By Duncan Mlanjira
In its commitment to create an enabling environment for equal opportunities that would improve internal practices related to human resources; customer services among others, Electricity Supply Corporation of Malawi (ESCOM) adopted a Social and Gender Inclusion & Anti-sexual Harassment policy in 2017.
Now in existence close to five years, the public energy utility service provider decided to enhance the policy by engaging its male employees for a special conference on Friday — an initiative that is probably the first-ever to involve an all-male members of staff on gender related issues.
The conference unpacked, amongst other topics, creation of safe places for fellow women staff against gender-based violence, gender discrimination, defilement and surmounting impediments to social and gender inclusion amongst the staff.
ESCOM engaged external consultant facilitators, that included renowned social and financial analyst, Jimmy Lipunga — to offer the male employees their own platform to engage in a candid discussion of how they can effectively play a part in the implementation and promotion of issues of gender and social inclusion at the workplace.
In his introductory speech to the conference, one of the organising committee members, Robert M’gunda said ESCOM was also taking cognizance of the importance of the 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, which is observed in October every year.
He reiterated that ESCOM’s Board of Directors approved the Social and Gender Inclusion & Anti-sexual Harassment policy in 2017 to increase the contribution of men and women in decision making; ensure zero tolerance of sexual harassment and gender discrimination as well as to create a conducive environment for employees and customers with special needs.
“The launch of the policy that year was, no doubt, a first in the energy sector in Malawi,” M’gunda said. “Now, five years later, here we are hosting this inaugural Men’s Conference — under the theme ‘Men Driving the Change’.
“This event, no doubt, underscores the importance which ESCOM attaches to ensuring that there is no gender discrimination and gender-based violence amongst its employees and indeed customers we serve.”
The Social and Gender Inclusion & Anti-sexual Harassment policy was mooted in 2014 through an institutional social and gender audit that exposed that women’s representation in the company was far too low and this situation has hardly changed.
As presented by Lipunga, women representative in the executive management is 11% and the total workforce at 10% with core engineering divisions of generation at 2.1%; transmission at 1.3% and distribution at 3.9%.
Lipunga said this data that is not at all encouraging as the National Energy Policy of 2003 sought to ensure that gender is always considered in energy programmes by offering equal employment opportunities.
According to ESCOM, the National Energy Policy of 2003 was revised in 2017 and contains stronger provisions to promote social and gender inclusion in the energy sector.
Lipunga didn’t just make a soliloquy presentation — he encouraged the participants that they were free to express their opinions and observations as to why there is a very low representation of women in ESCOM.
In the absence of fellow females staff, the men indicated that women have the wrong mentality and perception that engineering work they do is for men only and that most young girls in school are not taking up sciences that can lead them into engineering.
They also observed that their fellow female staff feel intimidated by their male counterparts — even without any hint of sexual discrimination because the nature of their job most times require some tough physical energy and endurance.
“When we try to push for their participation in such physical endurance as way of encouraging them, some take offence — thinking we are just trying to display our masculinity,” said one employee.
Lipunga encouraged the organising committee to take notes of comments from the men which ESCOM could use in the event of holding an all-women conference so that the two parties understood each other through independent interaction.
Thus Lipunga applauded ESCOM for organising the men’s conference, saying this will go a long way to enhance their Social and Gender Inclusion & Anti-sexual Harassment policy since this staff generation shall impart this knowledge the next generation of employees.