS prevalence rate (the percent of people living with HIV) is almost twice the rate in sub Saharan Africa overall (14.2% compared with 7.5% in 2006 UNAIDS).
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Malawian women activists will hold a national dialogue with stakeholders and decisionmakers from 20 – 22 October 2012 to demand for an immediate rollout of quality ART. Women will also meet with Ministry of Health officials and take to the streets at the Global Race to SAVE Lives Conference during a March on October 23 to demand the necessary resources and support from the ministry of health, medical institutions, local financial lending institutions and government to save lives now.
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HIV+ women in Malawi are being poisoned by the anti-retroviral treatment (ART) provided by the government, which contains Stavudine, a drug that causes painful side effects. Due to deep poverty and inequality, many women are unable to afford alternative ART or land and fertilizer to support good nutrition to make treatment more effective. For four years JASS has supported Malawian women activists in a movement-building process to tackle critical issues affecting women. Considerable mobilization and organizing has culminated into a campaign to ensure women’s access to alternative quality ART with fewer side effects.
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As a feminist activist, I’ve never had a dream as I have now because I can see us moving forward, Joyce Banda puts women on her agenda as a top priority so we have the door open and once women are together, ten, twenty, more—there’s a lot that we can accomplish. ~ Thokozile Phiri-Nkhoma, Malawian activist
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After a whirlwind of activity over roughly 14 days, we leave Malawi bone-tired but also excited about the depth and breadth of JASS' work, our partnerships with MANERELA+ and women leaders from a wide spectrum of organisations and networks, and more.
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Over two days, more than 140 HIV positive women activists met in Malawi to celebrate the campaign they built to access to better ARVs and treatment literacy. As a prelude to the Global Race to SAVE Lives Conference, the national dialogue was a great opportunity for women to share and reflect as well as strategise.
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It’s hot. 36 degrees. We are not sure the march is going to happen. How can women take to the streets with the sun burning down on their heads? As we arrive at Kamazu Statue, there are not many women present. There is no shade left, so we sit in the bus. We are really not sure if it’s going to happen. Sibongile from M+ gets out and for the next half hour there is lots of talking, walking back and forth, negotiation and gesticulation. At some point she disappears, when she returns she tells us she was asked to address the gathering crowd.
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