Boosting the women of Malawi

Special Commendation—Drivers of Change Individual Award: Emma Kaliya

Emma Kaliya played a critical role in initiating and driving the 50-50 campaign to increase the number of women parliamentarians in Malawi during the national elections this year.

Kaliya was inspired by the appointment of the country’s first woman vice-president, 47 years after independence. Her NGO, the Gender Coordination Network, launched the campaign to urge President Bingu wa Mutharika to consider a 50-50 gender representation in Parliament.

The campaign mobilised government and international development agencies to support many of the women who contested the elections. As a result, a record 234 women stood for election. Although the campaign’s 50% target was not reached, 42 women (22%) were elected into Parliament, against 14% previously.

‘We were guided by the Southern African Development Community and African Union protocol, which states that government is not sustainable if certain people are denied the opportunity to participate in decision-making. At national level we don’t have a law to help us,” says Kaliya.

Poverty in Malawi is largely about access to resources and this is controlled by a group of few, says Michael Nyirenda, who nominated Kaliya.

‘The few happen to be politicians who have predominately been men. By increasing the number of women in the decision-making forums of party caucuses and Parliament, pro-poor priorities are more likely to be reflected,” Nyirenda says.

It is expected that such priorities will increasingly tilt public policy instruments and expenditure priorities in favour of poverty reduction. Reaching 22% was not easy, says Kaliya.

‘Women are generally not accepted into a lot of the existing political parties.” The campaign had to change a lot of pre-existing perceptions. ‘The 50-50 campaign was based on the equitable principle that Malawian women have as much right to be voted into office as Malawian men,” she says.

For her there is more work to be done. ‘We have seen what we have been able to achieve and we want to capitalise on political will to make gender issues a priority.”

The judges praised Kaliya’s role in helping to ensure that women’s rights are being successfully achieved in an increasing number of countries across the region. ‘She is truly a driver of change for progress in our region,” they said.

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