Taxpayers could be financing election campaigns for female parliamentary and presidential aspirants if the proposed electoral laws amendments are approved, Nation on Sunday has established.
The Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, through the Political Empowerment of Women Technical Working Group, proposed the amendments following gender imbalance in politics, mainly in Parliament.
The targeted pieces of legislation are the Constitution, the Electoral Commission Act, the Parliamentary and Presidential Elections Act (PPEA), the Local Government Elections Act (LGEA) and the Political Parties Act (PPA).
The report, titled ‘Implementing gender quotas in Malawi: Practical steps and realities, which outlines the proposed changes’, suggests amendment of Section 66 of PPE to accommodate funding of aspirants.
“The State may, on the recommendations of the ministry responsible for gender and women affairs, provide funding or other logistical support to female candidates taking part in parliamentary and presidential elections,” the proposed additional clause reads.
The report filed by consultant Justin Dzonzi, a renowned legal expert, further proposes amendment of Section 21 of the PPEA to pave the way for government to provide extra funding to political parties that promote gender.
The proposed amendments are part of a legal push for the enactment of gender quotas to ensure that women have greater political representation.
In 2017, the Special Law Commission’s Report on Electoral Laws recommended the creation on an additional 28 constituencies, one in each district, to be contested for by women.
However, government raised queries about potential resource constraints among female candidates and the specific roles of those elected in those 28 constituencies.
The proposed amendment on government financial support seeks to address the financial challenges women vying for the seats might face.
The report explains: “The current practice for elections in Malawi is dependent on holding of rallies, meetings, whistle-stop tours, giving hand-outs etc. All these expenditures may mean that more women will not be able to cover for a single constituency.”
The proposed amendments were designed in collaboration with civil society organisations that initiate programmes to end the gender imbalance.
Among them, is the 50-50 Campaign Team which supported female candidates in the build-up to the May 19 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Its team leader Viwemi . Chavula, in an interview on Wednesday, said since Malawi enacted the Gender Equality Act, it should invest in ensuring that contents of the Act are fulfilled
“The law pushes for 60:40 gender representation in all set-ups. However, what we have seen is that the figures in political spheres are biased against women. Parliament, for example, has around 21 percent female representation.
“So, no matter what it takes in terms of investment, we need to commit the required resources to meet the legal obligations,” he said.
The Gender Quota Proposal has, meanwhile, received backing from the Legal Affairs Committee of Parliament chairperson Peter Dimba.
According to the Gender Quota Proposal Report which documents the consultative meetings, Dimba is quoted as saying: “Women are our mothers, women are our cousins, women are our aunties.
“There is no reason we should bar them from actively engaging in politics. We should not tread on our women. It is not fair. Let us keep engaging until the Bill gets to Parliament.”
Meanwhile, Mzuzu University-based economic analyst Christopher Mbukwa has backed the amendment proposals, stating that thrusting more women into key political positions would help develop the country.
“I read a 2020 Workplace Gender Equality Agency Report which found that increasing the number of women in leadership positions increases an organisation’s likelihood of outperforming in their sector on three or more key profitability and performance metrics and that having a female CEO leads to a five percent increase in their market value.
“Actually, right here in Malawi, it is so conspicuous that institutions headed by women are actually performing. You hardly hear of corruption scandals and other office mismanagement related tales.
“So, in the long run, we stand to benefit with any policy that aims at increasing women participation in political leadership without reading too much into the cost related investments,” he said.
Mbukwa, however, said the financing of women campaigns through public funding should focus on reducing nomination fees and introducing subsidies on campaign material.
“To me, there are sustainable initiatives that may be considered such as reducing or waiving nomination fees, fundraising initiatives, in-kind contributions and subsidies covering travel costs, campaign materials etc. So scrutiny of each can be done at that point,” he said.
The draft amendments are expected to be assessed by the Ministry of Justice which, upon approval, will be submitted to the National Assembly for debate.