In politics, heroes are self-made, and so was the late Nelson Mandela. Although he is highly known for his fight against white supremacy in South Africa, the icon left a legacy of women empowerment.
His speech when he opened the Parliament Session in 1994, and what followed, demonstrated the power of political leadership in women empowerment.
Majestically, Mandela declared in the South African Parliament: “Freedom cannot be achieved unless women have been emancipated from all forms of oppression.”
These were just words which any politician can articulate, but it took action to complement them and raise the number of women in the country’s Parliament from 2.7 percent during the apartheid era to 27 percent by 1994. In his Cabinet, over a third were women. Reports indicate that by December 2015, the country had 44 percent women representation in Parliament, close to its target of 50-50 gender parity by that year. To date, the success is being attributed to the journey Mandela started.
There is a lesson to be learnt: with political will, zeal and focus, gender parity in governance, politics and other sectors of the economy is achievable. Sadly, such lessons seem to go unnoticed in Malawi as men continue to dominate governance and political positions. Despite the courage women shown in the 2014 Tripartite Elections to contest in presidential, parliamentary and local government positions, the results were discappointing.
Of the 193 parliamentary seats, only 32 went to females. This was a flop from the 2009 elections which ushered in 43 female parliamentarians. In Local Government Elections, only 56 women won from the 457 contested positions.
This is happening after years of fighting for women empowerment in both politics and other decision-making positions. Gender activists and political parties have preached enough on the need for gender equality, but reading through the figures, women representation in Parliament between 1994 and 2014, leaves one wondering whether the 50-50 gender parity is achievable.
NGO-Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) chairperson Emma Kaliya argues that there is a lot to be done for Malawi to achieve gender equality.
“This is a progressive process and we cannot compare with the past to justify the figures achieved now. We have not done enough. The pace at which the figures are growing is too slow,” she says.
Kaliya adds that the results of the 2014 Tripartite Elections and women representation in the public sector are a statement on how Malawi is fairing on gender equality. She says it is sad that the public sector has a women representation of only 24 percent, local government around 11 percent and Parliament and Cabinet around 15 percent.
She argues: “This raises a lot of questions on the obligations of the State in making sure that we are able to implement the commitments made towards gender parity.”
The activist also hits at authorities who overlook the legal framework to support gender equality. Kaliya faults several appointments made in government saying they are a missed opportunity in women empowerment. She wonders how the private sector can produce miracles when government is doing the opposite.
Last year, NGO-GCN teamed up with others to press President Peter Mutharika to cancel the list he endorsed for the appointments of Malawi Human Rights Commission (MHRC) commissioners, which had one female against six males. Before that, Mutharika was under pressure for appointing only three women in his 20-member Cabinet.
“We set targets on 50-50 campaign, but we are far from them. The laws are there but they are being flouted almost daily,” argues Kaliya.
On March 8, Malawi joined the world in commemorating the International Women’s Day under the theme ‘Pledge for Parity’ and the one million dollar question for Malawi is on its commitment to achieve gender parity. Looking at the trends in decision-making by both the electorate and those in authority, it is undisputable that there is a long road to see a 50-50 representation in governance and politics.
But Mzati Mbeko, national coordinator for Women in Law in Southern Africa (Wilsa) argues that the fault cannot be heaped on one person. He also wonders why the nation should overlook the success achieved over the years in gender parity.
“Gender equality in governance and politics is a process and not an event. The problem is that many people including us in civil society think gender parity in politics can be achieved in a day. Take the 50-50 gender campaign in politics. Look around, no one is making noise to ensure women compete favourably come 2019. You will see more and donors pumping resources when the campaign closes in. It does not have to be like that.
“Malawi has enacted several laws on gender equality and this creates a legal framework that can be used to promote women,” argues Mbeko, adding that the President should not be blamed on the appointments, but the country’s patriarch system.
Says he: “I cannot blame the President on gender parity in appointments because in most cases the President is only presented with a list of names which he is supposed to endorse.”
On the way forward, both Mbeko and Kaliya propose an action plan that addresses the mindset. They also tip those that are responsible for coming up with decisions and names of people to be appointed in various positions in public sector to respect the laws on gender.
Mbeko says the government, civil society and public have to start taking gender as a development issue and not a woman issue. He argues that the fact that women make 52 percent of the population means more than being female, but catalysts for development if supported.
In 2014, the World Economic Forum predicted that it would take until 2095 to achieve global gender parity. A year later, they estimated that a slowdown in the already glacial pace of progress meant the gender gap wouldn’t close entirely until 2133.