Malawi has slipped in its commitment to promoting gender equality under President Peter Mutharika. For example, there are only three women in his 20-member Cabinet. This represents a disappointing 15 percent of women representation. Members of parastatal boards and State-owned enterprises are equally dominated by men.
Yet President Mutharika has reaffirmed his commitment to promoting gender equality on several occasions. He made a bold statement during the launch of He for She Campaign in February this year.
He said: “I will make sure that we take a clear stand to reinforce principles of gender equality as enshrined in the Constitution and other relevant legislations. I wish to reiterate that my government is committed to achieving the provisions of Gender Equality Act, the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development and the African Union Charter on the Rights of Women.”
But this statement is a far cry from what he is doing. He has failed to walk the talk. And this does not reflect well on governance and commitment to promoting gender equality in Malawi. It becomes an indictment on the President when civil society activists threaten to sue him for failing to include more women in the Malawi Human Rights Commission board and remind his appointment contravenes the law.
As a professor of law, Malawians had high expectations that Mutharika would respect the many gender equality protocols and declarations that Malawi has signed internationally and regionally. In fact, he knows these statutes too well. He does not need anyone to remind him. Everyone knows that the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development and the African Union Charter on the Rights of Women advocate for 50 percent women representation in all leadership positions. Hence, we expect his Cabinet to be gender balanced.
While our electoral system and political party constitutions do not favour women, hence low representation of women in Parliament and the echelons of political parties, the President can offset this weakness by appointing more women in Cabinet, parastatal companies, parastatal boards and other decision-making positions. It becomes disappointing when the President appoints few women in leadership positions when the Constitution or other legislations give him the prerogative to appoint people. Let him use this power to appoint more women.
When we talk about appointing women in leadership positions, we are not talking about just filling in numbers, but those women who can positively contribute to national development. Malawi has never been short of such women. By sidelining women in leadership positions, men perpetuate gender stereotypes and promote gender-based violence. Women are treated as second class citizens, which is not good for democracy.
Perhaps, Minister of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare Patricia Kaliati should be assigned to lobby the President to appoint more women in positions, bearing in mind that inspirational and influential leaders lead by example.