A consortium of non-governmental organisations (NGOs) has made a fresh appeal to legislators to introduce an amendment to the Constitution (Amendment) Bill that sought to have 28 additional seats reserved for women.
In lobbying the members of Parliament (MPs), in particular members of the Legal Affairs Committee, Social Welfare and Women Caucus, ActionAid Malawi executive director Grace Malera said it had become clear that there was an information gap on the justification behind the Law Commission’s proposal.
She said: “MPs are crucial to increasing women participation in politics by passing enabling laws that would support inclusion of a quota for women in Parliament. With an amendment of Section 62 of the Constitution, the nation can be guaranteed a quota of 28 seats for women.”
Presenting a discussion paper on electoral reforms, governance expert Henry Chingaipe said quotas for women were not a new phenomenon in Malawi because in 1981 the President was given powers to appoint as many MPs as wished which saw an increase of membership by 38, of which 23 were women.
He said: “Appointment of women into Parliament continued in two subsequent elections in 1987 and 1992 but it was abandoned in 1994. The recommendation of the Law Commission does not take Malawi into uncharted waters.”
Chingaipe added that introducing a quota was a clear recognition that women do not start out with the same advantages as their male colleagues and legal and policy frameworks have not made it possible to increase women participation in politics.
Most of the MPs who attended the briefing felt enlightened by the presentations admitting that they did not have information.
“At the stage that we are now, there is need to introduce an amendment so that the recommendation of the Law Commission be inserted in the Bill, leaving it out will do an injustice to the women of Malawi,” Legal Affairs Committee chairperson Maxwell Thyolera said.
The Special Law Commission had proposed that Section 62(1) be amended that composition of the National Assembly include a district constituency where only women candidates would contest to make a legal provision for increased participation of women in elected office and governance.
But in the Constitution (Amendment) Bill number 2 currently before the House, this provision was removed.
NGO-Gender Coordination Network (GCN) chairperson Emma Kaliya assured the MPs that once in place, the women district MPs would not head districts or be bosses of the constituency MPs as they had feared.
But in justifying the removal of the proposal for 28 district seats, Minister of Justice and Constitutional Affairs Samuel Tembenu said the proposal had the potential to disadvantage women candidates in other constituencies.
In 2014, the number of women MPs went down from 41 the previous election to 32 but the largest increase occurred in the 2009 election when the number increased from 27 to 41.