Miss Malawi to contest in elections

Miss Malawi to contest in elections

Date: January 1, 1970
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Reigning Miss Malawi Perth Msiska is jumping on the campaign trail, aspiring to contest on the ruling Democratic Progressive Party (DPP) ticket for Blantyre West constituency in the country’s 2009 elections. For a country lagging behind when it comes to gender equality in politics, with just under 14% of the 193 members of parliament being women, Msiska’s political aspirations will serve as an example to the country.

The 2006/ 2007 pageant winner says she has received a lot of support from family members, traditional leaders and the Non-governmental Organisation (NGO) Gender Coordinating Network. "My family has given me the go ahead, and the gender network is supporting all the activities in this race," said Msiska during an interview with a local radio station.
Msiska decision to run stems from the charitable work she has been doing with struggling Malawians, conducted as part of her Miss Malawi obligations. She believes that as a Member of Parliament she will have a wider platform to assist the poor. She based her choice to stand on the ruling ticket on her conviction that the policies of DPP help to create an environment that promotes the welfare of women and the poor.
Msiska’s motivations echo what gender activists have been arguing for some time, that women bring unique priorities and perspectives to politics. For example, research for the study “At the Coalface: Gender and Local Government in Southern Africa,” found overwhelming evidence that ensuring women are present in decision-making ensures that issues of concern to women are on the table.
Published by Gender Links, a Southern African non-governmental organisation specialising in gender, governance and the media, the research suggests that many see women as more accessible, better at communicating, and more concerned about the every day issues that get lost in big picture politics.
This research confirmed a previous study, entitled “Ringing Up The Changes,” that showed that where women are represented in politics in significant numbers and enjoy enabling work environments, they make a marked difference to governance, having positive impacts on institutional culture, attitudes, laws, policies, and service delivery. Along with championing gender equality, women in top decision-making positions play a role in ensuring that gender is taken into account in policies and laws in mainstream portfolios like mining and agriculture.
The study, based on interviews with 172 politicians in six Southern African countries, concluded that women’s equal participation in decision-making is not just a democratic right, but is critical to more accountable and responsive governance,
Malawi failed to achieve the 30% women representation goal declared by the Southern African Development Community (SADC), and with the bar now elevated to 50% there is a need for pro-active campaigns and such positive women role models. Women candidates can both encourage others to participate in elections and encourage women voters.
It is heartening to see that more and more women are coming forward to fill this gap by declaring their interest to contest seats in the forthcoming polls. Sunganani Banda, wife to celebrated musician and former Member of Parliament Luscious Banda will stand for Balaka north, the area represented by her husband until his conviction last year for forging a school certificate in order to gain a parliamentary seat. Sungani will go unopposed, as no one will compete with in the primaries in Balaka north.
To help promote the numbers of women contesting in the forthcoming general elections, the NGO Gender Coordinating Network, Malawi Human Rights commission (MHRC), and Action Aid Malawi launched a campaign in February 2008 to encourage women’s participation. The campaign seeks to motivate and support more women to take up leadership roles. The result has been more women from various walks of life aspiring to be members of parliament next year.
The support of such NGOs is important to women candidates. Women candidates face a number of social and cultural challenges, but economic disadvantage is what often stands in their way. Many fail to win the primary elections due to lack of financial resources, as compared to their male counterparts who tend to have much more money to campaign.
Msiska, whose aspirations also include becoming a chartered accountant, is already a role model in the country, and will hopefully motivate more women to take an active interest in the political process, as well as boost the morale of those who have already shown interest to go to parliament in 2009.
The next step is to ensure that the voting public understands the importance of gender balance in power. If elected, these women are sure to bring a different perspective to the political landscape.
Daniel Manyowa is a freelance journalist based in Malawi. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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