Former United Nations (UN) Women Malawi country director Alice Shackelford sounded jubilant when she twitted “Fantastic! The first Malawi female Speaker of the House Hon. Catherine Gotani Hara! And Hon. Aisha Mambo as Second Deputy Speaker! Gender equality, change and leadership!”
The current UN Women country director Clara Anyangwe responded: “Hey @aliceshackel, you laid a great foundation for @unwomenmalawi. You started the office from scratch!
The path to such wins are usually long, they are winding, and often with a lot of machinations in the background. I trust you will excuse women in Malawi and beyond, if the celebratory dust refuses to settle down.
In July 2010, the United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) created UN Women, the UN entity for gender equality and the empowerment of women, to address gender imbalance challenges both at the UN headquarters and the world.
In establishing UN Women, “UN Member States took an historic step in accelerating the organisation’s goals on gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Created in the process of the UN reform agenda, the new entity brought together resources and mandates for greater impact focusing exclusively on gender equality and women’s empowerment.
This was a two-year long process in which Ambassador Steve Matenje impressed upon me as the Social Development and Human Rights Expert at the Malawi Mission to the UN, should attend all the meetings. I attended these twice-weekly lunch time meetings of like-minded member States augmented by gender non-governmental organisations (NGOs) accredited to the UN.
The original mandate was to set up offices in each UN member State. However, funding was a stumbling block to the ambitious plan. Thus while sitting in a UN Women Executive Board meeting in June 2012 (where I’d just been approved as the 2013 executive board vice-resident, representing Africa region), I noticed Malawi was not one of the countries targeted for an office in the Africa region. So, I sent a text message to my Ambassador/permanent representative Brian Bowler to inform him that I would speak on Malawi’s behalf to ask for a reconsideration.
His response was “Go ahead, you have my full support;” he quickly sent another text “please keep Dr. Mary Shaba at Gender Ministry, informed.”
When I raised my plaque requesting to speak I said on behalf of Malawi:
“I note with concern that the footprint outlay for UN Women does not include my country Malawi. I wish to bring to the attention of the executive board that when he attended the January 2012 African Union Summit, then chairman and Malawi President Bingu wa Mutharika met with the leadership of UN Women. He impressed upon her the arduous task facing Malawi in relation to gender equality. And the leadership agreed that UN Women would set an office and would endeavour to help Malawi with the challenges it faces in gender equality.
“I wish to inform this Board that sadly for Malawi, we lost our President on April 5, this year due to a heart attack [May God rest his soul in peace]; however, Malawi now has its first woman President Dr. Joyce Banda. I wish to let the board know and appreciate that apart from inheriting the challenges of Denver inequality, these may escalate for our new President.
“Could the UN Board please reconsider its decision on the Africa roadmap to also include Malawi. Please help your fellow woman by opening an office in Malawi?”
The UN Women management team, made of executive director (former Chile President) Michele Bachelet, deputy executive director (operations) Laksmir Puri, and deputy executive director (administration) John Hendra, conferred and came back with music to my ears.
“Management has considered the request from the Malawi delegate, we are pleased to inform that UN Women will establish an office in Malawi,” Bachelet informed the board.
Later, Madame Bachelet came back with a “Please let your government know that UN Women office would be opened by the end of this year .”
With Alice Shackelford in Malawi as country director, UN Women offices officially opened and set up for its work in September 2012.
It is fitting and proper that the first UN Women Malawi country director dances for the election of Malawi’s first female Speaker of Parliament, coupled in the same vote with Aisha Adams as Second Deputy Speaker. I
There is a sure win-win when women support women, women elect women, and women work with women. n