Women must support one another—Envoy

Through Icelandic International Development Agency (Iceida), Iceland is supporting the 50:50 campaign in Mangochi through the 50:50 Campaign Management Agency. The main focus is to have more councillors in the district although women can contest as members of Parliament (MPs). EDWIN NYIRONGO talked to Iceland charge d’affaires Agusta Gisladottir to explain about it and the campaign. EXCERPTS:

Agusta: Misconceptions were there

You have been in a political party in Iceland called Women’s List, which comprised only women at the top. How was it about?

It actually came about when I moved to a smaller town. I was 30 years-old and, with education, I decided to do something. Then, I came across interesting women who were in politics and I decided to join.

How were you managing in a political party with only women in top positions?

We thought there were not enough women in other parties, so we thought we could add more [with our party]. Our assumption was that we could not do that forever, but we did it for 16 years. We had a number of women in every constituency and our aim was to show that women can also make contributions.

Iceland is helping Mangochi women to be councillors. Why did you choose Mangochi of all the districts?

Iceland has been working there for almost 30 years and we have big programmes in Mangochi District. I attended the full council meeting and I was shocked to see that there was only one female councillor. I thought there are many able women in Mangochi and all they needed was a little push. Women sometimes tend to be modest. They struggle to bring about their speeches to be heard. So this is what the 50:50 campaign is helping, giving the women belief that they can stand up and raise issues because there are many capable women there.

Because of culture and other things, women there cannot compete with men financially, what are you doing about it?

Unfortunately, we cannot support individuals financially because the handout culture is about to finish. Even in the latest political party bills, you are not allowed to give handouts. We believe that people can support you based on the issues that you raise. Of course, everything requires money; in that case, I would advise companies and other people to help the women. They [company officials] also have children and women who will benefit once a woman is elected as councillor. Again, there was a misunderstanding in Mangochi, which is a predominantly Islamic society, some thought women cannot be councillors. This was a misconception because it is only in mosques that they are not allowed to lead, but not in politics. You can be a councillor; MP or president, there is no problem.

So no material support for women?

We cannot give material support, but I feel the parties they are representing can help. If you are a strong candidate and you present yourself to the people, surely you can be assisted.  The biggest and most important issue is accountability to the people. Women have consider the public good most. They are responsible and they need to be councillors or MPs.

What can women learn from your female headed party of Iceland?

They should be able to stand together in councils or Parliament. We showed the people that we can fight for equality by supporting each other. We learnt how to speak in public. But they should also learn to lose   because we lost seats after 16 years. But now, we have many women in Iceland who are in majority—even young mayors!

Some people think this should be a continuous process and not a one off thing. Will you support this?

Of course it should be a continuous process, but donors have conditions. As a country, this can be a process even without the involvement of donors. You cannot always rely on donors.

What other things are you doing in Mangochi?

We started with fisheries in Mangochi, then supported local councils in their programmes. For example, there is this maternity structure which will open in November.  We have helped with a number of boreholes. These are council programmes and we only support. Of course, sometimes it [council] might not have the capacity to do some things, but we are supporting them.

Any word to Mangochi women who want to be councillors or MPs?

They should not be afraid, but be strong like the men. Tell the people realistic promises, convince them that you are a good candidate. When you are elected, live up to it and ensure that you work for the people. All these MPs and councillors are the servants of the people and they should be talking to them even after elections. That is where their accountability lies—the people.


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