No female candidate makes it to Parliament in Karonga

At national level, the 50:50 campaigners might be smiling from cheek to cheek as the May 21 Tripartite Polls has produced 45 female Members of Parliament out of the 193, up from 32 in the previous National Assembly.

On the other hand, at district level, the effort to produce a female MP in Karonga has yielded nothing despite massive awareness campaigns, meeting with various stakeholders and road shows which various institutions conducted in the lakeshore district to drum up support for female candidates.

Female aspirants in KA Pic by Jordan Simeon-Phiri

Out of the five female Parliamentary candidates that contested, not even one has made it and out of the 18 Ward Councilors, only one has secured a seat in the 462 Local Government chamber.

In Karonga, the Justice and Peace (JP) of Karonga Diocese left no stone unturned as it engaged youth clubs, traditional leaders, church leaders, development leaders and women themselves to market all women shadow candidates political ideologies.

This according to JP desk officer for Karonga diocese Louis Nkhata was done with an aim of reaching out to as many people as possible to accept women in elective positions as culturally, many a people have wrong perception over women’s capabilities as MPs or Ward Councillors.

However, these efforts have failed miserably as the five constituencies have not produced even a single female MP while out of the 10 Wards, only Nyungwe has managed to secure a female Ward Councillor.

Nkhata notes that the reason why female candidates did not fare well could be attributed to the fact that most female candidates had limited resources as compared to male candidates who despite the Political Parties Law, splashed cash and various gifts to the electorates to buy out votes.

“It is sad indeed but not discouraging because as JP, we feel our success is not only dependent on how many people have made it to Parliament or to the Council but the aspect of women and girls’ empowerment.

“On the other hand, the outcome can also be attributed to both external and internal factors. Internally, many female candidates did not prepare well and had limited capacity as most female candidates had limited resources compared to their male counterparts which determined their campaign outreach,” Nkhata said.

However, Nkhata, said the external contributing factor is that the 50:50 campaign started a bit late as he feels the campaign could have started early to change people’s mindset and perception towards female candidates.

Nonetheless, Chitipa district which is in the same diocese for the first time has managed to send three out of 11 female candidates to the District Council’s Chamber, a great improvement indeed to JP as it also intensified the campaign to achieve this feat.

JP project coordinator for Chitipa district Abel Malumbira said even though they have also failed to produce an MP, his office is happy that since the dawn of democracy, Chitipa has voted for Ward Councillor female candidates who he thinks will not disappoint but deliver.

Asked whether this minimal performance is communicating anything from the people of Karonga, a Mzuzu based political commentator Emily Mkamanga said this means people of Karonga are not ready to embrace the 50:50 campaign due to cultural beliefs.

“The approach this year for the drummers of the 50:50 campaign was holistic. They used a strategy that took female aspirants to the people.

“But then it shows Karonga’s case is more to do with cultural beliefs that regard kitchens as a home for women which is bad,” Mkamanga said.

While Mkamanga is of that view, executive director for Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre Emmie Kaliya holds another opinion.

Kaliya says if traditional norms were a contributing factor, then Karonga would not have female traditional leaders, saying every democracy is not complete without women participation in decision making positions.

“It is very disappointing and embarrassing to note that Karonga has failed to vote for female representatives at the National Assembly and increase the number of Local Government representatives which had one female Ward Councillor to at least five.

“I am however, glad for Chitipa for producing three Ward Councillors. It is an achievement worth commending as last sitting had no female Local Government representative,” Kaliya said.

She added that it is high time traditional leaders walked their talk if the 50:50 campaign is to be fully embraced, saying they promise the moon during stakeholders meetings only to do the opposite when out of the meeting.