Hundreds of women took to the streets of Blantyre on Wednesday in support of the embattled Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) chairperson Jane Ansah amid calls from sections of society for her to step down.
With Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Mary Navicha and Seodi White, chief director in the Public Sector Reforms Unit in the Office of the President and Cabinet in the forefront, the women started their march from Old Town Hall in Blantyre central business district at 8.45am.
The women, a majority of whom were seen being ferried in truckloads and buses at the venue, carried placards with messages in support of Ansah, a Malawi Supreme Court of Appeal judge, who is facing a backlash from some sections of society, notably civil society organisations under the banner of Human Rights Defenders Coalition
(HRDC) and some opposition parties for allegedly presiding over what they call a flawed electoral process in the May 21 Tripartite Elections.
During the march that took them through Masauko Chipembere Highway to Blantyre City Council (BCC) Civic Centre, the women were also clad in white T-shirts designed for the occasion. Some of the inscriptions on the T-shirts read: ‘I am Jane Ansah’.
After presenting the petition addressed to BCC director of administration Lyton Nkata, Navicha, who is also legislator for Thyolo Thava Constituency, said the apparently resource-rich and well organised protest march was financed by well-wishers she could not mention.
She said: “We sourced funds from well-wishers and donors who have supported us in this event. Time has come that we demanded for the upholding of the dignity of women.
“We are here to support Justice Ansah and we will not allow that she should be intimidated into tendering her resignation. Enough is enough. We are here to fight violence against women.”
On why government was interested now but paid a blind eye to past cases when women were also abused in the country, Navicha said her ministry was working on modalities to fight for rights of all women.
In a separate interview, White, a lawyer and former women’s rights activist, defended her stance on questions regarding her failure to defend rights of other women such as a UTM member stripped in Mangochi, verbal abuse towards former Balaka West legislator Patricia Dzimbiri and Buleya Lule’s widow whose husband was killed in police custody.
She said: “I have done a lot of fighting for women’s rights in this country since 1999. Some legislation we have in this country such as Prevention of Domestic Violence Act which was passed in 2006 and the Wills and Inheritance Act, I was instrumental in the formulation of all these and I wonder when people say I have not fully supported the cause of women’s rights.”
Notable Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) women who patronised the march included secretary general Grezelder Jeffrey, Nsanje North parliamentarian Esther Mcheka Chilenje, Zeria Chakale, Nellie Nseula and former minister Cecilia Chazama.
Jeffery said she was at the march solely in her position as presidential adviser on women affairs as her party was not involved in any way.
There was heavy presence of armed police during the march organised by an outfit called Forum for Concerned Women in Malawi that surfaced this week with a press conference in Blantyre and full page statements published in newspapers.
The mood was calm in the city as the procession marched.
But some of the women with bags strapped on their backs, seemed lost in the happenings of the day as one of them could not even pronounce the name ‘Jane Ansah.’
In an interview, Mary Nakhapapi from Nsanje Central Constituency, said she was just asked by DPP officials in her area to board a vehicle to Blantyre for the demonstrations.
But Eneless Maganga, from Blantyre South East Constituency, said she was infuriated with the anti-Jane Ansah demonstrations which she felt has contributed to the slowing down of her business.
Monica Kapito, from Mulanje Limbuli Constituency, said she was asked to come as women were being verbally abused by some men whom she could not mention.
After the march, the women converged at the Kamuzu Stadium upper ground where the organisers handled some logistical issues.