BLANTRYE, MALAWI - Women’s rights groups and other civil society groups in Malawi held street protests Friday against the president’s failure to achieve gender balance in his recent public service appointments.
The protesters put on black and red attire and carried placards with messages to promote women’s rights.
The protesters accused President Lazarus Chakwera of failing to fulfill the Gender Equality Act which requires 60-40 representation of either men or women in public appointments.
Maggie Kathewera Banda led Friday’s protests in Blantyre, and is executive director of a lobby group Women’s Manifesto.
“We are coming from a background where we had met the president when he was leader of opposition in 2019," Kathewera said. "We met the president again when he was elected into that position in 2020, On both occasions he promised that he will make sure that women are given leadership positions but that is not what is happening.”
Kathewera faulted Chakwera’s recent appointment of members in 54 boards of public institutions, where only 20%?of them are women.
The activists also protested low female representation in Chakwera’s 31-member cabinet, where only four women were given full ministerial positions.
At a press conference marking his 100 days in office on Monday, President Chakwera said the low female representation is because he could not find well-qualified women to fill the cabinet posts.
Chakwera challenged women’s rights groups to provide him with candidates for top-level positions.
Kathewera said the president’s remark was an insult to women.
“Why is it that men, were not subjected to the same?" Kathewera said. "And in any case, if men were told to produce a list, why is it that women were not told to produce such kind of the list. Why is it coming now when we have expressed concern? So for us we think that is a lame excuse.”
Some analysts said Chakwera should be given more time to fulfill his promises because he has just clocked his first 100 days in office.
Feminist Ulemu Hanna Kanyongolo said the law is not negotiable.
“It’s never too soon to respect the law and it's clear the qualified women are there," Kanyongolo said. "So there is no excuse for him to violate the law. The law you don’t negotiate and he knew that before he took the oath of office.”
In Blantyre, protesters handed a petition to Alfred Nyengo, the human rights resource manager, at the Blantyre City Assembly.
Meanwhile, Kathewera says she may take legal action should government fail to follow the Gender Equality Act.