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Collectively, chains of bias can be broken

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THE OMBUDSMAN— Malera

Imagine a world with no gender stereotypes; one that is inclusive, replete with equal opportunities. a world where women are not oppressed for the mere fact of being women. And, yes, a world where everyone is free to fly like a bird, spread their wings and soar high beyond imagination. It surely would be paradise, right?

Now, wake up and stop imagining because it was just a figment of the imagination and nothing real.

The comforting part is that, with collective effort, this can be turned into reality. Yes, together we can break the chains of bias.

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Down memory lane

Today, March 8, is International Women’s Day (IWD)—a day set aside to celebrate the social, economic, cultural, and political achievements of women. The day was spurred on by women’s oppression and inequality, which have always taken centre stage since the beginning of time. The suffrage ignited fire in women to become more vocal and active in campaigning for positive change.

IWD has been observed since the early 1900s, a time of great expansion and turbulence in the industrialised world that saw booming population growth and the rise of radical ideologies.

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The day is usually marked by various themes and activities including sensitisation campaigns championing equality. This year’s theme is ‘Break the Bias’.

The world as it is

The United Nations estimates that one in three women have experienced physical or sexual violence in their lifetime. This may not even include emotional, financial and verbal abuse.

And, according to the National Statistical Office, about 38 percent of women experience physical and/or sexual intimate violence in their lifetime and about 42 percent of girls in the rural areas are forced into early marriage by the age of 18.

Beyond the violence is gender inequality. Currently, out of the 193 parliamentary seats in the National Assembly, 44 seats are held by women, representing 22.79 percent. This is a major setback as women’s issues do not get the much-needed attention due to the representation of women in the august House.

Despite advances in gender equality over the last decade, Malawi ranks 145/188 on the Gender Inequality Index (GII), reflecting the high level of inequality in reproductive health, women’s empowerment and economic activity.

We cannot ignore the fact that despite the campaigns, women are still facing all kinds of extreme inequalities including physical abuse— either in the workplace, business world or in the comfort of their homes— purely because of their gender, a development which calls for more action to create that diverse world where difference is valued and celebrated instead of being questioned.

Some women are not even promoted in the workplace despite having the much-needed qualifications like their male counterparts and working as twice as hard.

Ray of hope

The government has shown great commitment in eliminating gender-based violence by adopting several policies and legal frameworks including the National Gender Policy and National Action Plan to combat gender-based violence in Malawi (2014-20); the Gender Equality Act and Domestic Violence Act.

The Gender Equality Act aims to promote gender equality, equal integration, influence, empowerment, dignity and opportunities for men and women in all functions of society to prohibit and provide redress for sex discrimination, harmful practices and sexual harassment, to provide for public awareness on promotion of gender equality and to provide for connected matters.

The Cabinet which President Lazarus Chakwera recently appointed also complied with Section 11 of the 2013 Gender Equality Act by meeting the gender quota of not less than 40 percent and not more than 60 percent of either sex in such appointments. Out of the 30 Cabinet ministers, 12 are women while 18 are men and out of the 12 women, six are full ministers while the rest are deputies.

In the public service, women are also holding decision-making positions and these include Gender Patricia Kaliati, Anti- Corruption Bureau Director General Martha Chizuma, Ombudsman Grace Malera, Malawi University of Science and Technology (Must) Vice Chancellor Address Malata and Nancy Chitera for Malawi University of Business and Applied Science (Mubas), just to mention a few.

But still…

The country has a long way to go to create a world free of gender inequalities. This is surely not a one’s man’s – sorry, I meant woman’s— job but one that can be done through collective effort. Collectively, we can all break the bias. #breakthebias

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