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50:50 crusade fails in Karonga

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By Jordan Simeon-Phiri:

KALIYA— It is an achievement

At national level, the 50:50 campaigners might be smiling from cheek-to- cheek as the May 21 Tripartite Elections have produced 45 female members of Parliament (MPs) out of the 193, up from 32 in the immediate-past National Assembly.

On the other hand, at district level, efforts to produce a female MP in Karonga have yielded nothing despite massive awareness campaigns, meeting with various stakeholders and road shows that various institutions conducted in the lakeshore district to drum up support for female candidates.

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Out of the five female parliamentary candidates that contested, not even one has made it and out of the 18 ward councillors, only one has secured a seat in the 462-strong Local Government chamber.

The Justice and Peace (JP) of Karonga Diocese left no stone unturned as it engaged youth clubs, traditional leaders, church leaders, development leaders and women themselves to market all women candidates and their political ideologies.

NKHATA—Female candidates had inadequate resources

This, according to JP desk officer for Karonga Diocese Louis Nkhata, was done with an aim of reaching out to as many people as possible to accept women in elective positions as culturally, many a people have wrong perceptions of women’s capabilities as MPs or ward councillors.

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However, these efforts have failed miserably as the five constituencies have not produced even a single female MP while, out of the 10 wards, only Nyungwe has managed to secure a female councillor.

Nkhata notes that female candidates might not have fared well because most of them had limited resources as compared to male candidates who splashed cash and various gifts to the electorate to woo them, against the Political Parties Act.

“It is sad indeed, but not discouraging because as JP, we feel our success is not only dependent on how many people have made it to Parliament or to the Council but the aspect of women and girls’ empowerment.

“On the other hand, the outcome can also be attributed to both external and internal factors. Internally, many female candidates did not prepare well and had limited capacity as most female candidates had inadequate resources compared to their male counterparts which determined their campaign outreach,” Nkhata said.

He added that the external contributing factor is that the 50:50 campaign started a bit late such that time for people to change their mindsets on how they perceive female candidates was not enough.

Nonetheless, Chitipa District, which is in the same diocese, for the first time has managed to send three out of 11 female candidates to the District Council’s chamber.

JP project coordinator for the district, Abel Malumbira, said even though they have also failed to produce an MP, his office is happy that since the dawn of democracy, Chitipa has voted for female ward councillors whom he is optimistic will deliver.

Asked whether the performance is communicating anything from the people of Karonga, a Mzuzu based political commentator Emily Mkamanga said this means people of Karonga are not ready to embrace the 50:50 campaign perhaps due to cultural beliefs.

“The approach this year for the drummers of the 50:50 campaign was holistic. They used a strategy that took female aspirants to the people. But then it shows Karonga’s case is more to do with cultural beliefs that regard kitchens as a home for women, which is bad,” Mkamanga said.

While Mkamanga is of that view, Executive Director of Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre, Emma Kaliya, thinks otherwise.

Kaliya says if traditional norms were a contributing factor, then Karonga could not have female traditional leaders, saying democracy is one-sided without women participation in decision-making positions.

“It is very disappointing and embarrassing to note that Karonga has failed to vote for female representatives at the National Assembly level and increase the number of Local Government representatives from one female Ward Councillor to at least five.

“I am, however, glad that Chitipa District has produced three ward councillors. It is an achievement worth commending as in last five years, we had no female Local Government representative,” Kaliya said.

She added that it was high time traditional leaders walked their talk if the 50:50 campaign is to be fully embraced, saying they promise the moon at meetings only to do the opposite when they get out of the meetings

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