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Women march for their rights

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DETERMINED—Kathewera Banda reading out the petition

They filed out in their large numbers across the country’s major cities with one thing and one thing only on their mind; demanding that their rights be respected by the government in as far as appointments in public positions is concerned.

Women Manifesto Movement, which coordinated the women’s demonstrations that took place in Lilongwe, Blantyre and Mzuzu Friday, also urged the donor community to help enforce equal representation of women in leadership positions.

One of the members of the movement, Maggie Kathewera Banda, made the call during Blantyre demonstrations against what they call ‘gender insensitive’ composition of boards of directors of 67 parastatals which President Lazarus Chakwera constituted recently.

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“The path government is taking now is retrogressive.

Women’s rights and gender equality are serious human rights and governance imperatives. The government should not be allowed to undermine laws at will. The donor community has the responsibility to ensure that the money they give us is benefitting both men and women equally,” she said.

Banda said the Women Manifesto Movement has been engaging President Chakwera and Vice President Saulos Chilima on equal representation of women in leadership positions even before the two won their seats in the June 23 polls.

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The demonstrations in Blantyre started from Clock Tower Round- About through the Masauko Chipembere Highway to Blantyre City Council Civic Offices where the protesters presented their petition.

The women carried placards bearing various messages such as Osatisala posankha maudindo a boma; amayi ndi abambo onse amalipira misonkho, kukhothi tonse, kovota tonse ku mademo tonse maudindo ayi; dzulo tinali limodzi pa Masintha lero mukuyendetsa dziko nokha abambo.

In Lilongwe, the demonstrations started around 10 am from Kamuzu Central Hospital Round-About past Lilongwe Wildlife Centre to Botanic Garden near Parliament Building.

NGO Gender Coordination Network Chairperson, Barbra Banda, and Emma Kaliya of Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre led the Lilongwe demonstrators.

It took over two hours for them to reach Parliament Building, with several stop overs where among others, Banda and Kaliya emphasised that there are more qualified women who deserve to be given positions in parastatals.

“This is about 100 days [since Lazarus Chakwera became President], it is important to lay a strong and a right foundation for the future.

“We know that everything that we are going to build now, depends on the foundation, so the foundation of 67 boards with only 20 percent women, is a wrong one,” Banda said.

President of Women Lawyers Association in Malawi, Tadala Chinkwezule, said the Gender Equality Act calls for a minimum of 40 percent and a maximum of 60 percent of either of the gender being appointed into the positions.

“When we saw the appointments that have recently come out, we noted that they were insufficient,” she said.

Chimkwezule said there are other boards that do not have females, which is a discrimination and none equality hence they joined the demonstration to advocate and lobby that the rule of law should be followed.

She said if the President fails to act after demonstrations, there are other diplomatic ways that will be followed to make sure that their voice is heard.

In Mzuzu, demonstrations started at Katoto Secondary School Ground all the way to to Clock Tower Round-About where a petition of demands was read out.

Initially, a petition was supposed to be delivered at Mzuzu City Council (MCC) but the decision was changed because a similar petition was delivered in Lilongwe.

However, there was a group of other demonstrators— Initial Primary School Teachers Education (IPTE) 13 which was protesting against lack of employment and delivered a petition at the council.

Coordinator of the demonstrations in the Northern Region, Mwandida Theu, said they are happy that their message has been packaged and sent.

“This is just one step and we are satisfied. Our demands to the government are that the government should respect the Constitution because if you are the President you are supposed to abide by the Constitution. Not only that, there is also the Gender Equality Act which clearly states that women should also be in leading roles, women should also participate in decision making positions and the President should abide to that,” she said.

Theu then implored the Malawi Human Rights Commission to speak to the government on the same.

Messages that were carried on placards in Mzuzu included; “Tonse Alliance has turned against Tonse philosophy,” “Malawi is for all not men’s club,” “women are capable don’t insult us with lame excuses,” among others.

The protests were being coordinated by Women Manifesto Movement against President Chakwera’s alleged failure to fulfil the Gender Equality Act (GEA) requirement which propagates for the 60:40 representation of either sex in public appointments.

The demonstrations were triggered by recent appointments into boards of parastatals where out of 67 boards which have been filled, only 11 have complied with the law.

Boards of the country’s parastatals were released last month.

The demonstrations were generally peaceful, with Malawi Police Service providing security throughout the protests.

Reacting to the demonstrations, Minister of Information, Gospel Kazako, said the concerns are being looked into with urgency.

“This government will not interfere with citizens’ rights to demonstrate. It will respect the rights of the people it governs. However, their concerns are being looked into as we speak we will eventually sort out this matter amicably. The demonstrations are just one part of finding a solution together,” he said.

According to a Global Gender Gap Report of 2020 by World Economic Forum, Malawi is still ranking poorly at 116 out of 149 countries on gender equality and women empowerment

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