Gender in 2019 Malawi Tripartite Elections

Malawi continues to struggle to achieve gender equality despite having a robust regulatory framework that promotes gender equality and the empowerment of women. The domestic statutes are complemented by continental and global gender equality covenants.  Female representation in leadership positions is still low at all levels of society including cabinet.

Women fight for equality

There was much optimism that many women would be elected as female MPs in the May 21 tripartite elections given the rigorous gender campaign mounted by the 50-50 Gender Management Agency to elect more female MPs. The campaign was somewhat successful because there has been an improvement in the representation of women in parliament.

A total of 44 female candidates were elected as MPs in the 193-member house, the highest since 1994.  This represents an increase of 23% from 16% in 2014 elections. However, this is still very low.



% of Female MPs













The 50-50 campaign was managed by a consortium comprising Centre for Civil Society Strengthening (CCSS) and Action Aid Malawi in conjunction with other stakeholders, including United Nations agencies, Parliamentary Women’s Caucus and community-based organisations (CBOs). The campaign was funded by the Royal Norwegian Embassy in liaison with the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare.

Although the 50-50 Campaign supported all female aspirants with MK250, 000 nomination fee, MK80, 000 for communication and 4.5 rolls of cloth, this was inadequate to deal with underlining problems that prevent women from accessing political office.

It is not easy for the women to compete with men because of a host of factors. Malawi is a patriarchal society. The attitude that the society should be ruled by men is probably the biggest obstacle to the promotion of gender equality. Women usually take second place when it comes to leadership roles.   Some ethnic groups do not even allow women to be traditional leaders. This attitude that women should not lead is expressed in many spheres of life including politics.

A culture of hand outs has further disadvantaged women. Aspiring male candidates usually have the financial muscle and easily entice voters with gifts during campaign period. Although this vice has been outlawed, it is far from over.

The 50-50 Campaign focused on assisting aspiring women financially to try and level the playing field. However, patriarchal attitudes are still pervasive. The 24-member President Peter Mutharika’s cabinet announced last month failed to live up to its gender expectations.

After the elections, gender activists lobbied the president to appoint more women in cabinet. However, only five women were appointed representing 21%. The move drew criticisms from gender campaigners who accused the president of paying lip service to promote women.

Last year there were accusations and counter-accusations between civil society organisations and the president. The CSOs accused the president of not doing enough to promote women as evidenced by few women in his cabinet.  The president hit back at CSOs, accusing them of being hypocrites. He said they had no basis to accuse him because their institutions were not gender balance either.

As the fight for gender equality continues, gender equality advocates may well start changing their strategies. They should focus on lobbying parliament to introduce quotas for women. This is the only way to guarantee that more women are voted into parliament. As for cabinet positions, the gender advocates should make gender an issue during elections and only support a presidential aspirant who makes a firm commitment to gender parity in their cabinet.

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