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of reasons. These included: the delayed release of funds for the campaign; quality of the candidates; and the financial resource-base of the candidates. The success or failure of the campaign may have been influenced by Dr Banda as a sitting female Head of State, her performance and general gender stereotyping. Reflecting on the 50-50 campaign and other factors influencing the entry of women into Parliament coupled with the results of the recent elections raised one key issue: the campaign was motivated around Dr Banda as a sitting President. The key players that were entrusted with running the initiative deterred rather than fostered the campaign.

It was not uncommon at the time to witness all manners of ceremonial events, in the name of one national women’s gender event or another, where the key personnel running the 50-50 drive would meet with the President to celebrate various women’s achievements. As one of Africa’s role models in this area, it was therefore befitting for Dr Banda to be the face of the campaign. Another factor highlighted was that as a sitting President, the lines became easily blurred between her position as Head of State and as head of a political party. The 50-50 drive was consequently seen as a drive for the retention of the office of the presidency by the former incumbency, and for drumming support for women, particularly from the previous ruling People’s Party to make it into Parliament. It was at the time the viewpoint of many Malawian citizens. The disadvantage with the politicization undertones that underlined the 50-50 drive was that it was inevitably linked to the performance of Dr Banda and her People’s Party administration during her two years in office. As a result, the drive was reduced to a popularity contest: the more unpopular the Banda administration grew each the day, the more unappealing and non- persuasive the campaign. Conversely, the more popular the Banda administration became,

the more appealing, persuasive and convincing the 50-50 campaign. The lesson learned was that going forward, strategies aimed at increasing the number of women in politics should be apolitical, and designed and implemented as independently and objectively as is possible.

Working independently As a government agency, a ministry can be entrusted with the duty of running projects aimed at serving national interests, such as alleviation of poverty, combating maternal morbidity and mortality, and in this case, working to increase the number of women in politics. It is possible however for such projects to be executed independently, without being seen as tools for leveraging political mileage for incumbent administrations. Therefore, if Malawi is to achieve any significant feat in the drive for an increased number of women in politics, campaigns such as the 50-50 campaign should be run independently.

Of course, this is not to say that the only factor that affected the drive to attract an increased number of women into politics was the ostensible linkages of the drive with the then administration. In addition, the approach to such initiatives as the 50-50 campaign need not be designed as one-off events or short- term events spanning only for a period of three to six months before elections for them to be more successful. The programmes should also be designed in a manner that holistically addresses the various factors that perpetuate the exclusion of women from structures of power, in this case the formal political arena.

Several other factors not related to programmatic approaches also affect the entry and participation of women into the formal political space in Malawi. Needless to say the positioning of women vis-à-vis politics is deeply gendered. The negotiation, roles and power relations that determine participation are heavily gendered, with the balance tipping in favour of men. When it comes to

participation in politics, women are invariably adversely affected by a number of gendered factors such as: the private/public dichotomy; inequitable division of labour in the house; stereotyping, patriarchy; cultural attitudes; socialization; and notions of masculinity vis-à-vis femininity.

Almost invariably, women who are vocal and visible in their communities and make an attempt at breaking the glass ceiling by venturing into politics experience varying levels of abuse, hostility and in extreme cases violence. Not only are they subjected to attacks in line with their prospective careers, but their private lives also suffer such attacks, more so than their male counterparts. Thus, it is not uncommon for both formal and social media to be awash with stories of the private lives of women politicians, be it their dates, marital status etc, when similar stories of their male counterparts very rarely make it into the news.

Women entering politics are seen to have crossed the socially constructed line, between the good woman, the motherly type that should confine herself to the home and conceive and raise children, and the bad woman, often considered as “loose” that has entered the tough man’s world of politics. This kind of stereotyping and stigmatizing inhibits women’s potential and merit to consider venturing into politics, or to do so at a very high cost.


At present, there is already a diminished resource pool of aspiring women politicians from which the nation can draw from to increase the numbers of women in Parliament. In the cases where women have beaten the odds of all stereotyping and negativity and have decided to contest, they are already pitied against their male counterparts in terms of resources to be invested in their prospective political careers and education background. The pervasive wrongful gender stereotyping that has a “one size fits all” view of women in politics, which may result

in attributing the non-performance or under-performance of particular female political players to aspiring female candidates, can also work to the disadvantage of women. The performance of women in the May 2014 Tripartite Elections can therefore be concluded as one where women performed dismally. Women who held seats in the 2009 to 2014 parliamentary cohort did not retain their seats. In the aftermath of the elections, the study of this dismal performance is fundamental to the construction of a strategic way forward that will ensure the retention of women that made it to Parliament in 2014, and an increased number of women entrants come 2019. It is important to build on the collective power of the fewer women in the current Parliament to achieve their better performance so as to deconstruct prevailing wrongful gender stereotyping of women’s capabilities as politicians.

In this regard, the women need to move beyond the political divide or any other divisive factors and function as a unified block.

The women’s parliamentary caucus already offers a good entry point in this respect. Furthermore, initiatives aimed at increasing the number of women in Parliament either by private or government agencies should have holistic strategies, long term in nature, independent and objective in their design and execution.


1. United Nations, Division for the Advance- ment of Women, Enhancing the Participation of Women in Development through an enabling Environment for Achieving Gender Equality and the Advancement of Women, EGM/WPD- EE/2005/EP.12 (2005) 2. Cusack, S. and Cook, R.J. Stereotyping Women in the Health Sector: Lessons from CEDAW, 16 Wash & LEE J.C.R & SOC. JUST.47 (2009) 3. Malera, G. “Women and Political Power in Malawi: Opportunities for Improving the Rights of Women:” in Women and Children’s Rights: African Views, by Lagoutte , S. and Svanberg, N. (Editors), Karthala (2011).

The Parliamentarian | 2014: Issue Three | 181

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