Mzimba, August 01: When 36-year-old Yamanya Chipeta announced her wish to contest as a councilor for Ezondweni Ward in Mzimba North, all hell broke loose.
She started receiving insults left, right and centre. Along the campaign trail, some people started calling her obscene names that she was a prostitute looking for libidinous male politicians.
Even her beloved hubby did not agree with the idea to run for an elected office.
Despite the negative assertions leveled against her, Chipeta was not deterred; in fact, her zeal to contest grew even bigger.
But half way into the male dominated campaign trail, Chipeta decided to call it quits. As the only female candidate, she could no longer endure the insults male candidates threw at her on political podiums.
I couldn’t take it anymore; so I threw in the towel. Moreover, I did not receive any support from any party or civil society organization. But I really wanted to represent my people, Chipeta says.
Her story is just a drop in the ocean as most women aspiring for various high ranking positions bemoan too many stumbling blocks in their quest for leadership.
In fact, women empowerment is becoming a far-fetched dream in Malawi, which is ranked second poorest country in the world.
The push for equal gender representation – known as 50/50 campaign – gained morale in Malawi’s 2014 tripartite elections campaign but did not produce the expected results.
For instance, the elections registered a significant drop in the number of women elected, with only 32 seats in parliament going to women as opposed to 43 in 2009.
Thus, currently, out of 463 councilors in Malawi, only 52 are women, while out of 192 Members of Parliament, only 32 are women.
Globally, Malawi ranks among the countries with the lowest female representation.
In 2014, Aida Shaba contested for the position of Councilor for Perekezi Ward in Mzimba but as she narrates her ordeal, it was a tough ride on the ground competing with men who were financially stable.
Shaba managed to get over 10,000 votes and emerged second in the race for the ward. The election results proved to her and the society at large that women have the potential to excel in politics but they lack financial and material support for them to win.
She says, initially aspiring women hailed the NGO Gender Coordination Network’s idea of 50/50 campaign which promised to support their campaign but the women later became frustrated because they were not supported financially.
Although they [NGOs] did capacity building by training women in public speaking among other skills, they failed to offer financial support.
They lost focus towards the end because they came in very late with a handful resources and funds to those who contested in 2014. This made female candidates to fail miserably because many men used handouts to woo supporters, Shaba says.
To this effect, she says, women empowerment remains a hurdle in Malawi, both in politics as well as participation in other decision-making positions.
However, NGO-Gender Coordination Network Chairperson Emma Kaliya says despite challenges for women to take up leadership positions, Malawi is still making strides towards women empowerment.
The recent Afro-barometer report shows that Malawi is at 57 per cent for making strides towards women empowerment. But in politics, that is measured after every 5 years, we are still at 17 per cent.
Nevertheless, there are so many discussions in different women settings about politics and we have seen a lot of women expressing interest to join politics, Kaliya says.
Culture versus empowerment
Some people say culture is the biggest challenge in women empowerment drive.
For example, women in Mzimba say the Ngoni culture does not recognize or promote women leadership.
Women are not considered for top positions because they are reserved for men. But there are many women with good constructive ideas which can bring change and development in communities, says Pauline Banda from Senior Chief Mabilabo.
Tabeni Jere, a man from Edingeni Village, concurs with Banda saying women have the zeal to develop societies they live in more than men.
It is high time people were sensitized on the importance of putting women on top positions, he says.
However, people in Traditional Authority (TA) Mzilakoma in Nkhata Bay say jealous among women themselves is a major setback in the 50/50 campaign in Malawi.
In a fit of jealous, many women don’t want to vote for a fellow woman.
I was about to win as a councilor in 2014. But I lost with a small margin because my fellow women could not stand up to support me, says Jessie Banda.
Village Headwoman Kapanda of Chombe, TA Timbiri in Nkhata Bay says putting more women on top positions can help reduce corruption and fraud in the country.
Some people do not want to give positions that involve handling of finances to women. But us, women, are less corrupt than men, she says.
Hope for 2019
Tovwirane organization, with support from Dutch Government through Hivos, has introduced a Women Empowered for Leadership Programme that seeks to support women secure leadership positions.
The project, which works in Mzimba, Nkhata Bay and Rumphi districts, runs through 2021.
Tovwirane’s programmes officer Cecilia Chivunga says women will be trained in public speaking, proper dressing, time management and other skills suitable for leadership positions.
We would like to create an environment that values women’s leadership. So we will raise awareness in the communities so that people start to appreciate and uplift women to leadership positions, she says.
Chivunga adds that the project will involve five major political parties, namely, Democratic People’s Party (DPP), United Democratic Front (UDF), Malawi Congress Party (MCP), People’s Party (PP) and Alliance for Democracy (AFORD).
We are discussing with them so that they include quota system in their constitutions to ensure that women take up certain leadership positions.
The parties that will have more women representation will be assisted with fees and other support to ensure that the women win in the 2019 elections.
We will support women aspiring to be councilors in the elections once they have been identified by their political parties, Chivunga says.
As the countdown to 2019 tripartite elections continue, we can only hope that numbers for women in leadership positions will not drop further after the polls.
Source: Malawi News Agency � MANA