The purpose of this case study is to assess the effectiveness of the efforts by Malawian NGO Gender Coordination Network (NGO-GCN) in their 50/50 Campaign leading up to the national tripartite elections that took place in May 2014. Although the 50/50 Campaign, a movement that encourages gender equality in legislative bodies, is a cause that has been taken up by many NGOs across several African nations, the 2014 national elections in Malawi are of special interest because of the obvious backslide in gender equality in parliamentary representation that occurred. Most notably, the percentage of MPs who were female jumped from 13.99 percent to 22.27 percent from 2004 to 2009; however, that percentage dropped to 16.58 percent after the 2014 elections, marking the only drop in the percentage of female MPs since the country’s restoration of democratic elections in 1994. While this case study will not attempt to address all of the political and social factors that contributed to the 2014 election results, it will instead examine the efforts of the 50/50 Campaign in attempt to achieve gender parity in Malawi’s National Assembly. Specifically, it analyzes the effectiveness of 50/50 Campaign’s monetary contributions and advising efforts in the campaigns of female parliamentary candidates. Ultimately, this case study finds that while there is no evidence to suggest that the efforts of the 50/50 Campaign actively hindered the success of female candidates’ campaigns, the contributions the 50/50 Campaign made were too small to carry out important campaign activities such as community events and large-scale platform promotion. Additionally, the 50/50 Campaign’s efforts were primarily focused on ensuring women had access to resources that are necessary for running a campaign rather than working to educate society on the importance of women’s leadership; consequently, the 50/50 Campaign failed to address deeply-held misogynistic attitudes that remain a significant obstacle for political women in Malawi.
Key Lessons Learned
It cannot be assumed that women will support other women in political endeavors; i.e. increased female voter participation does not guarantee an increase in successful female electoral campaigns
Increased financial support of individual female candidates does not necessarily translate to increased equality in representation.
Organizations interested in achieving gender-equal representation should increase focus on gender-inclusive education to fight negative stigmas associated with female political agency
From its declaration of independence from Great Britain in 1964, Malawi was ruled by the Malawi Congress Party under the leadership of Dr. Hastings Kamuzu Banda. The Malawi Congress Party quickly consolidated political power in Malawi and operated as the nation’s sole political party for nearly thirty years. However, it became apparent that while Malawi’s constitution declared it to be a republic, the combination of the vast powers granted to the presidential office and the one-party electoral system caused it to operate in a more autocratic fashion. Amid pressure from Western donors to implement multi-party democracy, Banda’s government, “established the President’s Committee President’s Committee for Dialogue and agreed to hold an internationally supervised national referendum on the one-party system.” The results of the referendum revealed that 63 percent of the Malawian’s who participated were in favor of a multi-party system. The Malawi Constitution was amended to support multiple political parties, and term limits were established to ensure that the lifelong presidency Banda that had imposed could not happen again.
The first elections in the newly democratic Malawi took place in May 1994 and resulted in the election of the United Democratic Front’s (UDF) Bakili Muluzi. He served as president until 2004 when Bingu wa Mutharika was elected. While Malawi’s second election occurred at the expected time and included a peaceful transition of power, suggesting the indoctrination of democratic principles, there was an issue of equal representation. The disparity between the number of males and females holding public office was problematic in that it did not comply with the Southern African Development Community’s Gender Protocol, which dictated that a minimum target of 30 percent female representation in parliament should be in effect. While Malawi signed this agreement in 1994, it was woefully far from reaching the target during the 2004 election and only achieved 13.99 women representation.
In anticipation for the 2009 election, NGOs oriented toward achieving gender equality representation like the NGO-GCN became far better organized and received support from key government agencies like the Malawi Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare. Launched ahead of the 2009 election, the actions of the NGO-CGN’s 50/50 Campaign involved providing individual female candidates with funds for their own campaigns, provided campaign materials like flyers and t-shirts, and three minutes of broadcast time on major radio stations to share their platforms. These measures seemed to have a reasonable level of success, as the percentage of female MPs in the National Assembly jumped from 13.99 to 22.27 percent.
However, the 2014 election brought unprecedented setbacks on the national and parliamentary levels in terms of gender parity. Joyce Banda, the presidential incumbent, lost her campaign against Peter Mutharika, bringing about the second presidential transition of power under Malawi’s multi-party system. In the parliamentary election, only 32 out of 261 female candidates won their races, making the percentage of female National Assembly members a mere 16.58 percent. In a nation that had previously signed an agreement pledging to achieve thirty percent women representation, the 2014 election cycle signified a substantial break in the progress that had been made in gender-equal representation.
The Gender Coordination Network (NGO-CGN) is a network of NGOs in Malawi that is dedicated to coordinating activities of NGOs that work to promote issues of gender equality and women’s rights. Established in 1998, the organization’s mission is to, “promote gender equality and equity in Malawi through coordination, lobbying, advocacy, information sharing, and capacity building of its members.”
The Southern African Development Community is an economic community that works to fight poverty and establish peace and security within member states. Established in 1992, it is comprised of fifteen member states (including Malawi) and issues legally binding protocols that commit member states to achieving certain standards within the area relevant to the protocol. In 2008, the SADC issued the Protocol on Gender and Development that committed Malawi to taking steps to achieve fifty percent female representation in, “decision-making positions in the private and public sectors.”
The Malawi Ministry of Gender, Children, Disability, and Social Welfare is a government-mandated organization whose mission is, ‘to promote social economic empowerment and protection of women and children using community and welfare approaches.”
Relevant donors to the 50/50 Campaign included ActionAid, Oxfam, and Danish Church Aid as well as the Royal Norwegian Embassy in Malawi (RNE), UNDP, and UNFPA.
One of the most important aspects of the 50/50 Campaign was the campaign’s decision to provide financial support for individual candidates. In the 2014 election cycle, the 50/50 Campaign provided all female parliamentary candidates who requested assistance with a total of MWK 200,000 in cash payments (equivalent to about $500 US dollars) to support some of their campaign costs; female candidates for local council positions were provided with MWK 100,000. Additionally, the 50/50 campaign provided female parliamentary candidates with distributable campaign materials (such as t-shirts, banners, and flyers).
In terms of non-monetary support, the 50/50 Campaign provided female parliamentary candidates with mentoring throughout the campaign process to provide them with advice regarding platform development, strategic campaigning advice, and marketing for public community events. Additionally, they provided legal counsel for female candidates who wished to contest the results of their race.
Results and Key Takeaways
Overall, the efforts taken by the 50/50 Campaign to achieve gender parity in Malawi’s National Assembly fell short of its goal of increasing the number of female MPs in the National Assembly, as the total percentage of female MPs fell by six percent.
In terms of financial aid, some female candidates found that the money and promotional given to them by the 50/50 campaign were simply not sufficient to make any meaningful difference in their own campaigns; in the ODI Report, one candidate said that MWK 200,000 allotted to her from the 50/50 Campaign was, “enough for one meeting.” Another candidate reported that she chose not to distribute the t-shirts provided by the 50/50 campaign because giving out the small number of shirts provided to her would cause animosity among her support base and would ultimately be more harmful than giving away nothing. Therefore, if the 50/50 Campaign chooses to continue providing financial support to female candidates, they must secure enough funding to be able to provide them with more substantial amounts of money.
The most glaring critique of the 50/50 Campaign’s efforts in the 2014 elections were that the NGOs involved focused more heavily on increasing the number of eligible female candidates rather than addressing misogynistic attitudes that still pervade many aspects of Malawian society. According to the University of Malawi’s Afrobarometer polling dispatch, only sixty-one percent of Malawians believe that women should have the same chance as men to pursue leadership positions; the survey also found that men and women were equally as likely to believe that women should be able to pursue elected positions. Additionally, a 2014 survey taken by the University of Malawi found that thirty-seven percent of Malawians believe that men make better political leaders than women. While these surveys do not enumerate the reasoning behind the poll results, they suggest that Malawian men and women are equally likely to hold views that are problematic for the progression of female political leadership. In order to combat negative perceptions of women’s leadership, the 50/50 Campaign could support education initiatives that work to highlight accomplishments of female politicians and encourage discourse and diversity of thought regarding gender roles.
Directives for Future Campaigns
Task individual NGOs with creating educational programs and events that highlight the importance of gender equality
Increase budget to provide female candidates for National Assembly seats with more significant (at least double) campaign donations than they received in the 2014 election cycle
Task NGOs with conducting surveys that ask voters if/why they would be hesitant to vote for a female candidate
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