Malawi is a signatory to local, regional and international documents committing itself to gender equality. For example, former president Bakili Muluzi signed the Sadc Gender Protocol in 1997 committing Malawi to have 30 percent women representation in decision making positions. When the African Union adopted the 50 percent gender parity policy, gender activists in the Sadc region pressurised Sadc governments to adopt the same. In 2008, Sadc governments adopted the 50 percent gender equality. The late president Bingu wa Mutharika signed the protocol after two years.
Although Muluzi and Mutharika signed the Sadc Protocol, they paid lip service to gender equality. This is evidenced by the composition of Cabinet and parastatal boardsâ€™ members. They were heavily male-dominated.
The ascendancy to power ofÂ President Joyce Banda has brought a lot of optimism among gender activists and those who ascribe to gender equality that government will honour its pledges by ensuring that 50 percent gender parity in all decision-making structures is adhered to. However, the current Cabinet is far from being gender balanced. Out of the 32 Cabinet members, only nine members (including the President) are women, representing a paltry 29 percent.
In Malawi, it is difficult to achieve 50 percent gender parity in Parliament (because of the winner-takes-allâ€™ electoral system).Â However, it is easy to achieve gender parity in Cabinet and parastatal boards because it is the mandate or prerogative of the President to appoint members to these structures. The President should, therefore, not hesitate to exercise her power in favour of women. Parastatal boards and Cabinet should have 50 percent gender parity, not for the sake of it, but appoint capable women who can make a difference in the lives of Malawians. It is also possible to achieve 50 percent gender parity in her party by changing the party constitution to allow for gender parity or she can urge party members to elect more women in party structures.
This is not only good for democracy, but also a sign of commitment to the promotion of gender equality.Â Furthermore, gender is a human rights issue and women should be given an opportunity to play their meaningful role in development. Men have the propensity to look down upon women and relegate them to the kitchen. But women are as good as men if they can be given an opportunity to prove themselves. Obviously, such a decision will attract criticism from her detractors. This is normal. But she should brush such wanton criticism and stand her ground and do what is right.Â
It is, therefore, incumbent upon President Banda to take a bold decision to appoint 50 percent women in the second Cabinet reshuffle. A lot of ministers are performing below Malawiansâ€™ expectations. They are just making political statements instead of assisting her in developing the country or initiating measures and policies to solve the pressing issues confronting Malawians. It is understandable that the first Cabinet was constituted out of crisis. But now the country is â€˜settledâ€™ and events that brought about political and economic decay have almost been stabilised.
Days of relegating women to non-decision making positions should be a thing of the past. It is high time Malawians changed that perception. Women are actually better leaders than men. Experience has shown that with female presidents, whether in Africa or elsewhere, compatriots have not complained about governance issues or corruption compared to male presidents. Africa is replete with overwhelming evidence of leaders who have emptied government coffers. Many African leaders have actually failed society and it is time women took over. Some African leaders are answering corruption charges; others are clinging to positions because they are afraid of being harangued to court to answer corruption and human rights violation charges.
The only challenge that women have is to overcome the pull down syndrome. Women are not good at supporting each other and they would always want to pull each other down. If they can organise themselves properly they can even rule the world forever because in many countries there are more women than men.
There is great expectation that President Banda will uplift the lives of women. One such area is to appoint more women in leadership positions. Time has come for women to take their rightful role in society. This is an opportunity that should not be missed! –The author is a former national director of National Media Institute of Southern Africa (Namisa) and is currently a lecturer in Journalism and Media Studies at Rosebank College in Johannesburg.