Activists call on Malawi’s Joyce Banda to lead from the front on gender equality

Date: August 15, 2013
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Statement by the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance hosted by the NGO Gender Coordinating Network (NGOGCN) focal Network in Malawi to HE Dr Joyce Banda at the launch of the 2013 Barometer, Lilongwe, Malawi,  15 August 2013

This is a historic moment for the women and men of Malawi and of the Southern African Development Community (SADC). Sixteen years ago, our Heads of State signed the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development in Blantyre, Malawi. Eight years ago, the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance started a campaign for the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, a unique sub-regional instrument that brings together all existing global and continental instruments for achieving gender equality into one instrument with 28 targets to be achieved by 2015.

Five years ago, 13 of the 15 SADC Heads of State signed the Protocol that came into force in September last year. Today, the Alliance has the honour to hand over the fifth issue of our Barometer, the tool we use to measure progress in the region, to the first SADC woman Head of State.

Your Excellency, in April this year, the Alliance requested a televised message from you for the SADC Protocol@Work summit. We received this message, and a pledge that Malawi would ratify the Gender Protocol. Malawi proceeded to ratify the protocol and to deposit instruments of ratification. From this we learned that you are responsive and that you are a woman of your word. You lead Malawi, and you will shortly be chairing SADC. We look to you for leadership in the critical countdown to 2015.

The Barometer uses two yardsticks of progress: the SADC Gender and Development Index (SGDI) based on empirical data and the Citizen Score Card (CSC) based on perceptions. In the year past we have as many “redÀ lights as “greenÀ lights, with the result that the SGDI remained stagnant at 66% (63% for Malawi). Interestingly, the CSC shot up from 57% to 66% in the past year, reflecting optimism in the region that change is coming. Sadly, in Malawi this score is 51%. Whichever way we look at these scores, we have a long way to go before 2015. The first message we ask you to convey to Heads of State meeting here on SADC Day À“ 17 August – is one of urgency. Time is not on our side! We specifically request your leadership on the following matters:

Contradictions between customary and statutory law: In the five years since we started tracking, there have been constitutional reviews in ten SADC countries that have resulted in strengthened gender provisions, most recently in Zimbabwe, Zambia and Mauritius. But five constitutions in the region still have “claw backÀ clauses. The lives of the majority of women in the SADC region are still governed by customary law that relegate them to second-class citizens. Harmful gender practices continue to be justified in the name of custom, culture, religion and tradition. The SADC Gender Protocol states clearly that gender equality must be a fundamental constitutional principle of all our countries that cannot be undermined by any law, belief of practise.

Child marriages and the girl child: The practise of young girls getting married well before the age of 18 in Malawi and other parts of the region is a clear example of the SADC Gender Protocol, the African Charter on the Rights of Women, the Convention on the Rights of the Child and others being flagrantly violated. We call on you to lead the campaign to end this practise that robs young women of their chance to complete their education, and participate meaningfully in economic and public life.

Sexual and reproductive rights of girls and women: In Malawi and elsewhere, myths about contraception, some of these perpetuated by traditional leaders, limit the effectiveness of family planning, that has a key bearing on women’s agency. We call on our governments to ensure comprehensive access to information and services on family planning addressed both to women and men. We further call on our governments to respect the autonomy and right of women to exercise choices over their bodies, as enshrined in a range of international commitments dating back to the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD).  

Safety and security of person: The most basic right of all citizens is freedom of movement and association and of bodily integrity. Through you, your Excellency, we call on SADC leaders to end the continued gruesome use of rape as a weapon of war in parts of the DRC and anywhere else that this flagrant violation of human rights may occur. We also call on our leaders to end the silent wars that continue in our homes. Studies in six SADC countries show that between one in four and two in three women have experienced some form of violence over their life time. We cannot talk about human rights, safety and security, when over half the population of SADC is daily violated in this way. The Barometer shows that thanks to enlightened leadership, the levels of HIV and AIDS in the SADC region are receding. If the same political will could be shown in the fight against gender violence, we believe that SADC target of halving GBV by 2015 could be achieved!

Protecting minorities, celebrating diversity: We are blessed in this region with a diversity of peoples, races, cultures, ethnicities, persuasions, beliefs, and sexuality. The principle of equality requires that the rights of all peoples be upheld, and that diversity not only be tolerated, but also celebrated. We call on our leaders to condemn the violence perpetrated on minority groups, and to uphold the fundamental rights of all citizens.

Economic empowerment: Across the SADC region, women remain the majority of the poor, the landless, the unemployed, the dispossessed, and those whose voices are missing from economic decision-making. Over one quarter of the SADC Gender Protocol targets refer to economic empowerment. The Protocol urges women’s equal access to, and control over, all productive resources: land, credit and state tenders, among others. Zambia has made a start through a 30% quota for women in all new land allocations. This window needs to be prized open in all our countries.

50/50 Campaign: Across the SADC region women constitute one in four decision makers in public life; much lower in the judiciary, media and private sector. We have ten elections before the end of 2015, including in Malawi. For the first time since 2005, Malawi will have local elections in 2014: the heart of daily decision-making. All the evidence in the region shows that countries that have succeeded in increasing women’s representation in decision-making have done so through a combination of quotas and electoral systems. The 50/50 campaign must go beyond hollow slogans. Urgent and special measures are required to deliver on this target! We ask you to shine the torch for this campaign!

Implementation: SADC governments have been quick to ratify but slow to implement the SADC Gender Protocol that encompasses all continental and regional commitments to gender equality. We commend Malawi for updating its gender policy and urge you to incorporate the SADC Gender Protocol targets in this and the national gender action plan. Four SADC countries have made headway in this area: all 15 must do so before 2015!

An addendum on gender and climate change: Finally, your Excellency, we seek your leadership in advocating for an Addendum to the SADC Gender Protocol on Climate Change and Sustainable Development, sadly lacking and sorely needed given the differential impact of weather patterns on men and women. We are aware that gender is being mainstreamed in the draft SADC Protocol on Climate Change. We welcome this. But we also believe that this issue must be reflected in the Gender protocol, one of the best known and most widely canvassed of the SADC Protocols. Cross referencing is vital in this case.

2015: With your leadership, and that of all SADC leaders, yes we can, and yes we must!

Zikomo kwambili!

For further information please contact Lucia Makamure on  27 71  035 8896  or Daud Kayisi on 00  265  88  269 7256

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