‘Malawi still far from reaching the 50:50 target’

In the May 21 Tripartite Elections 44 women were elected to Parliament representing a 38 percent rise from 2014 when only 32 female candidates were elected. In the Local Government Elections, 59 have won seats, up from 56 in 2014.  While the increase is a cause for celebration, the 50:50 Campaign Management Agency is worried that as a country, Malawi is still far from reaching the 50:50 target.  Our staff writer EDYTH KAMBALAME caught up with ActionAid women’s rights theme manager Chikumbutso Ngosi Ndaferankhande to assess the gains and losses in the past election.

When the 50:50 Campaign started last year, what goals did it set out to achieve?

The 50:50 Campaign is a positive action that falls within the broader Political Empowerment of Women [PEW] discourse and represents a decade-long effort and vision to secure greater female representation and participation in decision-making at the local and national level.

Women in Malawi are under-represented in both Parliament and in local council authorities, leading to their exclusion from bodies that make laws, develop policies and decide on the allocation and use of national resources. It is this numerical imbalance that forms the foundation of the 50:50 Gender Parity Campaign goal of increasing representation and participation of women in politics.

For the 2018-2019 period, the theory of change for the programme specifically focused on addressing the structural problem of gender-biased stereotypical ideologies and social norms. The programme further intended to address Violence Against Women in Elections [Vawe] and to strengthen capacity of women candidates and coordination mechanisms. 

What specific gaps had been identified to necessitate the formation of this agency?

Malawi is an active member of the global 50:50 campaign. The initiative started way back in 2008 after many years of lobbying and negotiations by the Southern Africa women’s movements, the Southern Africa Development Community [Sadc] Protocol on Gender and Development which was adopted by heads of States and government. Civil society organisations at both Sadc and national level-led by NGO Gender Coordination Network fought to include the protocol target that at least 50 percent of decision-making positions in the public and private sectors are held by women.

The 50:50 Management Agency [MA], is therefore, a concept that was born through a consultative process between the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and its stakeholders to strengthen delivery of the 50:50 campaign in Malawi. An in-depth review and analysis of the 2014 results revealed that a management agency with qualified personnel would do much better in terms of delivery and technical expertise. The management  agency—a consortium of ActionAid Malawi and Centre for Civil Society Strengthening (CCSS)—therefore, reports to the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare on all activities through the Technical Working Group on Political Empowerment of Women [PEW] which is chaired by the ministry. The agency also administers the disbursement of grants to local CSOs and CBOs who implement the programme at the constituency and at ward level.

What have been the main successes so far?

The May 2019 Tripartite Elections presents a 38 percent rise from 2014 where only 32 female candidates were elected as a main achievement. This is also the first since 1994 when Malawi ushered back democracy. While the increase is a cause for celebration, our team is worried that as a country, Malawi is still far from reaching the 50:50 target.  This is evident with the failure to retain a number of female members of Parliament and ward councilors which would have formed a springboard to achieving 50:50 representation. Thus, while we celebrate the increase, we remain conscious on the need to start the process early and need to work with both women that have made it and those that were not successful, right from the beginning.

Reflecting on the programme, what would you say are the key lessons that you have drawn from this processes?

The management agency documented and reviewed several important lessons throughout the life cycle of the programme.  Firstly, keeping the focus on addressing structural issues and demystifying construed negative social norms, offered a strategic dimension on how the desired change can be attained, in a more sustainable way. Secondly, the programme also seriously leant that there is no one-size-fit-all to approaches and strategies.

In Mangochi, where the programme concentrated and directly implemented the programme using district officers, offered freshness and quick wins to fight age-long tradition and religious belief. Women aspirants preparedness on political campaign financing and running a successful campaign either on party ticket or as an independent candidate, also proved to be a key component to the attainment of 50-50  campaign.

Thirdly, the programme noted that unregulated and conducting of political of party primaries late, leaves women aspirants, who do not make it on a party ticket frustrated and challenged to ably fundraise for their campaign due to time constraints. Fourthly, the 50-50 Campaign in Malawi is largely donor-driven with little of our tax, and yet as a country, we have committed to global, regional and national frameworks on women empowerment. Where is our investment if we believe in it?

Now that the elections are over and we have an increased number of women in Parliament, what is next?

The 50:50 Campaign is predominantly premised on the electoral cycle approach and the management agency appreciates elections as continuous processes rather than isolated events. The electoral cycle stretches far beyond activities undertaken on election day and encompasses a whole series of activities and processes leading up to the next elections, which also includes the time between and after elections. The management agency will, therefore, continue to work with all stakeholders to reflect deeply and to continue implementing women’s rights focused retention and expansion 50:50 programme in this new election cycle.

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