Hundreds of women took to the streets of Blantyre on Wednesday in support of the embattled Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah amid calls from sections of society for her to step down. The march was led by chief director in the Public Sector Reforms Unit and leader of the Forum for Concerned Women, SEODI WHITE. Our reporter Archbald Kasakula caught up with her to find out why she took the drastic action:
It looks like you have just realised that some people are infringing on Justice Jane Ansah’s rights, why are you coming with your protests now when anti-Ansah protests started a month ago? Where were you all this time?
You have to understand that governance as a whole is infused with many dimensions one of which is inclusion. Inclusion means, among other things, gender justice. The issue of gender justice can be overt as an absent issue or can be obvious. For me it took me long to analyse the situation as connected to gender injustice. And this is why we are coming in now.
Organisers of anti-Ansah demonstrations say they are not happy with the way Ansah ran the May 21Tripartite Elections, not because she is female. How does the gender issue come in?
Like I have said sometimes gender justice can be insidious at worst or overt at the middle level. For this is a case—where it was thought of as a governance issue which is not gender-related. But consider this; in 2014 elections were marred with one death. And some political participants in the elections also said they did not accept the result. No one demonstrated or caused violence. This time they have. It’s like they are picking on Justice Ansah because she is a woman.
Secondly, we have seen—since the violent demos started—that there is persistent calculated harassment and insulting of Justice Ansah as a woman. The abuse has become gendered in that gender abusive language has been used.
Some people say the best MEC chairperson so far was Justice Anastasia Msosa who is a woman. What motivates you to say the election issue is to do with gender justice when both sides of the sexes supported Justice Msosa when she was heading MEC?
I have deep respect and admiration for former Chief Justice Anastasia Msosa. She has ‘quiet strength’. But know this; when the former Chief Justice was chair of MEC, the public service as a discourse was not under the public scrutiny as it is today. Because there was no Internet in the manner we use it now. Every action of a public servant now is under scrutiny and can be subject to misinterpretation and mistrust, and manipulation. I believe this is what has happened with regards to Justice Ansah.
There have been cases where Patricia Kaliati and Shanil Dzimbiri were humiliated in public at political rallies. Why didn’t you organise similar demonstrations if you are serious about gender justice? Should we say you are selective?
With regards to Shanil. She and I have come a long long way. When she was first lady she was very supportive of our activities at Wilsa [Women in Law in Southern Africa]. She graced the first ever demos that the CSOs held way back in 1999 that I organised called the “White Scarf Campaign”. I was totally grateful. When her own chips were down a few years later. I stood up for her thick and thin when no one was there. When she was insulted in the past election I stood up for her. I tweeted about it.
Not every form of gender injustice is a demo issue. In some cases you fight to change the law for all women as I have done with laws relating to maternity leave, domestic violence, will and inheritance, and the work I have done on child marriage. Sometimes one can go to court to fight for women. I have done that. Sometimes one can demonstrate as I have done on four occasions. Sometimes I have engaged policy-makers in private away from the prying eyes of the public. One example is the removal of the citizenship laws which discriminated against Malawian women married to non-Malawians. All in all. The achievement of Gender justice has multidimensional approaches.
You led demonstrations against former president Joyce Banda and now you are against demonstrations against women. Aren’t you contradicting yourself?
It’s not contradictory. As a Head of State Joyce Banda made some decisions which I strongly felt were erroneous. To this day I feel strongly that the presidency was way above her capacity and it cost her. She wasn’t up to the job I must say. Sadly so. With Dr Ansah we all saw her capabilities when she was doing press briefings. And she has 35 years of excellence in public service. She just announced electoral results which some people did not like and they are framing her. And persecuting and abusing her in the process.
You are in government and might have come here in a government vehicle and withdrew allowances from taxpayers’ money, possibly slept at a hotel paid by the taxpayer. Aren’t you just pleasing your employer?
I’m a member of the women’s movement. The women’s movement is my home. I will die its loyal and dedicated member and therefore will not be dissuaded by mudslinging and personal accusations that I’m using government resources for my abode. You may wish to dig evidence of the same and check all hotels in Blantyre if I have stayed there and let me know the answer.
Lastly, if your demonstrations achieve nothing and anti-protesters return to the streets next week, what will be your way forward?
I organised the solidarity march to call for a cessation of gender-based abuse against Justice Ansah, specifically, and women in general and to call for peace in our beloved country. And call for democratic processes to prevail. And I believe history will judge me accordingly.