Former member of Parliament (MP) for Mzimba North East Catherine Gotani-Hara has urged civil society organisations (CSOs) to start lobbying for adoption of gender affirmative law and other measures for advancement of women in politics.
Hara was speaking in Dedza during an engagement session with female politicians on the development of the gender transformative manual ahead of the 2019 tripartite elections.
The Pan African Civic Educators Network (Pacenet) is developing the manual with financial support from United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women).
Hara stressed that measures need to be taken for the advancement of women in civil, political, economic social and cultural matters, including affirmative action in the education of girls, as well as other efforts to modify sociocultural patterns resulting from sexual stereotypes that disadvantage women in politics.
She said: “As long as the proposed gender affirmative bill is not put into law, women shall continue playing second fiddle in political life and their representation in both councils and the National Assembly will continue going down. As you might have noted, in 2009, there were more female MPs. But the trend has been going down due to many factors such as lack of political will in parties and strict scrutiny of women politicians by the public unlike their male counterparts.”
Hara, who also served in different cabinet portfolios in both Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and People’s Party (PP) regimes, said experience has shown that it is difficult for women to penetrate men-headed parties in the country.
Therefore, she asked CSOs to lobby for an expedited process for tabling and enacting of the Gender Affirmative Action Bill if the country is to address gender disparities.
Rose Anthony, a Malawi Forum for Unity and Development (Mafunde) secretary general who has unsuccessfully contested three times for Chiradzulu East Constituency, observed that most of the non-governmental organisations (NGOs) advancing women participation in politics have failed to change people’s mindset towards women.
Anthony cited late identification of [female] aspiring candidates and late provision of training to the aspirants are among challenges the NGOs need to address.
“Additionally, NGOs should aim at empowering female contenders right from the party level, particularly when parties are going for conventions. This will give women a leeway to influence some decisions in the party,” she explained.
Pacenet programme manager Cassidy Magreta said his organisation will strive to address cultural barriers to women participation in leadership positions in politics and other decision making positions.
Magreta they aim to achieve this by transforming people’s perceptions of women leadership through increased community and civic understanding on gender equality and women right to leadership, including political participation.
“Pacenet will engage grassroots community to get issues that affect women in leadership and decision making processes and recommendations on how to address these issues. This process will eventually lead to the development of a gender transformative community engagement manual or tool for the promotion of women’s political participation in Malawi,” he explained.
Once the tool/manual has been developed Pacenet, will engage the Ministry of Gender to adopt it just as it happened with training manual for women aspiring for leadership positions in local and National Assemblies in Malawi, according to the network.
The project targets four districts, namely; Mzimba in the North, Dedza in Central Region, Machinga in the East and Thyolo in the South.