Zenifa Tembo from Mvula Village in Traditional Authority (T/A) Kanyenda in Nkhotakota District walks about two kilometres to find water for domestic chores. That sums up how cumbersome a task fetching water is in her village.
Captivatingly, Tembo attributes the problem to gender inequality in leadership positions in her area. She says out of 27 members of Kanyenda Area Development Committee (ADC), only three are female. Thus, she says, this makes it difficult for women’s concerns to be heard.
Group village head (GVH) Mvula agrees with Tembo, saying 3 500 families in 13 villages rely on one borehole which is situated far from most of these households. She says there is need for more boreholes, but her voice is not heard.
“Many male leaders in our community do not take women’s concerns seriously. We have been demanding for more boreholes, but to no avail. Traditionally, women are the ones who fetch water; thus, most men do not have the feeling of how hard this is,” says Mvula.
Results of the May 20 2014 Tripartite Elections show that Nkhotakota, like Neno and Chiradzulu, have no female councillors.
Nkhotakota also has only two female members of the District Executive Committee out of 21.
Non-Governmental Organisation Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN)/National Democratic Institute (NDI) projects manager Aubrey Chaguzika says the situation makes it difficult for communities in the districts to meet the women’s needs.
“The issue is not that all councillors or members of ADC or DEC should be females. What we are saying is that if there is equal representation between men and women, it will be easy to have development projects that will be beneficial to both men and women,” he says.
Although women make 52 percent of Malawi’s population, they are noticeably absent from decision-making positions at a number of levels. According to the Department of Human Resource Management and Development (DHRMD), women’s representation in decision-making positions in the public service sector is at a miserable 24 percent.
Furthermore, the 2014 Local Government Election results indicate that women’s representation in local government stands at just 11 percent.
The NGO-GCN survey reveals that despite efforts to improve this, little progress has been made in the implementation of the Gender Equality Act which provides for a quota of between 40 and 60 percent of either sex in recruitment and appointments.
Chaguzika says gender equality is crucial for development because development projects become gender sensitive.
He says: “The results of this survey means that needs of women cannot be easily met. The results are a wake-up call to double our efforts to ensure that women not only in Nkhotakota, but also in all districts are encouraged to participate in leadership positions so that voices of women and girls are heard.”
South Africa’s first post-apartheid president, Nelson Mandela, recognised early on in his presidency that no major success in any country is possible without gender equality. He used to emphasise that democracy and gender equality were far from being separate issues.
At the opening of the first post-apartheid Parliament in 1994, Mandela declared: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression. Our endeavours must be about the liberation of the woman, the emancipation of the man and the liberty of the child.”
National Initiative for Civic Education (Nice) Trust Nkhotakota district civic education officer James Mumba says it is possible for Malawi to achieve gender equality if every person realised that gender equality is crucial for household, community and national development.
He says one of the challenges in the promotion of gender equality is the tendency by some husbands to discourage their wives from participating in public issues such as politics.
“In Nkhotakota, the challenge we met during the last political campaign period is that some men discouraged their wives from contesting as councillors. These men think that when a wife participates in public activities, such as politics, they [women] will be engaging in prostitution. That is bad and false,” says Mumba.
He also notes that a number of stakeholders that advocate for gender equality in leadership positions come out with advocacy activities during political campaign period only, and hibernate immediately the elections are over.
“It is good to see that NGO-GCN is still working on the gender equality advocacy after elections. We should not talk about gender equality when we are only a few months to elections. Let us make this campaign a continuous process,” says Mumba.
Ntchisi North member of Parliament (MP) Olipa Chimangeni (Malawi Congress Party-MCP), who is the only female MP in the district, concurs with Mumba and urges donor partners to fund gender equality advocacy activities throughout the election circle not just during the campaign period.
For Chimangeni, affirmative action is the best strategy to use in promoting women in leadership position. She says the strong advocacy campaign will help the country achieve the 50-50 representation not only at local government level, but also at parliamentary level.
She says: “During the 2009 general elections, 42 women won parliamentary seats. However, the number dropped to 32 in the 2014 Tripartite Elections. I am worried that if affirmative action is not taken, the future elections can bring lower number of female MPs than now.
“In Parliament, we have 32 female MPs. Therefore, we should come up with affirmative action to protect these constituencies. If we can say in 2019 elections all contestants in these 32 constituencies should be women it means we will be assured that at least 32 MPs will be female in the country.
“But if we leave it as it is now, it means we may end up coming up with less than 32 female MPs. The same affirmative action should apply to wards in which there are female councillors.”
Principal Secretary in the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare, Mary Shaba, says government is working hard to implement its strategies to achieve the 50-50 representation.
“The Gender Equality Act is clear on how we can promote women. What is needed is continuous implementation of this Act. The ministry will continuously hold sessions to sensitise people at grass root level on the importance of gender equality on development. By achieving gender equality, development will be easy to achieve,” says Shaba. n