“Gender equality is not just women’s business, it is everybody’s business and that gender equality and women’s empowerment are critical to sustainable socio-economic development.”
These were the words of President Paul Kagame of Rwanda in his opening address in 2007 at that country’s Gender, Nation Building and Role of Parliament Conference. That statement set the foundation for making Rwanda a global model on how to achieve gender equality and equity.
Back home, the Constitution of the Republic of Malawi recognises and promotes gender equality as one of the routes to better welfare and development of Malawians. Most importantly, gender equality is a basic human right so no one really has to beg for it from a State President or any one in position of influence, especially in the public sector, to ensure that this right is respected.
And if President Lazarus McCarthy Chakwera does not show that he respects the law that compels a certain level of public appointments in decision-making positions, then where will his administration get the moral wherewithal to police anyone?
Won’t his misconduct on the gender issue lead to policy evaporation as top administration officials follow his gender insensitive recruitment lead?
People are not expecting Chakwera to have brought gender equality to Malawi within 100 days of his office as he seemed to sarcastically suggest on Monday when pinned on why he missed the opportunity to lead by example in bringing more women into his Cabinet and in the boards of State enterprises, sub-vented organisations and regulatory bodies as the law prescribes.
Because it is Cabinet and board appointments where he has singular power at the moment to impose his will and show commitment to gender equality.
Instead he basically said there aren’t enough qualified, driven and talented women candidates to go round for top administration jobs.
As a kicker, the President even said if anyone knows any competent women out there, they should send him binders full of women’s resumes for his Excellency’s perusal.
To be honest, his response was inelegant at best and patronising at worst. I mean, when he was appointing his male-dominated Cabinet and boards, did he also put out an advert for people to mobilise men’s curriculum vitae?
Chakwera had an opportunity to show women voters—who constitute the majority of the country’s population—that he cares.
Instead, he ended up denigrating women and was dismissive of the whole issue in a tone deaf, disdainful manner that showed the President was out of touch with the realities of women marginalisation in this country.
His responses were sexist, dehumanising and outright disrespectful, especially when he basically said people (women I guess) have to be patient and they will be considered when the time is right.
Frankly, the President’s attitude to the whole gender equality issue raises a lot of questions.
Does the President attach importance to the promotion of gender equality and equity as a prerequisite for sustainable development? Does he appreciate the centrality of gender equality in national development at all?
Does he believe that gender inequalities are unjust or he believes it is an acceptable social normality?
Yet, how can under representation of women in decision-making positions be normality? You cannot have less than 20 percent of women in the Executive and even less in positions of power and find it acceptable.
How can the President tell women to wait when there are less than 15 percent of women in the Judiciary? How long should women wait to move the numbers from less than 20 percent in the Legislature to 50 percent?
When you look at city, municipality and district councils—where decision-making is closest to the people that are affected by those decisions (and most of the affected are females)—women in decision-making positions are in miserable minorities.
Look, we know 60-40 is not easy to achieve, but, like I said earlier, with boards and Cabinet appointments, the President had an unfettered power to achieve that benchmark and send a signal. He chose not to.
He could have met that threshold and start working on measures that opens up more opportunities for women. I will just cite one sector, education, where he could have told the nation his plans for narrowing the imbalances between boys and girls in terms of performance in schools so that more girls transition to and also do well in secondary schools where the numbers are heavily skewed.
He could have been telling us his plans for sharply increasing female enrolment in the faculty of applied sciences so that young women too could have the ‘atomic’ expertise Chakwera casually threw around as one of the areas you would struggle to find women.
The President could have told the nation of potential catch up programmes for women to help the country comply with its own gender laws and policies.
But he didn’t.
Instead, he dared critics if they could find and send him binders full of qualified women.
Now that is an excellent example of how not to lead.