There are regarded as parental figures in charge of land matters as well as key advisers on conflict resolution in their areas.
These are traditional leaders who have had supreme authority in their communities for a very long time.
Within them, the sphere of influence continues to be strong, especially in rural areas.
Authorities implementing development interventions on the continent realise that if they want to tackle important social issues in rural areas, such as HIV, violence, crime and gender equality, they have to get traditional leadership on board as a gateway to the people in the communities they want to reach.
However, this has failed to work in some instances despite countries and several organisations pumping billions of resources in their campaign to campaign for women to be in elected leadership positions.
One of the campaigns was through Women 50:50 where women advocates mobilised chiefs and their subjects to support and vote for women.
Many women contesting as councillors and legislators throughout the country had received backing from women organisations with all the political party candidates during the 2014 tripartite elections endorsing the campaign.
However, time seems to have changed in relation to the authority and influence of traditional leaders in some parts of the country.
According to a governance expert David Kayuni, the democratic dispensation has brought changes on the ground, which expose a weakness in the above school of thought.
This was evidently with the polling results which ushered in 31 female parliamentarian candidates from 193 constituencies while in local government elections at that time 56 female candidates were elected while the number of males surged to 401.
Interestingly, in Machinga East Constituency, voters elected a female parliamentarian candidate, Esther Jolobala, at the same time each ward, to be specific Nkoola has Margate Uladi while Kawinga has Eunice Mandala as councillors.
Now that almost two years has elapsed while these elected leaders are in office, we travelled to the area to appreciate what people say on the ground based on their performance.
First, it was Traditional Authority (T/A) Nkoola who expressed gratitude for having the elected leaders who relate well with people.
“Both the councillors and Member of Parliament reside in the same constituency. When we need them, they are readily available,” Nkoola says.
He says for almost two years since the area has had female elected leaders, people in the constituency have seen significant changes towards the administration of governance activities citing the public works programmes.
“Only vulnerable and deserving families have benefitted from the programmes. Under women leadership, we have seen a different approach of administering projects in the area,” he says.
The chief says if the trend continues, “they would be no doubt to give the incumbents a second term in office.”
“All what we want is to see our MP delivering all her campaign pledges and we have that conviction that with time, she will achieve her goals.We are anxiously worried of going back to those days we had male MPs who reside in cities and come back home during elections period,” the chief says.
He, however, warns Jolobala not to be carried away with little things that has been achieved, saying that would not be enough to book a ticket for the next elections.
Speaking to Group Village Head Ngunga, it was noticed that the elected female leaders in that area have a caring heart.
“Under the Local Development Fund and constituent fund, we have managed to build three under-five clinics in this area. In addition to that, our leaders jointly have put in place an early development centre in each group village head in this constituency,” Ngunga says.
Several bridges which were impassable for ages during rain seasons have been constructed while others are under construction, they say.
People in the area say women have mercy than men; they attributed this element to the syndrome of most male legislators who divert development funds into their pockets and hardly visit their constituencies.
But Phatuma Brown from Ntaja Chipanga Village in the same constituency says the elected leaders have remained with a huge task to accomplish.
The community needs portable and safe water in their homes, schools and hospitals, a thing which is not in existence at the moment, Brown says.
“For instance, at Mwanzangati Primary School, there’s no borehole and children have challenges of fetching water, “she says.
Brown, who is Vice-Secretary for Nkoola Area Development Committee (ADC), urges both councillors and the MP to be attending ADC meetings regularly if they are to continue winning the hearts of the people.
An experience, according to people in the area, has demonstrated that women who are in power put lives of people first than men.
It was at this point where it was realised that people in the constituency led by their chiefs would like to move forward with female elected leaders who are ready to put lives of the community first.
According to T/A Nkoola, one of the underlying expectations in calculating the advantages of the incumbency is that they have the ability and time to utilise all the windows of development.
In that regard, it will be easy for chiefs to exploit all available strategies to continue influencing their subjects to put women in power.
He further says having an ability to change things for the better is a significantly factor to aid traditional leaders to influence people to vote for women.
“With support from our elected leaders, attacks and killings of people living with albinism has drastically reduced; issues of food insecurity has partly been solved as many vulnerable families have been paid money through public works programmes and are able to purchase maize,” he says.
With women in power, they say the list of beneficiaries for any public works programme is corrupt-free.
A quick analyses from a member of the Gender Coordination Network team that facilitated the 50:50 campaign in the area observes that the elected leaders in the area did their homework better, understand the needs of people and they know what works and what does not work.
Pacenet Programme Manager Andrew Kachaso says the performance of these women could not have raised doubts as to whether Malawi can achieve the 50 percent target of female representation in decision-making positions as prescribed in the Southern African Development Community and African Union gender protocols to which Malawi is a signatory had it been it was the trend to all women in decision-making positions before 2014 elections.
Arguably, the county’s voting system has remained against these women but having followed some of their campaigns, perhaps it is evidence they had passion to change things.
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