As Malawi continues to debate on the need for gender quota which is aimed at escalating the 50:50 representation in Parliament, EDWIN NYIRONGO talks to the Commonwealth Secretariat Peace and Development officer ABUBAKAR ABDULLAHI, whose organisation has provided technical and financial support for the 50:50 campaign, who explains more about the organisation’s view on the campaign. Excerpts:
Why is Commonwealth interested in women’s political empowerment?
It is not about interest, but commitment to the gender equality goals and priorities of the Commonwealth as enshrined in the Charter. Gender equality and inclusive democratic participation are fundamental values of the Commonwealth. It is based on these values and the implementation of mandates from Heads of Governments that the Secretariat has continued to support the 50:50 Campaign. The Secretariat is pleased to have contributed to the democratic milestone of getting more women elected to Parliament during the 2019 tripartite elections. Yet, we are conscious of the distance still to be travelled towards the actualization of 50:50 goal.
What is your reaction to negotiations going on in the country about gender quota?
The Commonwealth is encouraged by the ongoing electoral reform dialogues and consultations aimed at strengthening the inclusivity of your multiparty democracy. We know from the democratic milestones and trajectories of member countries that there are divergent paths towards enabling women’s political representation and leadership. The Secretariat will continue to support whatever path Malawi takes to ensure political empowerment of women, be it through legislated quota, proportional representation, or political party-based affirmative action.
Malawi is using the First-Past-the-Post system of electing political leaders, is it viable for women’s political empowerment?
Yes, it is viable. I believe women’s political representation and leadership can be promoted in any electoral system if they are enabled, empowered, and provided with space to thrive politically and to actualize their political aspirations. Women in politics need an electoral system and democratic institutions that support competitive but fair and inclusive democratic processes.
What is your reaction to the meeting of gender campaigners with leaders of political parties?
The dialogue that the 50:50 campaign convened with political party leadership is very important. Political parties are the gateway to enhancing women’s political representation, thus they should be engaged even more robustly. The 50:50 Campaign requires support and understanding of political parties. They are principal stakeholders who must be strategically engaged in the efforts towards actualizing the 50:50 goals. I believe dialogue with political parties should be structured and sustained in such a way that the outcomes can be very visible and tangible. In 2019, the Commonwealth Secretariat supported Centre for Multiparty Democracy [CMD] to establish an Interparty Gender Action Group (Igag) as a consensus building platform for women across all political parties. There is the need for this platform to be strengthened as a tool for constructive dialogue with political party leadership on inclusivity.
There are concerns by political parties that the proposed seats for women in each district will only create super women who will become more powerful than other legislators. What do you say to this?
I do not know what the term ‘super woman’ connotes in Malawi. But if what it means is women with the capacity, tenacity, or courage to lead and impact on the society, then I would say we need more super women in Malawi. We need more super women like honorable [Patricia] Kaliati; we need superwomen like Right Honourable [Catherine] Gotani Hara. I am talking about women who will provide transformational leadership that will impact to your multiparty democracy.
Then, there are issues of cost where some people are suggesting that increasing the number of legislators will be too much for the economy. Do you agree?
Like I said from the beginning, we are here to encourage and support in whatever way that Malawi wishes to be supported with regards to the inclusivity of reforms which are aimed at strengthening your multiparty democracy. Parliaments are the heart and soul of democracies and I believe your parliament should serve the essence and purpose of your democracy irrespective of its size.
In which other countries is the Commonwealth supporting women’s political empowerment?
The Commonwealth is a voluntary association of 52 independent and equal sovereign states including some of the world’s largest, smallest, richest, and poorest countries, spanning five regions. The Secretariat encourages and supports gender equality and inclusive democratic participation in member countries. The support being providing to the 50:50 Campaign is however, through the Inclusive Dialogue and Women’s Political Participation Project which is being implemented in five participating member states (Malawi, Jamaica, Grenada, The Solomon Islands, Sri Lanka). n