Rethink 50:50 campaign

With the 2019 Tripartite Elections around the corner, Minister of Gender, Disabilities, Child and Social Welfare Jean Kalirani launched a 50:50 campaign to increase the number of women in leadership positions.

With women occupying 16.6 percent of seats in Parliament, Malawi is among countries lagging behind in the push for equal numbers of men and women in politics.

There are many setbacks to the 50-50 campaign which some consider unfair to women who have pushed beyond limits and deserve higher positions than they occupy now.

The Guardian reports on 2017 US elections indicated Hillary Clinton won 54 percent of women votes. Barack Obama, her predecessor in the Democratic Party, won 95 percent of women votes.

The disparities can be wider in developing countries.

In Malawi, a number of factors slow the agenda for equal participation of men and women in politics although female citizens constitute 50.52 percent of the population, estimated at 17.2 million.

However, only 52.2 percent of women are educated compared to men (69.8 percent).

According to Business Insider Magazine, women’s presence in senior positions floats between three and four percent globally. The same is true about Malawi, but the cultural landscape favours men to be in higher positions than women.

For the campaign to be effective, there is a need for a cross-cutting approach that embraces all these factors.

One of the reasons the campaign is missing the mark is the focus on voting for women in positions because they are women, not necessarily because they are competent to govern.

This is attracting a pool women aspiring to various positions in the hope of winning the ‘gender card’ without substantial development agendas.

This somehow sacrifices competency over representation, which is detrimental to development.

It is undisputable that women and men are equally capable to lead. There are women who have proved beyond a doubt their competency to lead. Liberian former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, British Prime Minister Theresa May, Malawi’s first female minister Rose Chibambo, German  Chancellor Angela Merkel and South African fallen nationalist Winnie Mandela.

However, they previously exhibited strong leadership posture that earned them senior positions.

For example, Sirleaf held different senior positions in and outside her country before she rose to the presidency.

In a democratic society, people choose leaders of their choice—leaders who are believed to be competent and with proven skills to develop the nation.

Leadership and competence go hand in hand.

According to Judi Brownwell’s article, Meeting the Competency Needs of Global Leaders: A Partnership Approach, “leadership competencies are leadership skills and behaviours that contribute to superior performance.”

Using a competency-based approach to leadership, organisations can better identify and develop their next generation of leaders.

In light of the 50-50 campaign, there seems to be a gap that needs closing.

Instead of focusing on long-term leadership skills in women, the focus is on pulling more women into Parliament in the next elections.

With 64 percent women representation in Parliament, Rwanda is a shining example and champion of women empowerment.

It is witnessing rapid economic development—ranked the second-best country in Africa to do business with.

The International Monetary Fund (IMF) projected Rwanda’s economic growth at 6.1% this year.

This can also be true for Malawi, but the question that still remains is whether or not the female leaders elected to public positions are capable of delivering.

The quest for developing the country is only plausible with competent leaders.

Looking at the calibre of women who are currently succeeding in politics, their competency was proven way before they joined politics.

They have held high portfolios and succeeded in business. When they declared their interests to join politics, people already appreciated their valour and ability.

This is the breed that is likely to make the 50:50 campaign a success.

Women remain an integral part of society throughout without which no society will exist. n

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