– Wendy Ngoma, Africa Regional Coordinator, One World Action
Local elections in Malawi have been postponed until 2014.
They were supposed to have taken place this April 2011 and this is not the first time they have been postponed since the current President Bingu wa Mutharika was elected into office for a second term in 2009.
Malawi has not held local elections since 2000.
This is just another blow for Malawian citizens whose democratic space is being squeezed and squeezed (people are being jailed, threatened, intimidated, public gatherings and peaceful rallies are being targeted by police with teargas and guns etc).
It is also a huge blow to the work being done by the Malawi Women’s Lobby which has been training aspiring women candidates for the local elections over the past two years. One World Action has been supporting the Malawi Women’s Lobby with this important work promoting women’s leadership and rights over the last 4 years, and this setback is very disappointing.
In September 2010, a member of the Malawi Women’s Lobby expressed excitement at the possibility of community women participating in the Local Government Elections that were to be held in April 2011:
“This project has already helped us to identify 12 aspiring candidates in Rumphi, 12 aspiring candidates in Mzimba, 3 in Chitipa and 10 in Nkhata Bay. The project is transforming the lives of women in these communities both at family level and community level”
One aspect of this project which has had a big impact has been the Women’s Listeners Clubs – groups of village women who come together to listen to radio programmes, learn and debate topical issues and who have been instrumental in encouraging and identifying women in their communities to take up leadership positions. Over the past six months these women candidates have been supported and have campaigned through door to door campaigns, at public forms like funerals and weddings, antenatal clinics and under five clinics at maize mills, as well as in group meetings in churches – all the places where women meet!
Last year I had the opportunity to meet some of these really inspiring women during my visit to Malawi. Many spoke articulately about the many challenges they and other women face in their daily lives, finding enough food to feed their families, domestic violence and abuse of their rights such as property grabbing, witchcraft, the abuse of elderly women and the burden of care for the ill and orphans due to HIV/AIDS. They had ideas for addressing these issues too! Given a chance to lead in the political sphere these women can really make a difference!
Women in Malawi need to be given the opportunity to participate in political spaces – and the postponing of local elections is sadly yet another obstacle preventing women’s positive and just participation in the decision-making that affects their lives.