Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Politics and Governance: Malawian Women Eye Influential Political Positions

Her features, which vindicate her uneasy alliance with traditional gender stereotypes, give her away.

“I have always felt that men use gender stereotypes as an excuse to hide their weaknesses and victimize women,” says Gladys Mangani, one of the few women who contested in the Local Government Elections (LGE) of 2000 and failed.

But, unperturbed by her tumble 13 years ago, Mangani vows to fight on to the better, or bitter, end. She says she is poised to contest in the LGEs expected to run simultaneously with the Presidential and Parliamentary elections of 2014.

Mangani, who hails from the area of Sub Traditional Authority (ST/A) Mpunga in Chiradzulu, draws his inspiration from ST/A Mpunga- a woman who has defied the odds to subdue even men when she pronounces judgement.

Mpunga herself has done little to douse Mangani’s interest to try her luck in an unfair world dominated by foulmouthed, resource rich men.

“I encourage women in my area to try their luck in leadership positions. I believe that women, as people who appreciate the challenges posed by issues such as lack of access to portable water, the long distances children walk to get to the nearest school and hunger at the household level, stand a better chance of resolving our challenges than men,” says Mpunga.

That is how Mangani has managed to shrug off the shame of falling once (in 2000) and managed, with bright eyes, to wave time’s attritions aside.

Mangani is one of the women from Chiradzulu and Zomba Cluster who are part of a network of 2000 women across Malawi that have started benefitting from interventions aimed at equipping them with skills and knowledge to be effective candidates in the 2014 LGEs, thanks to efforts by the Active Learning Centre and Women’s Legal Resources Centre, Ministry of Gender and the NGO Gender Coordination Network. It is being funded by the Scottish Government, through its International Development Fund (Malawi).

Taken on board in ‘Mphavu kwa Amayi’ (The Empowering of Malawian Women as Leaders) Project, the women have been targeted after realising that local governments are responsible for the delivery of public services such as education, health and water – areas that require a strong women’s voice if development targets are to be met.

Women have largely failed to leave their mark in politics, so much so that, during the LGEs of 2000, only 69 women were elected across Malawi, representing 8.3 percent. A performance study on 2009’s 50-50 campaign showed that an early lead-in time is essential to identify and properly prepare women to stand as candidates.

There are 34 local government areas in which councils have been established. Each council is divided into wards – from where councilors are elected. Currently, there are four city councils, two municipalities and 28 districts.

Councilors are viewed as the key to meeting the objectives of decentralisation- a process by which central government gradually transfers some of its political power, responsibilities and financial resources to local government- as provided for in Section 146 of the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi and the Local Government Act.

Gender, Children, and Social Welfare Minister, Anitta Kalinde, says, as a party to several regional and international instruments that promote gender equality, equity and women empowerment, Malawi has an obligation to empower women.

Malawi is party to party to instruments such as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women, 1987; the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, 1995; the Sadc Gender and Development Declaration, 1997; and its Addendum on the Prevention and Elimination of Violence Against Women and Children, 1998.

“In order to operationalise the instruments, the Government of Malawi established the National Gender Machinery which is My Ministry, integrated gender in the Malawi Growth and Development Strategy II, which is the investment framework for national development,” says Kalinde.

Kalinde says her ministry has developed Gender Mainstreaming Guidelines for budgets and the public sector as a tool in ensuring that more women are in decision making positions at all the levels. She observes that poverty and gender-based violence have a female face and efforts to achieve sustainable and equitable development cannot be realized if women are not at par with their male counterparts.

Elizabeth Phiri, one of first-timers interested to run in the 2014 LGEs says, for women to get access to big leadership roles such as that of legislator, minister, or head of state, they need to “build their fences from the ground” by standing in LGEs.

“The advantage with being a councilor is that these (councilors) are people who live in the area they represent, and know and understand the concerns of the people living there. The other thing is that there are no academic qualifications required for a councilor,” says Phiri, who hails from Chiwaula Village in Zomba.

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