Tips for Women Travelers in Malawi

Find everything women travelers in Malawi need to know about healthromancewomen’s rights and safety.

All the information below is provided by Pink Pangea community members based on their experiences abroad. Add your voice!

  

Health

Feminine Hygienic Products

Shambhavi says: Sanitary pads and tampons are available in most super markets and pharmacies. Most international brands are available and a few local brands are as well.

Jess says: Pads are typically available even at small shops. Tampons are available at shops owned by foreigners -Indians, primarily- and at shops targeted to tourists or ex-pats.

Birth Control

Shambhavi says: Condoms are available in international pharmacies and local brands in most pharmacies. Oral contraceptives are not so popular and may be available in pharmacies.

Jess says: Condoms are widely available. The morning after pill is available, but potentially unreliable and hard to access. I didn’t encounter birth control pills.

Recommended Gynecologists and Doctors

Shambhavi says: I wouldn’t vouch for the medical facilities here. There are not many specialist doctors in the country and even if there are, people prefer to visit South Africa, India, or the UK for major treatments.

 

Romance

Dating Locals

Jess says: It’s relatively normal for Malawian men, especially in tourist areas, to date foreign women. Most will act rather “Westernized,” and will hope to accompany you to your home country one day. You can’t be sure about fidelity -cheating is commonplace- and you can’t be sure about intentions: expectations of a relationship may differ.

Malawian women do not frequently date foreign men. However, they do sleep with foreign men, typically in exchange for something like food, money, or clothing. Malawian women hanging out in foreign bars are assumed to be sex workers.

Types of Men

Jess says: Two main types include…

1. Rasta – there is a big “rasta” movement in Malawi. I doubt that many of the “rastas” that you meet are actually following the religion, and are just smoking a lot of dope.

2. Western educated (or pretending) – these Malawians speak with a soft British accent even if they’ve never left Malawi. Usually their goal is to move overseas.

LGBTQ Friendly

Shambhavi says: Malawi is a very liberal country. However, I’m not acquainted with any homosexuals here and homosexuality seems unwelcome.

Jess says: Not particularly in the villages, though they won’t ask as long as you don’t flaunt it. In Lilongwe and Blantyre, there are gay rights groups. But it’s still not commonplace.

 

Women's Rights

Women’s Rights

Shambhavi says: Women are in top-ranking positions in the government, civil services, police, and business. Also, a lot of entrepreneurs run businesses. Women are welcome to work. I myself have a lot of local women who work on my team and my business associations with banks have introduced me to lots of women working in senior positions.

Jess says: Men cheat, and women put up with it. In rural areas, women farm and care for children, and men seek paying work. In the cities, women seek paying work and farm and care for the children. Women are respected as leaders at all level of government, they do not frequently drink, and they are the heads of family.

Local Women

Shambhavi says: Women are very liberal here. Motherhood before marriage at a very young age, even in their early teens, is very common here. This is something we are not accustomed to in India.

Jess says: Women almost always have children. They value personal relationships and social capital very,very highly–more so than professional capital. There is not a corresponding understanding of the idea that time equals money.

Women-Specific Environments

Shambhavi says: Islamic mosques do have separate sections for women.

Jess says: In villages, women don’t typically go into barber shops. They also don’t regularly fish, or go into bars. In big cities, women may go into bars, but only accompanied by men.

Perception of Foreign Women

Shambhavi says: I am an Indian and there are many Asians and Indians here. Locals are friendly with you if you are nice to them. They don’t pass judgment based on your economic status or profession and are a very friendly lot.

Jess says: Americans are perceived as rich, and as a conduit for getting into the U.S. However, some Malawians don’t see Americans as different than other foreigners.

 

Safety

Transportation

Shambhavi says: Mini buses are the local mode of transport but they aren’t the safest. Private cars or rental cars are the safest.

Jess says: Local night buses are safe, as long as other women are on board. Taxis are safe in the village. Keep the number of a trusted taxi driver in the city.

Shady Areas for Women

Shambhavi says: Shady areas are mainly where dwellers are predominantly locals.

Jess says: Don’t go to bars by yourself.

Clothing

Shambhavi says: There is absolutely no restriction on dress for women. Most follow Western styles. In winters, conservative dressing is preferred.

Jess says: There were protests about women wearing pants a few years ago, but pants are perfectly common in the cities. Skirts above the knee and shorts I avoid, but only to resist looking like a tourist. Sleeveless shirts are fine, but avoiding too much cleavage is respectful. I usually wear skirts, or tie a wrap over pants.

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