Hivos Southern Africa Hub launched the Women Empowered for Leadership (WE4L) programme in Lilongwe, Malawi on February 14 with what turned out to be a very passionate panel discussion on “Collaborating for Increased and Effective Participation by Women in Politics and Public Administration.”
Few women hold decision-making positions within the social, political and economic arenas in Malawi. The country ranks 173 out of 188 on the UN's Gender Inequality Index (GII) and has the eighth highest child marriage rate in the world. Although the 1995 Malawi Constitution guarantees equal rights for men and women, in reality immense obstacles to equality perpetuate gender disparities. To counteract these, the WE4L programme aims for women to have equal opportunities and the capacity to participate fully in political and societal decision-making processes.
WE4L is a five-year programme managed by Hivos and implemented together with local partners in Malawi, Zambia, Zimbabwe., Jordan and Lebanon. It aims for women to have equal opportunities and the capacity to fully participate in political and societal decision-making processes.
The panel discussion titled: "Why are few women elected into leadership positions?" touched on some of the challenges that continue to prevent women from assuming leadership positions in Malawi, including patriarchy and patriarchal attitudes, socialisation, and voter attitudes that demean female leaders among others.
Hivos Southern Africa Hub director Tanja Lubbers told attendees about the wide range of activities the programme will use to reach its target groups, such as multi-faceted capacity development for women with political ambitions and leadership qualities, networking, coalition-building, cooperation between aspiring women leaders and women’s rights civil society organisations, and creating or improving online and offline networks aimed at women’s political participation and leadership.
“WE4L works directly with potential women leaders, but also with political parties, administrative bodies, trade unions and syndicates, civil society organisations, media and the creative sector. Hivos and our local partners provide training, coaching, and strategic expertise, as well as creative, media and communications expertise,” she said.
Lubbers added that the programme will also help to create a new generation of women activists in Malawi who can eventually take over from those who have been championing women’s rights since the dawn of multi-party politics in Malawi in the early 90’s.
“Women should be recognised and supported by politics and society as leaders and agents of change, so we are careful to invest in leadership opportunities and political processes at the sub-national level because this is where decisions are made and policies are implemented that directly affect people’s daily lives.”
Dutch embassy Deputy Head of Mission, Ms. Anne-Sietske Brinks, emphasised the importance of involving women in the programming.
“It’s really time to stop talking about women and talk with women. By working together, we can learn from each other, learn from our mistakes. We can inspire each other to keep on pushing. Ultimately when women have a real voice, they will be able to participate equally with men in public dialogue and influence decisions that determine their future,” she said.