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Whither to with the 50:50 Campaign?

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The female MPs are on a mission to get re-elected in 2019- The female MPs are on a mission to get re-elected in 2019- file photo

Donata Nyanga was the only woman who contested in the April 2018 by-elections. Under the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) ticket, she became second with 531 votes in ward counselor elections at Malindi in Mangochi, a result touted as a milestone for the MCP, a party known to be stronger mainly in the central region.

But her participation also brought out in the open one issue: low female participation in elections.

Having only one woman taking part in an election, small or big, should be of concern in a country where the push for women representation in political leadership is touted to be gaining momentum ahead of the 2019 tripartite elections.

It should be a concern especially taking into consideration that such campaigns have flopped before even with the government in the forefront.

In the last election of 2014, many women lost out to their male counterparts. Only 30 women made it to parliament, which was a drastic reduction from 43 who won in the 2009 polls.

Hoping to change things, in February 2018, the Royal Norwegian Embassy released a K1.1 billion grant to the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare for the implementation of a 50-50 Campaign to woo more women to participate in the 2019 polls.

This time around, selected organizations would manage the campaign and not the government.

A consortium comprising of Center for Civil Society Strengthening and Action Aid Malawi were selected through a competitive bidding process by a panel that included the embassy, the ministry and UNDP.

However, many activists feel the campaign is not moving at the desired pace bearing in mind that only 13 months are left before the 2019 polls.

Emma Kaliya Chairperson of NGO Gender Coordination Network told Zodiak Online that those entrusted with the leadership of the 2018/2019 50:50 campaign need to work hard to ensure that more women participate and win in the 2019 polls.

“When the 50:50 campaign was being put in place this time around, we were all banking on it to help women attain political leadership positions but what has happened in the by-election is a clear testimony that more needs to be done. Those charged with that responsibility need to do better in order to make a difference,” said Kaliya.

Kaliya observed that the current environment in Malawi also presents more challenges than opportunities for most women.

“Malawi is a deceitful nation; we can speak, laugh and smile to each other in the face but when you’re not around they turn around and do something else. All this rests on the notion of patriarchy; men have planted this idea in the minds of people that women can never be leaders. This behaviour is slowing down the participation of women in politics,” she said.

Kaliya further observed that often women are disadvantaged because of their gender and marital statuses.

“Men are at times bent on finding faults on women, saying she moves around with a lot of men or saying she is not married so she cannot be a leader; all centering on patriarchy,” she said.

Steve Duwa, Executive Director of Pan African Educators Network (Pacenet) said in a separate interview the problem is that the 50:50 campaign is regarded as an activity during an election.

“We need to treat the 50:50 campaign as an ongoing campaign but it looks like we treat it as an event which is very unfortunate. By now we should be taking lessons from what happened in 2014 and act with speed in order for the campaign to bear fruits,” said Duwa.

Duwa also observed that the campaign is moving too slow.

“My humble appeal is that the consortium which was given the funds for the campaign should release the funds to the organizations which will be doing the actual work in the communities such as CSOs, religious organizations, traditional leaders and the like. If we fail to deliver we should not blame the donors because they released the money in good time but we have not moved with speed,” said Duwa.

The Pacenet executive director said his organization was ready to go out and campaign for the women.

Action Aid Malawi is one of the organizations which have received funding for the 50:50 campaign.

When called for comment, executive director Grace Malera referred this reporter to Team Leader of the 50:50 campaign management agency, Viwemi Chavula, but he could not pick up our call on several attempts.

Meanwhile, female parliamentarians have been on a nationwide campaign drumming up support for their re-election and that of other shadow candidates.

The 32 MPs have been in all the constituents with one voice; “vote for a female candidate or perish in 2019”.

Chairperson of the Women’s Caucus in Parliament Jessie Kabwila could not pick up her phone when called for comment but has been quoted in the media as being hopeful of the future.

“We will continue to fight for women,” she said.

Similar sentiments were echoed by NGO GCN executive director Kaliya: “As an activist you don’t lose hope; you remain optimistic that something better will happen.”

It now remains to be seen whether the 32 women parliamentarians and 53 ward councilors and indeed any more women, will carry the day in the 2019 tripartite elections.


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