For decades, concerns have been rife in the country that wheels of justice have been slow on numerous cases, among other reasons, due to shortage of judges.
With a population of about 2.3 million, the Northern Region, for example, has had not more than two High Court judges based at the Mzuzu Registry for over 30 years.
No sooner had the people’s patience and hopes waned than President Lazarus Chakwera appointed 12 new High Court judges and four for the Supreme Court of Appeal on October 26 2020.
The President has not only addressed the problem of delayed justice by filling the existing vacancies to clear the backlog of cases but has gone full throttle to address matters of gender imbalance in public appointments.
Some gender commentators observe that appointing six female High Court judges against six of their male counterparts, the country’s leader has reaffirmed his commitment to abiding by the Gender Equality Act which stipulates that each gender should occupy not less than 40 percent of seats in public institutions.
The appointment has been hailed by many describing Chakwera as a listening President.
The Women Manifesto Movement, for instance, said the promotion of Justice Ivy Kamanga to the Supreme Court and Appointment of Agness Patemba, Charlotte Malonda, Violet Chipao, Anneline Kanthambi, Maureen Kondowe and Vikochi Chima to the High Court bench is a change in direction, which is promising.
Barbara Banda who heads Non-Governmental Organisations Gender Coordination Network said: “This is the day we want to commend the President for complying with the law, the Gender Equality Act. It is pleasing to note that our concerns were heard.”
Maggie Kathewera Banda of Women Legal Resource Centre said in a separate interview that inclusion of women in public offices is a must for Malawi, further challenging the President to recalibrate all the appointments to ensure gender balance at all various levels of government.
In a statement, Team Leader for 50:50 campaign Viwemi Chavula describes the judges’ appointment as landmark, adding it demonstrates the President’s political will and willingness to listen and respect all voices in line with the Tonse philosophy.
“You have renewed our faith and hope that that your Excellency’s government will do more for women to ensure that women are key partners in decision making at all levels,” reads Chavula’s statement in part.
Adding: “Of course, it is not just about appointing women just for the sake of it but we are happy that the women that have been appointed are women of substance. We salute them and the appointing authority and hope that the Supreme Court will follow suit.”
Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre Executive Director Emma Kaliya noted with pleasure that the Malawi leader took note of the grievances presented to him through the women demonstrations among other avenues.
“We will continue to lobby for women to be recognised in various fields in our society. We were recently not impressed by the appointment of women into various boards but seeing others making it as judges is a thing to be proud of. It is also testimony that activism does bear fruit,” Kaliya said in Blantyre.
Youth Activist Caesar Msiska said it is pleasing to note that Chakwera is departing from his predecessor Peter Mutharika’s norm which was confrontational and militant towards his critics.
“The relationship between Mutharika and us his subjects was toxic, Chakwera has started well and it is our wish that he continues on this path.”
Msiska also asked the Tonse administration to consider putting in place practical strategies to end all forms of gender-based violence and the increasing cases of rape.
He said the protests led by the Malawi Girls Guide Association (Magga) across the country’s major cities yesterday should serve as a reminder to the presidency that Malawi has numerous outstanding gender problems that need attention.
Magga president Susan Phukaphuka said they demonstrated as a way of showing anger with continued sexual violence against girls and women in the country calling for protection from police and stiffer penalties for culprits.
“What is happening now is appalling and heart wrecking and we want authorities to get to work and address the problem, hence the peaceful march,” Phukaphuka said.
Meanwhile, presidential spokesperson Brian Banda said yesterday President Chakwera remains committed to the cause of promoting and protecting women.
“To show his commitment, the President will at an appointed time hold an audience with women activists’ representatives to give his reassurance that he will continue to have women of substance along with him in various portfolios as he propels this country to prosperity, need I mention that he denounces any form of violence against women and girls in strongest terms,” he said.
Chakwera’s appointment of the women judges came hot on the heels after gender activists in the country accused him of alienating women in board appointments, of which out of the over 60 parastatal boards only nine are chaired by women.
The rest of the board appointments represent 20 percent.
Led by various organisations, the Malawi’s disgruntled women took their outrage to the streets calling for inclusion.