Women lag in politics

Various players are petitioning for more women to occupy political leadership positions.

For years, the civil society have been drumming up support for women aspiring for councillorship and parliamentary seats.

Kabwila: It’s about men, men, men

However, a new study has revealed that despite the popular view that men and women should have equal chances to elected positions, women keep trailing their male counterparts when it comes to participation in political activities.

The nationwide perception survey by Afrobarometer—a pan-African non-partisan think-tank—shows women are less likely to engage in political activism regardless of the prevailing efforts.

The findings, unveiled last week in Blantyre, reads: “Despite popular support for an equal chance for women to be elected, Malawian women continue to report lower levels of political activity than men.

“Since the 2003 survey, women have consistently lagged behind men in discussing politics with friends and relatives. In 2017, 39 percent of women say they do so ‘occasionally’ or ‘frequently’, as compared to 56 percent of men- a 17-percentage-point gap.”

However, neither men nor women were eagerly participating in political affairs in 2017 as they were in 2014.

“For both genders, these proportions declined sharply in comparison to the 2014 survey. This perhaps reflects the fact that in 2014, Malawians were involved in local, parliamentary and presidential elections which was not the case in 2017,” the findings show.

The interesting news for backers of gender equality is that slightly over seven in every 10 randomly selected Malawians shared the view that women should have same chances when it comes to the race for political office.

But the irony is that women do not seem to believe in themselves.

Happy Kayuni, a research fellow at the Centre for Social Research at Chancellor College said this figure shows an improvement from 2014.

”Many Malawians now recognise that women are able too,” he says.

Five years ago, 21 in 100 Malawians said men make better leaders and 78 percent said women should have the same chance as men.

Come 2014, about 37 percent of the respondents said men make better leaders and 61 percent were in support of women’s right to be on the ballot.

The new study shows that men and women are equally supportive of the agenda for equal numbers of men and women in influential political positions.

However, it appears rural Malawians are more likely to elect female candidates than urban dwellers.

Also supportive of women vying for political leaders are the better educated Malawians.

Illiteracy could be one of the reasons gender gaps persist despite popular support for equal opportunity.

But women themselves could be to blame as the research shows the majority of them are not engaging an extra gear as their backers and activists have done.

Parliamentary Women Caucus chairperson Jessie Kabwila says many factors impede women’s participation in politics.

She reckons how the deep-rooted patriarchy, pro-men religious doctrines and the school curricular slow down the push for gender parity in politics.

She feels these forces of socialisation do little to promote equality, but noiselessly relegate women to the walls of the kitchen.

“Our society defines the woman’s place as the kitchen. When we go to church, women are defined as helpers of men. When we go to the British curriculum which we use, it is even worse. It is all about men, men, men. Women are portrayed as individuals who cannot achieve something,” says Kabwila.

To her, it is high time researchers investigated why politics in the country is not ideal for women.

She finds the country’s political context and “the politicking itself” either too rough a ride for women.

“Politics involves very weird issues and it is unpredictable. The work schedule is something else.  Politicians travel a lot. They are always on the road and they put their lives and the lives of those close to them at a risk. That is not how a Malawian woman is expected to be by our society. A Malawian woman is supposed to be home to take care of the husband and children, not to be unpredictable,” explains Kabwila.

NGO-Gender Coordinating Network chairperson Emma Kaliya says political parties need to open up to motivate women.

“Uplifting women should start within the party structures,” she says. “Looking at the political parties, it is all about men. Women are the least-considered to hold powerful positions. It is high time political parties entrust women with big positions. Doing so will motivate the women to pursue their leadership roles further than their party structures.”

She urged women to stop looking down on themselves.

“The findings are not surprising. Most women are afraid of little things such as being interviewed by the media and participating in general political activities. Only a few are actively involved in the actual politics. Women are usually afraid of the unknown. They take politics as something full of violence and others are not just interested,” says Kaliya.

From a human rights perspective, the seasoned gender activist says campaigners have a tough task to ascertain why most women confine themselves to the kitchen and surmount factors that discourage women from meaningfully taking part in politics instead of the usual dancing, hand clapping, ululation and drumming up support for male politicians.

Clearly, the new evidence calls for strategic and well-coordinated efforts to empower women to take part in political leadership.

The need to even it up are clear in the figures from May 2014 Tripartite Elections when women—who represent 52 percent of the population—won just 30 seats in the 193-seater Parliament, down from 43 in 2009. Only 53 female councillors triumphed, with over 350 seats up for grabs.

That women continue to report lower levels of political activism subtly speaks of more work that needs to be done to change their mindset.

Low representation of women in politics contravene the country’s Equality Act which prescribes one sex to take no more than 60 percent of public positions up for grabs.

It also contravenes the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development which stipulate a 50:50 ratio.

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