In the face of criticism over failure to respect the Gender Equality Act (GEA) of 2013 in appointing people into parastatal boards, government says it will not reconstitute ‘non-compliant’ boards.
In an interview yesterday, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said while government appreciated the concerns, it cannot operate on ultimatums, but dialogue.
He said: “In this scenario, there is need to for us to stitch up our legislation so that different laws speak to the GEA with utmost fluency. There are some laws where the President is not the one who appoints, but appoints them on recommendation from the appointing institutions.
“The first thing we have to do is to engage. We can’t run a nation using ultimatums. They can go to court and do whatever they can do which is legal, but probably they could have engaged us so that we also tell them some of the things.”
The minister was reacting to concerns from various stakeholders on the recently constituted boards where out of the 54 completely filled boards, only 11, representing 20.37 percent comply with the GEA, meaning the remaining 79.63 percent fall short of this law.
Under Section 11 (1), the GEA stresses the need for 60:40 representation in line with the Southern Africa Development Community (Sadc) Gender Protocol and African Union (AU) Women Protocol.
Kazako said the country should look at a holistic picture as opposed to just looking at the GEA, insisting, the commitment for gender equality and women empowerment remains strong.
In a separate interview, Danwood Chirwa, a professor of law at the University of Cape Town in South Africa, said some people, including lawyers, were deliberately reading the Act narrowly to suit their bellies.
He said: “I have seen no good reason given why board appointments must exclude women on such a scale as evidenced by the current appointments. Some lawyers are claiming that the GEA is not applicable outside the context of the civil service. They are deliberately reading the Act narrowly.”
On her part, NGO-Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) chairperson Barbara Banda, who has declined a position in the board of Technical, Entrepreneurial and Vocational Education Training Authority (Teveta), said what government has done is illegal.
She said: “Only 10 women are board chairs. This in conclusion shows that women are not taking decision-making positions at the highest level. The appointing authorities are in the forefront breaking the law.”
An analysis by the NGO-GCN shows growing disparities that the country continues to face, especially on marginalisation of women in appointed positions.
It reads: “Of particular worry is zero representation of women in a good 11 parastatals. Of peculiar note are hirings into Nurses and Midwives Council of Malawi and Malawi Institute of Education where female members’ representation constitutes over 60 percent.”
The Malawi Law Society (MLS) has concurred with the NGO-GCN calculations, observing that of the 54 completely filled boards, only 11 (20.37 percent) comply with Section 11 of the GEA.
In a letter congratulating some of its members appointed into various boards, MLS honorary secretary Martha Kaukonde urged the Attorney General (AG) to advise the appointing authority to make the necessary changes.
AG Silungwe yesterday refused to speak on the matter, saying the Secretary to the President and Cabinet, Zanga Zanga Chikhosi, was better-placed. But Chikhosi had earlier referred us to Kazako.
Meanwhile, the NGO-GCN, Human Rights Defenders Coalition, Youth and Society and Women Lawyers Association have given government seven days to reconstitute the non-compliant boards or face court action.
In a letter dated September 27 2020 to Chikhosi signed by lawyer Wesley Mwafulirwa, the CSOs argue that the appointments violate both local and international legal instruments.