Mangochi’s quest for women representation: 50-50 in 2019 polls

The global dream is to have women representation in decision making positions raised to 50 percent.

Women aspirants in Mangochi

Prospectively, Mangochi’s dream for next year’s May 21 Tripartite Elections is way above the set target – especially in local government elective positions.

With the current situation where out of 34 councillors for the district and town councils combined there is only one female councillor, one would be tempted to call it wishful thinking.

However, when it is chiefs setting the ‘wishful’ target one rests assured that the 50:50 Campaign is more than welcome in the district.

“We are ready to support women who are aspiring for political positions both in parliamentary and local government elections,” said Sultan Chowe recently during a panel discussion organized by the 50:50 Campaign Management Agency.

“Our target is that out of the 34 local government seats we have in Mangochi, at least 20 should go to women – we are going to work tirelessly to achieve that,” he added.  

Over 50 women want to contest in the local government elections on various party tickets, namely, the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), United Democratic Front (UDF), People’s Party (PP), Malawi Congress Party (MCP) and UTM Party.

The Government of Iceland through the Icelandic International Development Agency (ICEIDA) has pumped K37 million into the 50:50 Campaign for Mangochi alone which is being implemented by the 50:50 Campaign Management Agency.

The 50:50 Campaign has taken off with various activities including parading of 10 women aspirants from Mangochi Central Constituency and two panel discussions aired live on Umoyo, Lilanguka and Dzimwe community radio stations.

The discussions revolved around two key issues: whether religion and culture stand in the way of women aspiring to rise to higher positions.

As key panelists, the clergy and chiefs in the panel discussions did not only dismiss the fears, but also pledged unwavering support to the women and challenged them to come out and contest in various political positions.

“Islam does not bar women from taking up leading roles in the society.

“What Islam does not condone is for a woman to lead in prayers in the presence of men,” explained Sheikh Fahd Kamsuli, who is also Chairperson for Muslim Association in Malawi (MAM) in Mangochi.

“However, women can lead each other in prayers where there are no men in their midst,” he added. “But outside religious gatherings, women are free to take up any leading roles.”

If women aspiring for local government seats in Mangochi Central are a representative sample of the 53 aspiring women across Mangochi, then one would be compelled to stand with Sultan Chowe in his conviction.  

The 50:50 Campaign Management Agency paraded the aspirants between November 9 and 10 from Makawa Trading Centre to Mangochi Boma and surrounding areas.

The 10 women, clad in their various party colours, took turns selling themselves and their party brands to the electorate.

Their key message hinged on one point: “Men, we thank you for taking us this far; you have done your part, let us take over and do our part too.”

However, taking over might not be without struggle as Councilor Maimuna Mwanyali of Mangochi Central-Kalungu Ward attests.

Mwanyali is a sole female councillor in Mangochi and she majestically and deservedly claims her space as Vice Chairperson among nine male councillors for Mangochi Town Council which has 10 wards.

On the other hand, Mangochi District Council is an all-male affair where all the 24 wards have male representatives.

As such, the current status of women representation at council level remains 10 percent for the town council and zero for the district council while for Mangochi as a whole it is at approximately three percent.

It is from this baseline that Chief Chowe wants to haul it to nearly 60:40 tilting the balance towards women.

“It’s not easy,” said Mwanyali, when a media team toured her ward recently. “But it’s doable and achievable; I just proved it by emerging the only female councillor in the entire district in 2014.”

Mwanyali contested on a UDF ticket and made it from primaries to the actual election beating all male and female contenders from the rest of the parties in the race. 

Nevertheless, Mwanyali did not make it rocking in a swinging chair; the struggle was unimaginable, yet surmountable.

“Men would always want to suppress you by calling you all sorts of names. Some would hide behind culture while others would ride on religion to discourage you.

“But when you stay focused you achieve the goal,” she said.

Mwanyali now feels she has delivered what she promised voters in her ward in 2014.

Energized by the support she is getting from the community, the 57-year-old former entrepreneur is currently flexing her political muscles to contest again in next year’s polls.

Her achievements include introduction of adult literacy and early childhood development classes; potable water and good sanitation, among others.

Given all the achievements pasted on her score sheet, Mwanyali is seeking a fresh mandate to consolidate what she has already registered in her ward.

She has a few tips for all female aspiring candidates in Mangochi and the country as a whole.

“As you campaign your way to 2019 elections, be realistic in your promises; know your ward and the needs of the people you intend to represent.

“Do not talk about other people. Simply talk about yourself, tell the electorate what you’ll deliver and how you’ll do it,” Mwanyali says.

Meanwhile, the 50:50 Campaign Management Agency is set to take the women through the turbulence between now and May 2019, which according to the agency’s communications expert, Wisdom Chimgwede, the advocacy is right on course.

“We have started and there’s no going back. The campaign is going towards the right direction and we have a number of activities lined up to help women sell themselves to the voters,” Chimgwede says.

“We are going to train women on how best they can map their wards and their voters’ needs. In particular, we’ll train them on how to effectively engage with the electorates and get to the heart to win their vote,” he adds.

Chimgwede further says the 50:50 Campaign is a software programme which has no component of material support or direct financing to individual aspirants.

Instead, the project will give the candidates the necessary exposure and publicity through various activities including pre-recorded and live programmes on the district’s three community radio stations.

Traditional and religious leaders and other stakeholders in Mangochi have since shown their commitment to put their weight behind the campaign. How political parties will embrace and run with it is story for another day. 

Whatever comes out of the 2019 elections, chiefs in Mangochi feel there is one long-term solution towards achieving the 50:50 Campaign –educating the girl child.

“We need to educate our girls. Whether we like it or not, only women who are educated can make it to higher positions and confidently lead from an informed position,” Sultan Chowe says.

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