India’s way of fighting gender imbalance

On new years’ day, women in India made a 620 km human wall to protest gender inequality.

Five million women stood shoulder to shoulder across the length of southern Kerala in the peaceful protest.

The rally was in response to violent protests against women attempting to enter the Sabarimala Temple- an important pilgrimage site for many Hindus.

Among other things, the temple did not allow women in their menstrual cycles to enter and it placed age demarcations on women who could.

The India Supreme Court ruled this as unreasonable and forced the temple to open its doors to all women regardless of age or cycle.

“What applies to a woman applies to a man,” observed India’s Chief Justice Misra.

Activist, Fawstace Chirwa, reacting to India’s move says the power of unity is what Malawi women need.

“We can’t do what those women did because we can’t agree on one unity of purpose and can’t react together,” she says

Chirwa argues that there is no semblance of unity by women working together, mainly because of an environment that does not respect women.

Said she: “If we can’t do anything about a mistreated woman in a hospital ward, how can we protect those in politics?”

She cited the Women’s Manifesto, a process started at Bingu International Conference Centre (BICC) with a view to revitalise a women’s movement as a step in the right direction.

The activist commends efforts women are making and lashes at politicians for suppressing women’s efforts.

She observes that until a vibrant women’s movement is formed, there will be no unity of purpose.

Pointing at the forthcoming elections where only two women are vying for the presidential positions- former president Joyce Banda and Sally Kumwenda of Leadership with Compassion Party (LCP), she moans the lack of voice in supporting them.

She wants the NGO Gender Coordination Network to review its strategy from just lobbying for policies that help women to unifying them in the fight.

Executive director for the Coalition of Empowerment of Women and Girls Beatrice Mateyo agrees with Chirwa.

“We are not united as there is a lot of disjoint in the way we do our activities,” she says.

She says in her case when she was arrested for carrying a placard deemed insulting to the modesty of women, she expected support, but did not see that.

Mateyo observes that women and institutions should be unified in a common cause, with every group committing.

Professor of Law at Chancellor College and activist Ngeyi Kanyongolo says it is important to have that kind of unity.

She says Malawi, for a time has been moving towards it and although there are a few problems, NGO GCN is surely unifying the women.

NGO’s are urban based and hardly get people in rural areas which in the end disarrays the move, which she cites as one challenge towards unity.

“We have many individuals, some fighting for access to justice, some political empowerment, some women and girls empowerment. We need to create a movement,” she says.

Oxfam women rights programme manager Anthony Malunga says the human wall on temple rights is an example of collective agency among women.

In his view, it is clear that the women’s voice appealed to politicians, men gender activists and other interests groups who gave the women solidarity to protest.

His view of the fight for women rights in Malawi, is that it is, yet, to be united.

He says a collective cultivation of men’s pool to support gender equality, the faith community and politicians was vital.

“Genuine impact comes from collective and inclusive voices towards a noble cause,” he notes.

He cites Oxfam’s End Violence Against Women and Girls (EVAWG) Campaign as based on collective stakeholders’ action.

Citing inclusive advocacy, he says, Oxfam has received support and solidarity, a good step in fighting gender-based violence (GBV).

A manager is many things to their team. The secret is in knowing when to wear which and to be in a position to wear any particular hat well. The hats are many, but here are three of the ones that need improving.

Counsellor: Enables people to put their weaknesses in perspective. Counsellor, because this is normally a ‘psychological’ challenge people have which needs to be handled sensitively. Part of your accountability as a leader is to help people do this to bring out their best. Help them identify their strengths and minimise their flaws. Be patient with individuals as they struggle with the transition of thinking more positively of themselves. Guide people to do what they need to do to get the results they want and deliver what the team values.

Listener: Be a ‘colleague’ rather than ‘boss’. Research shows managers don’t do this very well. Sometimes, people just want a listening ear, a sounding board, not a decision or a solution from you. As a good listener, you would have to learn to listen probably as a colleague would, so that you’re not tempted to intervene or provide direction unless of course you’re specifically asked for advice.

Learner: This is another area managers are not effective at. Take advantage of your ability to have a broader view and understanding of the organisation to learn not just from your own team, but from others too. With a key responsibility of working with others to achieve the best outcomes, being quick to learn is paramount to elevating your performance. You can’t do your work well on your own and learning from others is the vehicle you need. n

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