On solving national problems

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Inside the Malawi Parliament. – Barwani Msiska

LAST WEEK’S entry, More women, more problems…solved attracted insightful responses from readers. It would be amiss for me not to share, in detail, the feedback received. It is, after all, the whole point of this space, to critically think about our country and engage in conversations that can help build Malawi for better and forever. Here goes:

“The Parliamentary Women’s Caucus (PWC) needs to be ready to invest in the mentorship of young women into politics. And I say ‘ready’ because the mentorship should go beyond hotel ‘career talk’ meetings or events. At present, PWC does not appear ‘attractive’ to most young women There’s need for more young blood in the PWC.

“These interventions need to start with young women at a very, very young age. Again, the readiness of PWC is vital in this regard. For sustainability, it (mentorship programme for young women in politics) needs to be long term. This raises the important question of how all of this will be funded and supported.

“Whatever model of support is adopted, we must know that we, as Malawians, cannot leave such interventions to the donors’ hands alone and accept our fate. This something country we need to invest in as a country.”

The above was received from Umba Zalira, a young Malawian activist passionate about girls and women’s rights. She is a co-founder of Growing Ambitions, an initiative aimed at building the capacity of young Malawian girls.

This best describes the initiative: “The passion to build the capacity of girls from rural and peri-urban areas to take full charge of their lives in all areas is at the centre of our work at Growing Ambitions. We have embarked on a journey to provide a safe space for girls and young women by providing mentorship to our sisters as they embark on setting their lives goals and thriving to achieve them. We are here to cheer them on, to learn and to walk the journey with them.”

More feedback:

“Good piece. On women’s representation in parliament, Rwanda leads the pack with 63.8% followed by Bolivia and Cuba at 53.1% and 48.9%, way above the 50-50 targets. In 2003 Rwanda enacted a new constitution that provides for 30% of seats in Parliament to be reserved for women. It is interesting to note though that the countries that are always preaching women empowerment to the Africa and other third world regions are nowhere in the top 3 or top 10 (a topic for another piece?).

“The United Kingdom (UK), for example is at number 49 in the world with 29.6%. Our homeland stands at 113 with 16.7%. The challenge, with Malawi, in my opinion, is we talk and talk about numbers and focus more on achieving the numbers but not on how to maintain and retain the numbers gained. We seem to be stuck in a trial and error mode. Retention of women in Parliament in Malawi has been a serious challenge which no one seems to be addressing.

“In 2009 we were at 21.8% but dropped to 16.7% in 2014 despite the 50-50 campaign. Most women who have made it to Parliament are out after their first term and only two women have managed to retain their seats for more than two terms – Honourables Patricia Kaliati and Anna Kachikho.

“The question we should be asking is why do women fail to retain their seats and stay in power? Is it a question of not understanding their role, not having the requisite experience and therefore failing to perform? But then how many men in Parliament understand their role and perform to the satisfaction of the electorate? Is it a question of not having enough economic power to deliver their promises and therefore falling out of favour with the electorate? I could ask a dozen questions.

“I have often found myself standing alone when I have argued that yes we want and need more women in Parliament and other decision-making positions but we don’t want just any woman simply to satisfy the numbers. We need women who can come into positions, perform and retain that position because they are the right and qualified persons for it. I would take fewer women any day who come into Parliament knowing their role and agenda, who deliver the mandate for the electorate, build the confidence of the electorate in women’s ability to lead and let that be the tool by which the electorate gets more women into Parliament and decision-making positions.

“In my opinion, that is how we can retain the numbers and increase them. Whether these capable women come in through affirmative action like in the case of Rwanda or through competitive action as is the current position in Malawi is neither here nor there, as long as we get women who can perform and clear the road for the young girls out there who also dream of becoming champions for their communities through Parliament but are held back by society’s perception that women cannot deliver.”

On your part, dear reader, what are you doing to clear the road for those who will inherit this country long after we are gone?

There was also feedback that directed attention to pioneer organisers and influencers such as Rose Chibambo. These are women we can all learn from and their stories can be used to nurture aspirations of young girls in Malawi. In 2016, Malawi has no excuse to preach women development but engender practices that prevent the very same women from meaningfully participating key national processes.

Let’s keep the conversation running.

LEVI KABWATO 

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