Low representation of women in politics contravenes the country’s Gender Equality Act which prescribes that one gender should take no more than 60 percent of public leadership positions.
However, this law has been scorned by parties and voters alike.
Malawi, since 1994, has seen poor representation of women in the national assembly and last week’s 44— a 22 percent increase— is a far-off step towards equal representation being fought for in the 193 member House.
Though 305 women contested for parliamentary positions in this year’s elections, up by eight, fluctuations have been the order with 1994 having 10 female legislatures, 16 in 1999, 27 in 2004, 43 in 2009 and 32 in 2014.
Party politics have not been gender neutral, efforts have been made by most eminent structures to bar and disenfranchise women not just as leaders, but as voters as well.
Although the 50:50 Management Agency ensured female candidates got the vote across the board, innumerous issues continue to haunt women.
Law lecturer at Chancellor College and gender activist Ngeyi Kanyongolo says one of the issues to be looked at is whether the 50-50 campaign is good enough.
She says the campaign tries its best, but it is a project being run by donors and that political participation is a very big issue.
She observes that the ministry of gender should have taken the lead.
“The agenda we should be pushing now is for government to fund not just economic empowerment, but political empowerment for women as well.
“Law reforms that didn’t work in 2014 are immensely needed. At the rate we are going, it has become obvious that it will take us 20 years to achieve the 50 percent,”she says.
Kanyongolo says lessons need to be drawn from Rwanda, a country that has more than 60 percent representation of women in its Parliament.
May 21 for women, she says was a slight change, but not good enough when compared to the bench mark.
Political commentator Mustapha Hussein says deliberate efforts need to be carried out to increase women’s representation.
Deliberate legislation in the constitution or quotas, for instance he agrees are what are propelling substantial increase of women in notable countries such as South Africa at 42.7 percent, Senegal at 41.1percent, 46 .2 percent for Namibia and Mozambique at 39.6 percent female legislatures.
The 1994 Malawi Constitution makes no provision for quotas to ensure women’s representation in elective bodies.
But it stipulates in Article 13 subsection (a) (i) on gender equality as it calls for “full participation of women in all spheres of Malawians society on the basis of equality with men.”
Hussein says political parties should also provide support as is the case with South Africa where parties have reserved a quota for women.
Though various programmes such as the 50-50, voter mobilisation by National Institution for Civic Education (Nice), these have helped.
“There’s still work to be done to overcome cultural, economic barriers and constrains such as the legal and policy frameworks.
“If quotas were provided, it would lead to substantial increase. As it is, it seems we are moving in circles sometimes we increase sometimes we fluctuate,” says Hussein.