President Lazarus Chakwera can now breathe a sigh of relief as the Women Manifesto Movement has committed to dialogue with government to resolve the parastatal board appointments impasse.
However, a gender and governance expert fears the move may be a delaying tactic on government’s part, which will work to the disadvantage of the women’s movement.
The movement, which had initially threatened to file a case against government for making parastatal appointments without following the Gender Equality Act (GEA), issued a statement yesterday that the Office of President and Cabinet (OPC) is addressing their concerns.
Reads the statement in part: “The Office of President and Cabinet is cognisant of the concerns raised by stakeholders regarding low representation of women in parastatal boards.
“The OPC is working on addressing the situation and will share a progress report with the movement by Friday 30th October 2020.”
The statement, which followed a meeting held on Monday between leaders of the movement and government officials at OPC in Lilongwe, indicated that they agreed to develop a directory of women leaders that can be regularly updated by the Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare.
The statement, signed by the movement’s leaders Maggie Kathewera Banda and Barbara Banda, stated that OPC highlighted a number of challenges that they have been facing in identifying women.
These include lack of adherence to the 60/40 quotas by some professional bodies whose statutes are mandated to submit names for consideration.
The statement also indicated that the OPC has a statutory corporation policy which will culminate into law and will clearly stimulate that appointments have to follow the 60/40 threshold.
The meeting saved Capital Hill from being dragged to court as the movement had planned last week.
In a written response yesterday, University of Malawi’s Chancellor College-based gender and governance expert Bernadetta Malunga said while dialogue is important, the movement should still have taken the legal route.
She said: “That said, the Women Manifesto Movement should stand by what it stated it would do [taking a legal route]. There is nothing stopping them from doing this.
“They can commence legal proceedings and then withdraw the matter if government rectifies the wrongs before the matter is heard. Otherwise, this delay may work to their disadvantage.”
Malunga, a law lecturer, said there is need to have a legal position on Section 11 of the GEA and its relationship with the Public Service Act which calls for appointment based on merit and not one’s sex, age, religion or political affiliation, among others.
While the GEA stipulates appointment of not less than 40 percent and not more than 60 percent of either sex in public service, of the 54 filled boards, only 11 (20.37 percent) comply with the Act.
The movement and other civil society organisations led the country into protests over the matter and later resolved to take the matter to court.
The Malawi Law Society (MLS), in a separate statement earlier, also urged the Attorney General to advise the appointing authority to make the necessary changes.
Earlier, Minister of Information Gospel Kazako said government appreciates the concerns and argued that it cannot operate on ultimatums, but dialogue.