Open your mouth for the speechless, In the cause of all who are appointed to die. 9Open your mouth, judge righteously, And plead the cause of the poor and needy. Proverbs 31:8-9
Although I did not attend the Fourth United Nations (UN) Women’s Conference in Beijing, I will never forget Beijing. The conference and its 12 principles have impacted the world, the African region, Malawi, me, and a host of gender activists.
It is heart-warming that Malawi is truly living the Beijing dream. Last weekend, First Lady Monica Chakwera, Second Lady Mary Chilima, former president Joyce Banda and Minister of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati converged at a gender-based violence (GBV) conference hosted by the Joyce Banda Foundation International.
Many people frequently ask why there is still much hype about the Beijing Conference, saying it is foreign and has nothing to do with Malawi.
Firstly, the GBV campaign ceased being a battle against violence against women and transformed into gender-based violence. Although I hasten to add that violence against women forms a large part of GBV. Within the campaign are men and women who champion the cause to end the scourge in societies everywhere.
Secondly, the Beijing Conference output, the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), has become the blueprint for activities on gender equality and women and girls empowerment. Then there is the steady rise in the number of women in decision-making positions, enhanced women’s health, girls’ education, human rights and economic empowerment of women.
Thus listening to the First Lady recount the foresighted gamble her parent made when they sent her to school instead of her brother, was enlightening. They could not afford to send both. She later won a scholarship due to her great math grades. Today, she is a chartered accountant. On her part, the Second Lady Madame Mary Chilima told the gathering about her trading business that spans travels to various parts of the world.
The media is replete with the recent doctorate conferment upon Kaliati, the result of four years of research and study. Last but not least, former president Joyce Banda, who in 2012 made history by becoming Malawi’s first female president, joining the growing number of world women leaders after Beijing.
Banda underscores repeatedly, that GBV could end in Malawi when women are economically independent and girls are sent to and stay in school.
Recently, the African Union Heads of States Summit elected Amany Asfour as the first woman to chair the AU Business Council. An Egyptian by nationality, Asfour aspires to move quickly to form triangles and work across borders to take advantage of the opportunity of the huge Comesa and Middle East markets.
Women’s networks like National Association of Business Women, founded by Banda in 1991, and international organisations like ActionAid are forging ahead in promoting the women’s businesses.
The term triangle formulation reminded me of establishing external trading links. I was guided by Banda to connect with a Dubai-based Malawian to explore what it would take to have Malawian businesswomen join the Dubai export gravy train.
The consultant, Ethel Ng’oma, informed me that the Dubai Chamber of Commerce has billions of dollars of untapped potential foreign direct investment into Africa. She said Malawian women could position themselves for Malawi to become a recipient of the FDI. Malawi only has one staff at its Dubai consulate. There is the untapped opportunity of the weekly Dubai airlines flight into Malawi, packed with returning residents and tourists; yet leaves the country for Dubai almost empty.
Ng’oma said Malawian women could export into Dubai a truckload of agriproducts that are aplenty in Malawi but in short supply or sought-after in Dubai and other Middle Eastern countries: these are tomatoes, maize, rice, watermelons, beans, eggplants, papayas, bananas, mangoes, guavas, and cassava.
The tête-à-tête with the First and Second ladies, the former president, and Minister of Gender fighting GBV seems like a pipe dream. However, the massive modelling of the lives of these women, re-educating society about GBV, incorporating men in the conversation, and energising women and their networks to enter cash-generating activities are great avenues for preventing and eventually ending GBV.