BLANTYRE, MALAWI - In Malawi, the push for more women members of parliament was dealt a blow when the government said it would not consider a proposal to create 28 automatic seats for women. Malawi ranks among the countries within the South African Development Community and world where women are underrepresented in government.
Justice and Constitutional Affairs Minister Samuel Tembenu said the government removed the provision because it would be a disadvantage to women candidates in some constituencies.
He said the provision would also involve a laborious and complicated legal process, including amending constitutional provisions and other electoral laws.
Proponents of the provision say its removal is unfortunate.
Esmie Kainja, a member of the Special Law Commission that came up with the proposal, told reporters the 28-seat idea was the best option among many that were intended to increase the number of women in parliament.
"There were many options [which were rejected]," she said. "There was an issue of taking quotas at [the] party level; there was another option of just taking one constituent per district to be attached to women that also did not work."
She said although the proposed 28 seats might sound irrational, it gave an assurance that Malawi would achieve at least 30 percent female representation in parliament as required by the SADC Protocol, which the bloc adopted in 2008 with the goal of ensuring equal rights for women and an end to discrimination.
Out of 193 members in Malawi's parliament, only 32 are women.
Emma Kaliya is the national coordinator for the NGO Gender Coordination Network, which has long headed Malawi's "50-50 campaign" for equal gender representation.
"For the executive to remove that recommendation, now I am beginning to doubt if Malawi is really serious about achieving gender equality and women empowerment in the area of politics," she said. "And it is very sad that it is happening to us in this way."
Kaliya said Malawi should have learned from countries like South Africa, Mozambique and Uganda, where similar provisions have helped increase the number of women in decision-making positions.
"We need to impress on government that they have an obligation to make things work for everybody in Malawi on politics and outside politics," she said. "And this is about gender equality."
Gender activists say they are attempting to have the provision reconsidered.