Outspoken Member of Parliament for Salima North West Jessie Kabwila was recently elected to head the Women Caucus for the Southern Africa Development Community Parliamentary Forum (Sadc PF). In this interview, FATSANI GUNYA finds out from the academician-cum-civil rights campaigner what her new role in Sadc is all about. Excerpts:
When were you elected for this post?
I was elected during the recently held Forum’s joint-committees’ meeting in Johannesburg, South Africa. I am expected to lead this group for the next two years.
What was your initial reaction?
Very humbled because I did not compete against anyone, two countries were competing to nominate me, South Africa and Tanzania. Tanzania nominated me and all countries seconded. I really feelt appreciated and recognised, I felt like finally, I was getting rewarded for my passion to make sure women’s rights are truly recognised and enjoyed as human rights.
What do you think compelled Sadc PF to vote for Malawi?
The strength of the Malawi women’s caucus was cited as one of the contributing factors, a good number of the countries that qualified do not have as robust a women’s caucus as we do. The legislation we moved last year on ending child marriage and trafficking has made the region and world take notice of Malawi. Delegates cited the quality of debate of Malawi in the Sadc PF as being something the region needs to harvest and learn from. Being highly educated, my accolades from the academic freedom, activist background and of course quality of participation really helped. I would like to stress that the support I enjoyed from the Malawi team, Patricia Kainga Nangozo [Zomba Central, MP-PP] who is the chairperson of the Gender Equality, Women Advancement and Youth Development Committee for the Forum, Joseph Njobvuyalema [Lilongwe Mapuyu MP–MCP] who is vice -president of Sadc PF, Enerst Yahaya [ Machinga Central East MP-UDF], and Enock Luka [Zomba Lisanjala MP-DPP]. They all supported me so well.
Q4 Malawi is currently chairing several committees of the regional parliamentary forum. What does this say about the country?
It shows that Malawi is not just a sad story, there are things we are doing very well. We have women who can lead and are leading. It is not surprising that we had Sadc’s first woman president.
I understand the forum came up with a Model Law. What is it about?
It is a very historic document and I am very excited to see it come to fruition. It is the first of its kind and as an African, I am very proud of initiatives that are African, done to solve Africa problems. This model law will help countries that do not have laws like that one we moved last year, [the Marriage and Family Relations Act of 2015], to have a basis to move one. We used this law in its draft form as a lobbying tool.
Q6 Lastly, language seems to be a barrier in realising effective implementation of most policies on the ground. How does Sadc PF plan to turn this around for best results?
Actually, we have agreed that one of the reasons the block rarely makes strides in growing its socio-economic development is the gap that exists between policy makers and those expected to implement them on the ground. And the issue is worse in here [Malawi], a country with high illiteracy levels, especially in women. You find that all policy documents and deliberations thereof are done in English, and yet only a few of us can ably understand and analyse them from where we can make informed decisions while the majority of the people don’t. It’s high time our Parliament started holding its deliberations in a language most accessible to the poor voter in the rural setting whom we all claim to represent. The move is already working wonders in countries that embraced the idea.