Price of sidelining women

Hon. Folks, Damson Chimalira is an MP for Ntcheu South, a constituency where Martha Chilabade, 30, comes from.

For the past four years Chimalira and councillors for the two wards in his constituency have watched the desolate Namisu Health Centre deteriorate further into a state of disrepair, depriving women from 60 villages in T/A Phambala’s area access to public health services.

Of course, there’s no denying that men, too, go to a health centre when unwell but for rural mothers, a health centre is their first point of call when it’s time to deliver a new life into the world, especially now when traditional birth attendants (TBAs) are banned.  It is also where they will rush to for the free treatment of their sick children.

It so happened that, because Namisu Health Centre was abandoned shortly after World Vision, an NGO that constructed it, handed it over to government in 2005, Martha on Thursday, November 15, 2018 had no choice but to walk more than 50 kilometres to the main road from where she could board a bus to Ntcheu District Hospital, 42 km farther, to deliver her baby.

She was 9 months pregnant, barefoot and carrying utensils and other items on her head. Accompanying her was her 71 year-old mother who was carrying a bundle of firewood on her head.

For Chimalira to be re-elected in 2019, he requires the vote of Martha, her mother and other women in the Ntcheu South constituency—the same women whose nearest public health facility, in this 21at century, is more than 50km away.

Women make up 52 percent of the population but for the 2019 tripartite elections, they constitute more than 54 percent of those who have registered to vote. Interestingly, patriarchy, sheer political machinations allow for a predictable trend of fewer women than men contesting for political positions, be it at the level of president, MP or councillor.

Consequently, female voters such as Martha often base their votes on issues that matter most to men, not women. Male contestants don’t have to temper their masculine priorities to accommodate women.  They simply peddle the usual pledges–bituminised roads, bridges across rivers, prisons and technical colleges. They also distribute balls and set up football and netball teams in their names as tools for rallying the youth behind themselves.

If health issues mattered, Chimalira would’ve ensured that CDF or indeed his share of the K4 billion that government gave to MPs last fiscal year was used to rehabilitate Namisu Health Centre to avert putting lives of mothers and their babies in his constituency in needless danger. He didn’t but the women he has short-changed, may only have to choose between him and other male contestants equally indifferent to their needs, if not worse.

In January four pupils aged between 10 and 12 years were crushed to death when negligence resulted in a sub-standard school block falling after two toddlers leaned on it.  The accident occurred at Nantchengwa Primary School in the areas of sub-T/A Ngwelero at Mayaka, Zomba.

But it’s unlikely that a tragedy of that proportion, which claimed lives of innocent children too young to vote,  could spur male politicians on to put the welfare of children high on their agenda.

Male politicians would rather promise parents free education for their children, not a safe learning environment. Why? Free education translates into a direct saving by the cash-strapped parent who, in turn, just might show appreciation with the vote.

Winning votes is probably what politicians in government have in mind by trumping up messages eager to expend lots of public funds on social projects that directly benefit individuals of voting age such as money transfer, food relief and the malata and cement subsidy project.

On their part, those in opposition too may have winning votes in mind when they talk more on  fighting corruption and nepotism, job creation and increasing wages—areas where government perceived as weak.

A million dollar question: how come the gender-parity issue as articulated by champions of the 50-50 campaign is muffled on both sides of the political divide?

While gender activists are accusing APM of serving as champion of the global He-for-She campaign while discriminating against Malawian women when appointing people to the Cabinet and top  positions in the Public Sector, his major rivals—MCP’s Lazarus Chakwera and UTM’s Saulos Chilima—are conspicuously silent on the matter.

They bash APM for many failures but not on the failure to increase women representation in the Cabinet.

My fear is that as long as women continue to be sidelined, we shall continue to measure our development by the number of roads constructed with donor funds while we remain on the bottom rung of the ladder on human development.

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