Over the years stakeholders have been advocating for 50:50 campaign aimed at wooing people to ensure equal representation of men and women in elected political leadership positions.
But the campaign is still facing opposition from some quarters including party leaders who are expected to champion intra-party democracy.
Currently, in Dedza District, women occupy 12.5 percent of political leadership positions against 87.5 percent for men.
As the race for parliamentary and ward councillor seats in the forthcoming May, 2019 elections gets hotter with each passing day, there are 23 female aspirants in the district.
The women aspirants say handouts and resistance from leaders in their political parties are some of the barriers affecting their political ambitions.
Linnah Kalanzi Mbewe is aspiring for Dedza North Constituency seat in the 2019 tripartite elections.
Mbewe wants to become a Member of Parliament (MP) under Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) and she is expected to challenge a male candidate in primary elections soon.
She says the journey is not easy as she has been facing resistance from party officials at district and constituency level.
“It took time for the party to approve my idea of competing in the coming party’s primary election for the parliament seat for Dedza North.
“I started booking for appointment with party officials at constituency and district levels in June to welcome me as one of the candidates in the primaries.
“But I faced resistance as the party officials had already imposed their candidate… Lucky enough, I was welcomed last week after other people intervened in the matter,” She explains.
Mbewe adds that this is not her first time to compete for the seat as she contested in 2014 tripartite elections for the same constituency under Peoples Party.
“Some men de-campaign female aspirants by referring to them as prostitutes. This makes some women to give up.
“Others judge us [women] as people who cannot perform to the expectation of people in our areas,” she says.
Mbewe further says fundraising events in churches are also de-campaigning female aspirants as, sometimes, women candidates fail to meet the expectations of church members.
“During the fundraising events, some churches deliberately invite both incumbent and shadow MPs who outwit one another with monetary contributions.
“It eventually turns out to be a big competition which is later won by incumbents because they usually have more money than the shadow MPs,” She explains.
But Dedza Church of Central Africa Presbyterian (CCAP) minister Reverend Livingstone Sitima says his church does not invite politicians to its fundraising events.
“As a church, we stopped inviting politicians to our fundraising events long time ago because some could take advantage of them to campaign in church,” he says.
Malembo Ward councillor Evillyn Tafatatha lost in recent Malawi Congress Party (MCP) primaries and has opted to contest for the ward as independent candidate.
“I am a victim of handouts. The man whom I competed with distributed items and cash to people on the eve of the primary elections so that they could vote for him.
“He even provided transport and a K3 000 allowance to the party’s delegates who were expected to vote at the primaries,” she says.
“The constituency chairman even asked the delegates to vote for the candidate who provided transport and allowances to them. I had no money. As a result, I lost the primaries,” Tafatatha adds.
However, she says, later some people approached her and asked her to contest for the ward seat as independent candidate.
Another MCP member Shyreen Gamulani, who won primary election for Magomero Ward, says she also faced resistance from party officials.
“One party official asked for money for him to introduce me to the constituency chairperson and other party officials and I gave him K1 000.
“The journey has not been easy. Party officials preferred the incumbent ward councillor to me because he gave them cash to win favours,” Gamulani says.
She adds that she suffered humiliation from men including party officials in the area for expressing interest to assume political office.
“During campaign period for the primaries, some men including party members with positions in our area called me ‘whore’.
“But I did not give up and I kept on doing issue-based campaign until I won the primaries,” Gamulani says.
She attributes her success to a training workshop by ActionAid which she attended in June this year under 50:50 Campaign programme.
“The training, which emphasised on issue based campaign, boosted my self-confidence,” Gamulani says.
But MCP’s Dedza West constituency chairman Moses Mgudeyi turns down the women’s claims, saying, perhaps, they were happening in other areas.
“Not in this area. Here in Dedza West Constituency, we had one female candidate who was competing for parliamentary seat during the primaries.
“Party leaders from both the area and constituency supported her. We gave her all the campaign platforms just like male contestants but she lost the primary elections on her own,” Mgudeyi says.
However, MCP’s Dedza South West Constituency vice chairman Arnold Mkutumula confirmed that some party leaders are a barrier to women participation in politics because of greed.
“Some party officials were given cash and promised many things by some male candidates. This made some candidates to be favoured; as a result, female aspirants became victims.
“For example, there are reports that a certain male candidate asked a fellow party leader to help him win the primaries and promised to construct a house for him,” Mkutumula says.
He adds that during the primary election, there was one female candidate who was competing for Malembo Ward with men and she lost.
Late last year, Malawi Parliament passed Political Parties Bill that prohibits handouts to entice voters. The new law was meant to level the playing field for political candidates in an election.
Among others, Article 41 (1) of the law states that a candidate or political party contesting in an election shall not issue handouts.
Failure to adhere to the law is an offence which attracts a fine of K10 million or five years imprisonment.
Meanwhile, Youth Initiative for Community Development (YICOD), an organisation that champions 50:50 Campaign in Dedza and Ntcheu districts, is mentoring female aspirants to build their political acumen.
YICODs Executive Director Andrew Bwanali says, currently, the organisation is working with 23 female aspirants for various leadership positions in Dedza alone.
“We have trained them in electoral process and issue-based campaign so that they should avoid smear campaign against fellow candidates.
“We are also going to meet political party leaders to reason with them against discouraging women participation in political leadership by favouring male candidates,” Bwanali says.
He, however, says their organisation is not going to provide any financial resources to female aspirants.
According to Malawi Demographic and Health Survey Report of 2015-2016, 52 percent of Malawi’s population are female and 85 women were in leadership positions as members of parliament and ward councillors.
As 2019 tripartite elections are fast approaching, stakeholders in the 50:50 Campaign are eager to see if voters will give more seats to women candidates.