NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) continued the implementation of activities under the 8-month long governance project in Balaka entitled “Deepening Democracy through Increased Women’s Political Participation and Decision Making in Local Governance Project” with funding from HIVOS Women Empowered For Leadership (W4FL).
A periodic dialogue session involving several key stakeholders at local government and supporting the establishment of the Women Leaders Network were carried out in Balaka West, South and North constituencies. The activities drew participation from political parties’ and religious representatives, community members (women and girls’ group representatives), previous LGE female candidates, female community leaders (T/As, ST/As, GVHs), female Area Development Committees (ADCs) members.
The rationale behind targeting political parties and religious institutions, for instance, was to gain a deeper understanding of internal rules that govern them. In addition, political parties are key gatekeepers in politics as they recruit and support women to run for office. So too are religious/traditional leaders and community members who can resist the inclusion and support for women in politics. Further, the activity sought out male allies and champions within the political parties, religious institutions and traditional leadership who would push for change, modification or scrapping off of restrictive internal rules in order to make them more gender sensitive.
It was noted during the dialogue sessions that female candidates faced comparatively several barriers during primary elections largely rooted in negative patriarchal social norms. Those barriers were partly responsible for the dismal performance of female candidate leading to only one female ward councilor out of the eight (8) wards. Among them included imposition of candidates who received preferential treatment, soliciting of financial and material benefits from candidates leading to skewed playing field, shifting of primary election dates at short notice, lack of support from the party and creation of parallel voting delegates’ lists. Consequently, those with no financial capacity to buy favour from local party officials pulled out from the primaries and stood as independents.
A female Local Government Elections candidate who stood on an independent ticket in Bwaila ward, Balaka North in 2019 had this to say: “I really wanted to run on a party ticket but ended up as an independent because I did not receive any support from the party whether financial, material or moral despite promises. I, therefore, decided to go it alone”.
On women leadership in religious institutions, it depended on a particular institution and its rules teachings as regards women leadership. It was noted some women were allowed to lead prayer services, were ordained as clerics and could comfortably lead women-only groups. But challenges start to manifest when asked to lead the whole congregations whereby they either shy away or internal rules do not allow. Therefore, the targeted interventions across various structures would among others aim at enhancing women self-assertiveness and self-confidence so they are able to address mixed-gender groups.
It was therefore suggested that subsequent project activities target senior religious leaders and senior district parties’ officials who were deemed to have played a huge role in the imposition of candidates and creation of a lopsided playing field.
Women’s Leaders Forums were established in the impact constituencies. It was noted that women lack solidarity movements especially at district and sub-district levels through which they can speak with one voice and challenge their exclusion across all spheres of public life. The Forums were not entirely separate structures that would operate in isolation. Instead, women who already are members of local government structures like Area Development Committees (ADCs), Mother Groups, Village Loans and Savings (VSLs) and et cetera were identified. They would play a huge role in raising awareness, setting agenda and initiating discussion on women leadership issues at structures they are already members. In addition, they would help to identify women and young women with potential to run for office.
The project’s overall objective seeks to strengthen women’s leadership and agency, decision making and participation in local governance. It will run up to January, 2021.
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