- Marriage and divorce practices in Malawi are not conforming to the country's constitution and international treaties regulating gender equality, the government has found. A commission therefore is looking at new ways to "set uniform standards" for marriage and divorce in Malawi, combining tradition and modern rights.
Malawi's Special Law Commission on Review of Gender-Related Laws says that marriage is a fundamental unit of society and its sanctity of its institution therefore has to be respected within the diversity that exists in our society while conforming to the Malawian constitution.
The observation was made by the chair of the Special Law Commission on Review of Gender-Related Laws, Dr Naomi Ngwira, at a National Consultative workshop on the review of the laws on marriage and divorce. "It is for this reason that the special Law Commission considered it proper that entry into family life through marriage and exit through divorce should be regulated by law that will set uniform standards despite the diversity in our society which arises on account of faith or custom," said Dr Ngwira.
The Malawian government commission recommended that there must be one statute to regulate, family relations and divorce and the proposed law therefore seeks to regulate entry into marriage, subsistence of marriage and dissolution of marriage.
"The Commission has made a number of observations on key concepts such as polygamy, third party interference, capacity of parties to a marriage, formalities for entering marriage and rights and obligations that arise there from," said Dr Ngwira.
The Principal Secretary for Gender, Child Welfare and Community Services Andrina Mchiela, said since the establishment of the commission in September 2001, the Commission has undertaken a number of initiatives which include; development of a paper entitled 'Overview and Issues of Gender Based Law Reform in Malawi' and completion of first phase of the 'Review of Gender related Laws' by finalising the review of the 'Wills and Inheritance Act'.
Ms Mchiela said the attainment of gender equality through gender law reform forms part of government's broader agenda of national development. "In its policy endeavours, government has made efforts to place gender equality issues in the nation's development agenda. These efforts have been further strengthened by the 1995 Malawi Constitution and many international treaties, declarations and protocols that entrench gender equality and the rights of women," added Ms Mchiela.
She cited the example of CEDAW , the Beijing Declaration , Malawi National Platform for Action , Vision 2020, Malawi National Gender Policy , Malawi Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper  and The National Gender Programme.
She said there are however, notable gaps between the standards and norms as laid down in the international instruments and in Malawi's constitution on one hand and the practical realities of our society, on the other. "Our society is characterised by customary and religious diversity as regards to practices governing marriage, family relations and divorce. It follows, therefore, that the implementation of standards and norms to protect its sanctity remains a dream," said Ms Mchiela.
She said it is therefore incumbent upon us all that the status quo regarding family life for both men and women be assessed in order to align it with our constitutional provisions and applicable international norms.
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