There can not be sustainable women empowerment in development and politics if women lobby groups live out culture in their campaigns, says Chikwawa District Commissioner Lawford Palani.
Palani was speaking on Saturday at the beginning of a four-day training for Association of Progressive Women (APW) community and district gender facilitators.
He said most organizations lobbying for greater women representation were forgetting culture as a crucial component in the quest to achieve the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) 30 per cent women participation goal set in Blantyre in 1997.
“Culture is one of the biggest challenges thwarting efforts aimed at making sure that women play an active role in the development of Chikwawa, and any efforts aimed at ensuring their greater representation in decision making and politics should be targeted at dispelling prevalent cultural stereotypes. For instance, many people still believe that women should be confined to the kitchen, all because women lobby groups concentrate on urban-based meetings instead of tackling the cultural aspects with cultural custodians,” said Palani.
Palani also warned civil society organizations fighting for more women representation in the district against being partisan, saying women promotion did not entail openly campaigning for an aspiring woman Member of Parliament belonging to one political party at the expense of men competing for other parties as it would wrongly be translated as playing partisan politics.
He said organizations accredited to carry out voter civic education, while at the same time carrying out mobilization campaigns for women empowerment, needed to adhere to all principles of neutrality such as avoiding wearing party colours and being free from any political influence- aspects he said could tarnish the credibility of the electoral process.
He warned that organizations and individuals who flouted these principals risked being prosecuted, according to the electoral laws governing Malawi.
APW Programmes Officer Noel Msiska advised the facilitators, whose main duty will be to carry out civic voter education and mobilizing voters to vote for women, to heed the DCs call by avoiding behaviour that may discredit the electoral process.
He said while there was confusion lingering over the neutrality of women lobby groups in the civic voter education process, as they are largely viewed as being against men, the truth was that they were not campaigning for individual women aspirants but general women representation.
“People who accuse women lobby groups of being partisan in areas where their parties are featuring men surprise us because they are in the forefront congratulating us in constituencies where they feature women. This means that it is not a big issue to campaign for women, so long as organizations take a non-partisan stance,” said Msiska.
The training was funded by Norad, through NGO Gender Coordination Network- where APW heads the permanent committee for women in politics.
Malawi had presidential and parliamentary elections in May this year, and now plans to hold Local Government elections at an unspecified date next year. Parliament has passed a bill empowering the president to choose the day when local government polls should be held.
President Bingu wa Mutharika is yet to assent to the bill, which has come under a spate of criticism from civil society organisations.