Government and gender activists are set for showdown talks on Monday at Capital Hill, to discuss failure by Lilongwe to comply with the Gender Equality Act (GEA 2013) in making appointments to various parastatal boards.
The meeting, to be held at the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC), has temporarily saved Capital Hill from being dragged to court, as the Women Manifesto Movement (WMM) had planned.
While the GEA stipulates appointing of not less than 40 percent and not more than 60 percent of either sex in public service, of the 54 completely filled boards, only 11 (20.37 percent) comply with the GEA, meaning the remaining 79.63 percent fall short of this law.
The NGO-Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) and other civil society organisations led the country into protests over the matter, and later resolved to take the matter to court.
But in a statement, WMM leaders Maggie Kathewere Banda and Barbara Banda said they have pended the court action after OPC requested for a meeting on the matter.
It reads: “OPC invited the WMM to a discussion on Wednesday 21st October 2020. The meeting was later postponed to Monday, 26th October, 2020. The WMM has decided to pend the filing of the case on 22nd October, 2020, to give chance to discussions.
“The Women Manifesto Movement legal team will review the outcome of the discussions and advise on the next steps after the Monday 26th October 2020, meeting. The WMM would like to request its membership to remain focused and to say no to unfair discrimination and yes to gender equality and respect for the rule of law using all lawful means necessary.”
Lawyer for the grouping, Wesley Mwafulirwa, urged OPC to avoid delays on the matter, saying, if the meeting fails on Monday, it will be the third time.
“It was first supposed to take place last week, then changed to 21 October, and now Monday. I hope it takes place on Monday so that we resolve the issues,” he said.
An analysis by the NGO-GCN shows growing disparities that the country continues to face, especially on marginalisation of women in appointed positions.
It reads: “Of the 54 parastatals analysed whose appointments were officially announced on September 23, 2020, 11 (20.37%) are compliant with Section 11 of the Gender Equality Act (2013). That means appointments into 43 State owned enterprises (79.63%) fall completely short of complying with GEA.
“Of particular worry is zero representation of women in a good 11 parastatals. Of peculiar note are hirings into Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi (NMCM) and Malawi Institute of Education (MIE) where female members’ representation constitutes over 60 percent.”
The Malawi Law Society (MLS) in a statement, also urged the Attorney General (AG) to advise the appointing authority to make the necessary changes.
“The Law Society notes, however, that of the 54 completely filled boards, only 11 (20.37%) comply with section 11 of the Gender Equality Act and other Acts that specifically confirm the position in Section 11 of the GEA. That means appointments into 73.63% of these currently filled 54 statutory boards are non-compliant with an Act of Parliament.
“The Law Society, therefore, urges the Honourable the Attorney General copied under this memo, to advise the government on the implications of this legal oversight and for government to make amends promptly given the clear text of Section 11 of the Gender Equality Act,” advised MLS.
Earlier, Information Minister Gospel Kazako claimed government appreciates the concerns, but argued it cannot operate on ultimatums, but dialogue.
He said: “In this scenario, there is need for us to stitch up our legislation so that different laws speak to the GEA with utmost fluency. There are some laws where the President is not the one who appoints, but appoints them on recommendation from the appointing institutions.”
Kazako said the country needs to look at a holistic picture as opposed to just looking at the GEA, insisting, the commitment for gender equality and women empowerment remains strong.
Parastatals that do not have female representation include Malawi Accountants Board, Roads Fund Administration, Escom, Malawi Energy
Regulatory Authority (Mera), Roads Authority, Macra, Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) and Admarc.