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Challenging Gender Stereotypes in Women's Leadership in Malawi

(Photo: The Honourable Agnes Nkusa Nkhoma, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Member of Parliament (Mchinji South Constituency)

This article is about a woman who beat all odds to become Member of Parliament, before being appointed Deputy Minister of Agriculture in Malawi. The story challenges gender stereotypes on women’s leadership and proves that women can lead if they are given opportunity. The story covers the short biography of the Honourable Agnes Nkusa Nkhoma and her achievements as a leader.

Gender equality in the political arena currently has high international appeal. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs, target 5.5) demands gender equality, asking countries “to ensure women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in politics, economics and public life”. Women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goal by 2030 (Inge & Happy, 2014). However, data shows that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide. Achieving gender parity in politics is far off (UN Women, 2021).

CYGEN member Aubrey Chidziwisano caught up with The Honourable Agnes Nkusa Nkhoma, Deputy Minister of Agriculture and Member of Parliament (MP) in Mchinji South Constituency in Mchinji district, Malawi in a phone interview in November 2021. Her story shows that women have the capacity and the potential to contribute to national development and beyond. Her story challenges traditional views about women leadership and proves that women have potential and capacity to lead and contribute to national development. The Hon. Agnes Nkusa Nkhoma’s career path is an inspiration to women and girls who aspire to become leaders.

Agnes Nkusa Nkhoma was born in Nkhwazi village, Traditional Authority Mabvere, Mchinji district-Malawi. At the age of 6, Nkusa Nkhoma moved from Nkhwanzi village to Kamwendo trading centre where her father was in business. Nkusa Nkhoma started her education at Nkhwazi primary school, later moving to Kamwendo primary school. She sat for her Primary School Leaving Certificate at Ludzi girls primary school, passing on the second attempt, after which she was selected to attend Thyolo Secondary School in Thyolo district. As a result of bullying and being in a mixed-gender school for the first time, her academic performance suffered – and again she had to wait until her second attempt before receiving the Malawi School Certificate of Education. Nkusa Nkhoma then became pregnant when she was 19 years old and her parents forced her to get married. After being married for almost 11 years, she decided to go back to school, starting form 4 at Likuni Boys Secondary school where she attended night classes. Nkusa Nkhoma retook the Malawi School Certificate of Education – and was successful at the first attempt.

Nkusa Nkhoma decided to join politics in 2009 after being approached by a group of politicians who encouraged her to compete as Member of Parliament at Mabvere. She campaigned for Member of Parliament in Mchinji South Constituency (Mabvere) in 2009 where she got 2,000 votes. During her campaign, women were laughed at and looked down upon. She was mocked with the Chichewa proverb “Ng’ombe yaikazi singakoke ngolo''