Are we setting the right precedent on women representation?

That Malawi needs more women representation in decision-making positions is a no-brainer.

Women constitute the majority of the country’s population yet men dominate most of the influential positions be it in traditional authority leadership, public service, private sector and political institutions, including parties and Parliament itself.

For years, there have been efforts to support increased women participation in power through various gender equality and women empowerment initiatives, especially after the return of multiparty democracy in 1993.

Since the first elections in 1994 after multiparty democracy re-emerged in Malawi, the proportion of women members of Parliament (MPs) improved so markedly that by 2009, 22 percent of the country’s legislators were women.

The election of Joyce Banda as Vice President in 2009 with Bingu wa Mutharika at the top of the ticket—and her elevation to the presidency in 2012 after Mutharika’ death—brought even more hope that Malawi was on course to follow Rwanda’s path of having the most women representation in Parliament globally.

But those hopes were shattered when Banda lost embarrassingly in the 2014 elections, coming out third in a presidential race that, as an incumbent, was hers to lose.

The tragedy of it all was that as Banda fell, so did women’s access to parliamentary power in the country.

Only 17 percent of women made it to Parliament in 2014 in the age of the first female president in Malawi and only the second in Africa.

Worse, just 12 percent of women became councillors across local governments nationwide.

Hopes of more women leadership spots in the country’s power spectrum were cruelly shattered into 17 million pieces of glass. Yet the 50-50 campaign—with its fatal obsession on increasing the numbers of women elected into the august House—was supposedly in full swing.

The crushing defeat for women’s expanded political representation also followed, sadly, the Gender Equality Act in 2013, which provides quotas for women in public positions, but somehow forgot to insert the words ‘political positions’ as well.

With all these backward steps the country has taken on women’s parliamentary representation, government’s affirmative action to introduce a parliamentary seat in every district specifically for women to compete for among themselves sounds good on paper.

First, as The Nation noted last month, this proposal will automatically result in a guaranteed 28 women going to Parliament every election cycle over and above those who will have succeeded in the traditional constituencies currently at 193.

But is this the best way to do a course correction? For starters, this new initiative falls into the same trap that the 50-50 campaign plunged in.

Like the 50-50 campaign, the new strategy concentrates too much on boosting women’s numbers, but overlooks to consider their abilities, how to help them succeed after their election and, most importantly, how to help them retain their seats even as activists push for more females to enter Parliament.

The supporting architecture has never really been there, especially after the strides made in 2009; hence, the model could not be sustained as evidenced in the 2014 electoral drubbing for women.

Furthermore—and as I said earlier, it is good that we advocate for equal representation or equity, but I think it is discriminatory to say: “in this constituency only women should contest”.

First it defeats rules of natural justice and second it denies the constituents the opportunity to go for their first choice. What we need to do instead is to do more awareness to the masses about women’s potential and get people to appreciate the role of women, but let them compete like everyone else.

Giving it to women on a silver platter is conceding that they can’t achieve on their own. The women themselves should also be spoken to very strongly to support fellow candidates in their communities.

It reminds me of the Mary Nangwale case where Bingu appointed her as the first Inspector General (IG) of police. Parliament rejected the nomination and in the forefront were her fellow women.

I don’t really want to come out as a chauvinist here, but I really advocate for justice, equity and free will in their true meaning.

Pushing women in this manner is only for political marks and I think we should look beyond the political arena.

What if and I repeat what if someone one day wakes up and says, for the much touted 50:50 campaign to work, between the President and their running mate, one should be male and the other female?

Let us not set unnecessary precedents. 

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