The Malawi 50:50 Campaign: plugs-in the wrong switch?

On 6th November, history was made in the United States of America (USA) with women winning more seats in the Congress than ever before, bringing back memories of 1992 elections in which the number of women in Congress also doubled, courtesy of a campaign dubbed “Year of a Woman.”

The 2018 US Mid-term elections proved that women are ready to challenge men in elected positions, as more than 270 women were on the ballot and 117 of them won; the previous record was 107, according to the New York Times (NYT).

However, the BBC and the Washington Post reported that the amount spent for this Mid-Term Elections campaign broke all previous records. The total spends reached more than $5.2 billion (£3.9bn), according to an analysis by the Centre for Responsive Politics (CRP).

Female aspirants such as these are saying money is a big challenge to them..pic Elton Mhango

Suffice to say, it is undisputed fact that this great achievement by women in America is as a result of money doing the magic, apart from mounting an issue-based campaign.

In Malawi, with only six months to the elections- different local Non-governmental Organisation (NGOs) are on the ground campaigning for an equal representation between men and women in elected positions, the campaign popularly known as the “50:50 Campaign.”

The NGOs are getting their funds from partners such as Royal Norwegian Embassy, UN Women, Hivos of Netherlands, the European Union (EU), Oxfam International, and Action Aid International.

However, the story in Malawi is totally different as female aspirants are crying that they are broke to the core. They do not have enough money to run a strong campaign.

Interestingly, while these women are crying for money, the NGOs advocating the 50:50 agenda have received millions of money from donors, but all of them are speaking the same language, ‘that the funds are meant only for capacity building.

“When I heard about the 50:50 Campaign, I was impressed, then I joined in. but I got disappointed that we are receiving nothing, yet I need money for transport, to conduct rallies, hire Public address (PA) system, and many others. Where am I going to get this money from?” ask Mercy Mwakiyanjala who is Ward Councillor aspirant for Rukulu Ward in Karonga district under the Malawi Congress Party-MCP.

Her concerns are equally shared by Minnie Thombozi; a parliamentary aspirant for Zomba City Central Constituency (independent) who says without giving money to women for campaign, the 50:50 drive is as good as dead.

“Let them support women with the funds they have received. For example, build a school block or a clinic in a ward or constituency where there are female aspirants, that will inspire Malawians to go for women, rather than spending money on capacity building meetings,” she said.

Calling a spade by its name, the reality is if the country is to have more women in decision making positions, then a better and more decisive approach needs to be taken rather than just focusing on imparting skills on women.

What is more tongue-in-cheek is that these NGOs are training the very same female aspirants over and over again without proper coordination; so long they have different donors.

“I have attended much training since 2014 by different NGOs on 50:50 Campaign, and its same quantity. It is a song of a day, but in 2014 I failed because of money, I need money for campaign,” says Maureen Moyo who has set her eyes on Mperekezi ward in Mzimba under People’s Party (PP).

Hearing stories by these female aspirants, it is clear that the approach taken by the 50:50 campaign champions is way too far from addressing the realities of women’s continued failure to make it into political positions.

Catherine Gotani-Hara, who is the Malawi Congress Party (MCP) Deputy Secretary General, says there is one big plug that the 50-50 campaign activists are failing to unlock, and that is meeting the financial challenges that these female aspirants face during their irrespective campaigns.

Gotani Hara: Women need more than capacity bulding meetings – pic ELTON MHANGO

“I have been an MP and a Minister before. I am speaking from experience, in Malawi for someone to win an election; you need a good sum of money. How many male aspirants are doing these capacity building and win?

“Basically, the major difference between us and men is the resource. Yet, we know where the gap is, but we are running away from it, thinking we are going to achieve the same goal doing it the other way around. It is going to be very impossible,” said the former Minister of Health who is also contesting as Member of Parliament (MP) for Mzimba North-East constituency in next year’s Elections,

For a number of years now, billions of Malawi Kwacha have been pouring in for 50-50 campaign in the country, but on the ground things are not working.

Currently, there are only 32 female MPs representing 16.6 percent of the total parliamentarians, while out of the 463 wards Councillors in the country so far, only 52 are females.

The NGO Board of Malawi says these NGOs working in 50:50 campaign are not coming in the open to let the country know how much is being pumped through them.

Chief Executive Officer (CEO) of the Board Voice Mhone said only the K1.1 Billion under the Royal Norwegian Embassy fund through the 50:50 Campaign Management agency (MA) is known.

The 50-50 Campaign Management Agency (MA) comprises Centre for Civil Society Strengthening (CCSS) and Action Aid Malawi (AAM) in collaboration with the Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability and Social Welfare.

The funds channelled through MA, among others have been disbanded to different local NGOs who are the implementing partners in all the 28 districts in the country.

In an interview, the 50:50 Campaign Management Agency (MA) Team Leader Viwemi Chavula admitted hitting the wrong nail, saying without empowering female aspirants financially, the 50:50 campaign is a hard rock to crack.

“We are buying what these female aspirants are complaining, because we are equally concerned with the same. But our hands are tied; it is not our wish to use this approach, but the donor who is sponsoring us.

“If the money was from our own direct pockets, we would have loved to sponsor women with campaign funds. But the donor specifically gave us funds for specific objections which excludes giving campaign money to women.

“As an agency, we are trying all we can to negotiate and come to an understanding with the donors on the same,” said Chavula.

However, Chavula chided fears that the organizations are using the name of women to get funds and enrich themselves, saying every penny received is for different activities that the donors approved.

On the other hand, political analyst Emily Mkamanga suggested that if the 50:50 Campaign is to achieve its goal, the champions should first sit down with the donors and address the ‘hardware’ issues that affect women in their political careers rather than just focusing on ‘software matters.

“This campaign is a failure from the beginning, because we having women being locked in a room for training, while men are campaigning on the ground, so who wins there?” she asked.

Nonetheless, as 2019 elections are approaching, Malawi can draw lessons from Rwanda, a country best known for the 1994 genocide that killed nearly a tenth of its population, which today shines with 64 percent of women in her parliament—the highest number of women parliamentarians in the world.

Other African countries namely Senegal, Seychelles and South Africa have more than 40 percent each; Mozambique, Angola, Tanzania and Uganda are not far off, as women occupy over 35 percent of all parliamentary seats, all because of strong policies on women empowerment.

Having a State President who is a UN Women He for She champion, the country can just do better and walk the talk on 50:50 campaign, otherwise the May 20 2019 Tripartite Elections will just prove to be another nightmare for female contestants.

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