When Mickness Hara showed interest to become a ward councillor in Mzimba four years ago, fellow women were the first to discourage her.
“They started degrading me, with some calling me a prostitute,” she says.
Hara quickly pulled out of the 2014 race in which women represent 56 out of 462 councillors elected nationwide. There are only two female councillors in Mzimba, a picture she wants to change.
She has revived her campaign just in time for next year’s tripartite elections.
“If it’s not women pulling you down, it’s men, including your own husband. So, it is not just money that let women down, but the way we are viewed by societies we live in,” says the aspiring councillor for Elangeni Ward in Mzimba South West Constituency.
Hara’s situation gives a glimpse of factors that repel women from contesting for elected positions.
“Even the electoral processes are not well understood by most women aspirants, especially in rural areas. They also lack skills to stage successful campaigns,” she explains.
This time, Hara seems ready to show her community that women can make a difference if given a chance.
Mercy Zintambira, who is vying to unseat Mzimba South East legislator Rabbi Chihaula Shaba, says the country cannot achieve equal representation of men and women in politics unless the playing field is levelled.
Men have an upper hand when it comes to financial muscles and standing in society.
“Women often play second fiddle in most cultural settings, especially in Mzimba and other patriarchal districts,” she says.
Zintambira wants women to take part in all decision-making bodies in line with the ongoing campaign for 50-50 representation.
“By not putting women in decision-making positions, the country is losing out as most of them are reluctant to get involved,” she says.
Malawi is a signatory to the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) protocal which prescribes equal representation of men and women in decision-making positions, including elected offices.
However, this remains a mere dream as women occupy only 32 seats in the 193-seat Parliament—representing 16.7 percent.
However, Khosolo Women Forum director Joyce Mwale is optimistic that increased sensitisation can change the picture.
The forum is conducting awareness meetings in Mzimba with funding from ActionAid Malawi.
Mwale urges women to support each other to outsmart men with unique ideas.
“Let’s stand up for each other instead of attacking those contesting to be councillors or members of Parliament,” she implores.
ActionAid Malawi programme coordinator Wongani Mugaba believes increased women participation is key to ending poverty and developing the country.
Their voice is missing in critical assemblies, including State House, Parliament and councils.
“Women need to be part of decision-making at all levels of development,” he suggests,
Mugaba is optimistic that if empowered to understand and articulate burning issues about the electoral systems, they can stage winning campaigns to increase their numbers in Parliament and councils.
ActionAid runs women empowerment programmes in Mzimba with funding from its sister organisation in the UK.
It has partnered the women forum and other organisations to offer aspiring women councillors and parliamentarians the capacity to understand electoral systems and hold persuasive campaigning ahead of May 21 2019 Tripartite Elections.
Mugaba says while women in politics face financial constraints and other setbacks, they stand a better chance if they mount well-executed campaigns supported by communities.
As the 2019 elections draws closer, government and non-governmental organisations have re-ignited the 50-50 campaign to increase the number of women in elected positions.
Tovwirane project officer Cecelia Chivunga urges political parties to take necessary measures to give women equal chances to win primary elections which are often marred by male-orchestrated violence and trickery.
However, the low representation in the newly elected Malawi Congress Party (MCP) national executive committee has dampened the mood for those campaigning for gender equality in politics.
But Zintambira rallies ambitious women competing for political positions to push harder.
“They just need a push and deliberate support from each other to increase their numbers. NGOs involved in the 50-50 Campaign need to engage the women aspirants now, not two days to the polling day,” she says.