The Commonwealth has partnered with Malawi’s Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare and the 50:50 Campaign Malawi to prepare women candidates for campaigning ahead of elections on 21 May.
With their local partners, the Commonwealth is training 80 officers at workshops in Blantyre from 6 to 8 March and in Lilongwe from 11 to 13 March. The participants are drawn from civil society, the Ministry of Gender and local NGOs who will then cascade this training to women candidates across Malawi’s 28 districts.
Viwemi Chavula, Team Leader of the 50:50 Campaign Agency, said “more than 300 women will be contesting parliamentary seats, with over 600 competing at local level. Even though this is 12 per cent higher than the 2014 elections, the jury is out on whether these numbers will translate into success at the polls.”
Women make up just 16 per cent of the current National Assembly and 11 per cent of elected local government officials. As in many Commonwealth countries, stakeholders in Malawi need to do more to achieve the national target of between 30 and 50 per cent women’s representation it has set for itself under national, regional and international obligations.
Mr Chavula said, “We need commitment starting from the political parties as this will make it easier to translate such ambitious frameworks into national processes.”
Led by Sheila Kawamara Mishambi, Executive Director of the Eastern African Sub-regional Support Initiative for the Advancement of Women (EASSI), the interactive training covers leadership, critical campaign skills and conflict sensitivity. At the Blantyre workshop this week, representatives from the Malawi Election Commission (MEC) and the Media Institute for Southern Africa (MISA) shared insights on the steps they are taking to promote women’s political participation.
Participants gained valuable insights into the realities of running for political office from Ghanaian journalist and former State Minister Elizabeth Ohene and Tanzanian Member of Parliament Khadija Nassir Ali.
Commenting on how this training fits into the Commonwealth’s long-term goal of promoting inclusive democracies, Yvonne Apea Mensah, Head of the Africa Section in the Commonwealth’s Governance and Peace Directorate said:
“This is not a one-off activity. We are building a cohort of trainers who will support women candidates in this election and beyond. We will also continue to engage with national stakeholders who are already driving the agenda for longer-term change.”
Commonwealth support for Malawi’s electoral processes started in January with a workshop for editors and media managers. With facilitation from Panos Southern Africa and MISA Malawi, the journalists created a Toolkit to implement their Media Code of Conduct for the election.