There is a troubling pattern already with Lazarus Chakwera’s leadership and it can no longer be glossed over: it is a patriarchal leadership that favours men, regardless of their competencies, over women.
When Lazarus Chakwera came with his cabinet which only featured a handful of women, those of us wanting to believe in a new Malawi forgave him for the shortcoming. After all, we opined, cabinet appointments are driven on party allegiances. Our politics is not kind towards women.
However, beyond that was the troubling missing of the Ministry of Gender. When this was pointed out, party loyalists of course came to Chakwera’s defence and said that the ministry had just been swallowed in the cumbersome names of some other ministries. It did not make sense, thus Chakwera’s reversal was a welcome development. However, that omission pointed us to a thing about Chakwera: his concern of women are as wives or, to use a book he so believes: the Bible, men’s helpers.
As a gender activist, I remained troubled by that omission and started paying attention to Chakwera’s public pronouncements and displays of leadership with women
When he flouted Covid restrictions to pay respect to Mayi Dinala, I was among the few that were excited – not by the flouting of the Covid rules. I thought that it would play to Chakwera’s sensibilities to recognise the loyalty, valour and hard work of women. I was wrong.
As Chakwera went dishing out appointment letters to MEC commissioners, two women were left out. This was under the cover of a perfect excuse: they are incompetent. Now, this would sell any other day. However, the trouble with this is that courts are yet to adjudicate on the matter of the two. As it stands, they are still commissioners of MEC and therefore worthy of appointment letters. The letters can certainly be revoked if it so happens that the courts rule in Chakwera’s favour.
Then, in days, Chakwera started making announcements of aides and advisors and, this far, only two women have made it to that list. One Martha Chikuni was appointed to some obscure irrelevant position in State House while another Colleen Zimba was appointed to be his advisor.
His weekly addresses that have now been taken over by his son-in-law and Brian Banda have just been Mr. State House contests where two men come to talk to the nation. Ironically, his son-in-law in one press briefing accused the media of only sending male journalists to those weekly announcements. Funny that as he was saying that the State House itself had also sent two men to the same event. Talk of a pot calling a kettle black!
This far, the face of Chakwera’s administration appears to just be men. The only woman whom you can link directly to the administration or serving as the face of an otherwise male administration is Monica Chakwera. No prize for guessing the spot that she occupies: it is that of wife. She might be gifted patronage rights by APAM but, for her husband, Monica is just a wife for that is how Chakwera sees women: wives, subordinate and largely unimportant.
When Chakwera made his maiden tour to Zambia, a picture emerged of his meeting with President Lungu – another chauvinist with a token of a female Vice President – in which men huddled over each other pretending to be the most intelligent creatures of the two countries. Women, who voted for Chakwera enmasse, had been significantly relegated. In all the photos of his tour to Zambia, there is only one woman that appears: Monicca. Her role is simple: she is a wife.
On Wednesday, State House released a press statement with names appointed into boards of parastatals and guess the dominance? It is males. There are females, of course, but they are there to show a semblance of equality. In all the 67 boards, only two (the Medical and Nurses Councils) have women outnumbering men. However, for the others, 64 in total because one has no names, there are fewer women or not at all (12 have none) – for argument, check the boards for Malawi Accountants, MEDEF, Roads Fund, Public Procurement, MBC. MACRA and PML.
If you decide to move beyond the names and the sprinkles of gender, out of 438 people that have been appointed into various Boards (this excludes those who belong to the boards by the default of their offices), only 105 are women. All the other 333 are men just like his cabinet of 23 members – that includes Mr. Chakwera and his deputy, Saulos Chilima who are respectively doubling as Defence and Economic Planning ministers – has only 4 women as full cabinet ministers. It is a perfect men’s affair now.