Sphiwe Mauwa, MalawiÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s only female District Commissioner (DC), feels the society and men do not recognise the role women play in their society. She says that people should begin to recognise women and give them challenging tasks as women have the right capabilities. She talks to Paida Mpaso on challenges women face and the sacrifices she has encountered in order to achieve her goals.
Tell us about your careerÃ¢â‚¬Â¦
I started my career long time ago, I taught for a while at Chichiri and Chipasula Secondary schools. In 2002, I joined Ministry of Local Government and Rural Development, as Director of Planning and Development (DPD) for Lilongwe District Council. By then, I was also one of the first lady DPDs.
That was almost the time that Malawi had just adopted decentralisation policy of 1998, therefore, I can claim that I am one of the pioneers of decentralisation in Malawi.
In 2007, I was asked by the Ministry to work at One Village One Product (OVOP) as Principal Rural Development Officer responsible for marketing and selling of OVOP concept and products. In 2008, I was transferred to the Ministry Headquarters as a Principal Rural Development Officer, in the rural development section. I was part of the team that oversaw rural development programmes in Malawi like; Rural growth centres, market centres, microfinance and many other programmes that are geared towards promoting livelihoods of rural masses.
What qualities have made you stand out in order to be appointed?
I think they saw the capabilities in me, first of all my qualifications, intelligence, skills and probably experience on how I have handled issues or position of similar nature in the past.
What do you think about yourself having achieved such a position?
Honestly, I feel humbled, honoured. I do not take it for granted. I think it is God manifesting in me and it is a favour from the Lord.
What are some of the challenges that you have had to face as a woman for you to reach such position?
I have faced so many challenges like travelling long distance away from my family, working odd hours and sometimes weekend or public holidays and working in rural areas. Being a DC is not an easy task, but by and by, we learn and so we progress.
How did you overcome such challenges?
When I am away, I manage by involving my husband, mother and other family members to take care of my children. When it comes to work, women have no choice but to leave their children behind. ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s a challenge, especially when the children are young, but this is what we signed up for and we have to make it happen somehow.
When I am back, I always make up my time to be with my children and family, I want to try as much as possible to fill up the gaps.
What qualifications do you hold?
I have MasterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Degree of Science in Development and Project planning, from Bradford University – United Kingdom which I obtained in 2006 and a BachelorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s Degree in Education Humanities with credit majoring in Rural Development, from Chancellor College – University of Malawi. I also have Diploma in Finance for nonfinance managers from International College of Correspondence in United Kingdom. I also have certificates obtained from various institutions across the globe like: certificate in Community Capacity and Rural Development Ã¢â‚¬â€focussing on One Village One Product Ã¢â‚¬â€from Rietsumikai Asia-Pacific University in Japan, certificate in Financing and Managing Local Infrastructure initiative from Sweden and Zambia, certificate in Microfinance and poverty Reduction from Hyderabad India etc
Dedza has a population of over 700 000, how do you manage to look after the population?
I manage by utilising and enhancing functionality of Local Institution at district and community level. For instance, at district level, we have District Executive Committee, comprised of all heads of department and non-governmental organisations. Then at traditional authority level, we have Area Development Committee and Area Executive Committee, and then at group Village Head level we have Village Development Committee. Therefore, by working and utilising these institutions, ensures me to reach out to most population in the district, since it is at local level where realÃ‚Â issues, problems from the community, come from. That is why in Malawi, we are on top when it comes to decentralization since the communities have been empowered.
DonÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t people look down on you?
I donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t think so. They know that I am qualified and experienced in that position.
ArenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t there cases where women are marginalised on land issues?
ItÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s true that women are marginalised in so many ways, including in land ownership. Currently, I advise women to process lease documents, but in rural areas, where illiteracy levels are high, I normally advise them to follow culture. In most parts of Southern and Central Region, issues of land culturally will favour the woman. As a district commissioner, I, therefore, ensure that womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s property, including land, is not grabbed in any way, in case a husband dies.
What about issues of wife battering?
Of course, that is part of marriage problems and ankhoswe will have to intervene. Otherwise, district councils also have victim support units, where issues of such kind are reported. In my capacity as DC, I consult the woman, and offer support in terms counselling and so on.
What achievements have you brought to the women in your area?
For the women and girls in Dedza, I have initiated projects like guardian shelter, health centres, school blocks and built teachers houses. I have also initiated a piggery project which will improve food security and increase household income of the women groups in Dedza.
Where do you come from?
I was born and grew up in Blantyre.Ã‚Â I did my nursery education at Chichiri Baptist, then Chichiri Primary and finished my secondary education at Chichiri Secondary school in Blantyre.
How many were you in your family?
I am the last born in a family of five. I come from a very happy, healthy, religious and supportive family. My mother was a secondary school teacher and my father owned a construction company.
Honestly, life for me has been both easy and challenging. Growing up in cities, I can claim that I had most social amenities within reach, at the same time city life can be problematic to a girl simply because of peer pressure.
There were so many things that would have destructed my school work or upbringing, however, I thank my parents, sister and brothers who were very harsh and tough on me, hence I managed to withstand the troubles.
Again growing up together with my brothers and sister assisted me a lot since we could study together, push each other to write assignmentsÃ‚Â while doing all household chores.
What were your dreams as a child?
I have always wanted to excel in my life, of course, I never thought I would become district commissioner, but I remember my father always advising me that I should work hard in school so that one day I should become a boss.
Are you married?
Oh yeah! I married my college friend Hermes Mauwa, with whom I have three children Shanice, Michelle and Shaun.
What would you want your children to learn from you?
I want my children and the youth out there to know that life becomes so easy when you are educated. Whatever you like doing in your life, you will enjoy it as long as you are educated. They should avoid peer pressure, and know that, if I may echo my dadÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s advice: Ã¢â‚¬ËœEveryone for him or herself and only God for us all.Ã¢â‚¬â„¢ Whatever they are enjoying now is not theirs, they should work hard at school and make theirs. Life can be tricky sometimes.
How has your husband helped you to become the person you are today?
My husband has been very supportive, cooperative and understanding all these years that we have been together, even during the time that we were pursuing BachelorÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s and MasterÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s degrees. Currently he takes care of the children since my job demands that I am out of the home most of the time.
What are some of your highest and lowest moments in life?
My highest moment in life was when I was in the United Kingdom on my graduation day, it was this time I realised that I have almost achieved my dreams and my parentsÃ¢â‚¬â„¢ wish of attaining highest education.
My lowest moment, however, was when I lost my father at the age of 17. It was the time that I was waiting for University of Malawi entrance examination. It is sad that he died without seeing the fruits of his action and advice.
How did you overcome that?
By moving on with life and praying hard to God and also realising that it is only God who will guide me.
What makes you happy?
When I have brought an intervention to the rural community that improves their livelihoods. For instance, the community may walk long distance to access education, health facilities or portable water. And as a district council, we have brought the social-economic development that will address these issues, then I am happy.
Any last comments?
An appeal to women, out there to set goals, work extra hard in their daily activities so that they can be recognised. And we should realise that we are capable and can do anything we set our mind to.
It is very unfortunate that in our society, womenÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s capabilities are not recognised because they are oppressed by husbands and bosses who donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t believe in that God gave us the same capabilities.
To all managers out there, please recognise the skills and capabilities of women by giving them challenging tasks, and they will perform wonders!