Supporting participation of women in elections

Polling took place yesterday, (editor: December 22, 2015) in Zomba Chisi Constituency, Ngala Ward in Lilongwe Msozi North and Mtope ward in Mchinji West Constituencies. It has been an effective exercise considering that there were no chaos, name calling or slandering. Candidates, political parties, the Police, the electorate and all stakeholders should be commended for maintaining law and order during this exercise.

The Commission is scheduled to announce the determined results later. While that is in process, in this column today, and a few subsequent editions, we take time to talk about participation of women in elections. We will look at the current situation and available techniques that can be explored to increase representation of women in elected positions. We will also look at the roles of gender activists, the electoral management body, political parties and others.

For the by-elections held yesterday, a total of ten nominations were received in all the three areas. Only two nominations were from women. This is despite the efforts of the Malawi Electoral Commission for women candidates to pay 25 percent less nomination fees as a way of encouraging their participation. We are yet to see the full impact and contribution of this initiative towards increasing women participation in elections.

Whilst participation of women as candidates has been of concern, women have been good registrants. Out of the 2,368 new registrants for the by-elections 1,253 were women while 1,115 were men.

During the previous by-elections on August 25 there were 29 candidates of which eight were females and one managed to grab a seat out of the five that were contested for.

During the May 2014 there were many groups, individuals who came up to support women participation in politics. Some political parties also took positive steps to encourage and make the environment more friendly for women to participate. However, during the past three by-elections all these efforts have not been visible and the participation of women is dwindling.

There could be plausible explanations for the absence of support and encouragement for women participation but elections are not an event, rather a cycle. Whoever, wants to be involved in supporting women participation in elections should take the electoral cycle approach. Every by-election offers an opportunity to encourage and support women to get elected positions. Such opportunities should not be let go. By-elections also offer an opportunity for all gender activists can concentrate their efforts and achieve a result that they might have missed in the national elections. Since May 2014, the Commission has conducted three by-elections whereby three parliamentary seats and 12 wards have been contested for. If women grabbed a good share of seats it could have been a positive step in reducing the imbalance.