Malawi Multi-Party Women’s Caucus: joint discussion

Multi-Party Women’s Caucus

12 May 2016
Chairperson: Ms N Khunou (ANC) (Acting)
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Meeting Summary

The Multi-Party Women’s Caucus met with the Malawi Multi-Party Women’s Caucus to share their experience of working in Parliament. As the Chairperson of the Steering Committee was attending the SADC Parliamentary Forum Ms Khunou was elected Acting Chairperson of the meeting.

Ms Joy Watson, Senior researcher for the South African Multi-Party Women’s Caucus in Parliament, started off by giving a brief history of the progress made in terms of gender equality and the inclusion of women in politics. The main discussion at the meeting was the inclusion of women in Parliament and what strategies the Steering Committee had to increase the number of women representatives to 50-50. There was not enough time to discuss everything that the delegation wanted to discuss as the meeting was scheduled for only an hour and 30 minutes.

Meeting report

Election of Acting Chairperson
The Committee Secretary Mr Brian Mantyi, called on Members to nominate an Acting Chairperson for the meeting as the Chairperson, Ms N Morutoa (ANC) was attending the SADC Parliamentary Forum.

Ms N Khunou (ANC) was elected Acting Chairperson.

Mr Manty alerted Members that the Malawi delegation had a meeting with the House Chairperson for International Relations and advised that they were on their way.

Opening Remarks
The Acting Chairperson welcomed the delegation from Malawi on behalf of the Chairperson of the South African Multi-Party Women’s Caucus and said she hoped they had received a warm welcome. She was recently in Malawi and had received a warm welcome. We are living in a patriarchal society where men always made women feel inferior and the struggle to make sure that society and male colleagues took them seriously as equals was still ongoing and there was still a long way to go. Women in Parliament were not elected as a favour but were leaders just as their male colleagues were. She asked that everyone introduce themselves, starting with the South African Multi-Party Women’s Caucus.

The Chairperson from Malawi Multi-Party Women’s Caucus thanked the Chairperson and greeted all present, she said it felt good to finally meet the grouping of women in politics and it felt like home as they were talking to people who lived the life that they lived every day. They brought a sample of their Women’s Caucus and as well as the Chairperson of Equal Affairs who was a man as they were committed to bringing men into the struggle for women’s rights and then allowed that they introduce themselves. People who accompanied the Malawi delegation were Ms Ayanda Mvimbi of the UN Women from the Pretoria Office who helped facilitate the visit and Ms Emily Raphambo from the UN Women Malawi Office; and Mr Zingisa Cawe from Parliament’s International Relations section.

The manager of the research support team of the South Africa’s Women’s Caucus, Ms Joy Watson, also introduced herself.

The Acting Chairperson also asked Ms L Van De Merwe (IFP), who came in late to introduce herself.

The Acting Chairperson explained that all women in Parliament were members of the Multi-Party caucus. Two committees dealt with women’s issues including the Committee on Women in the Presidency and the members present in the meeting were part of the Steering Committee for the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus.

Overview by Parliamentary Researcher

Ms Watson gave a short overview of the role of women as well as history of women in Parliament and said she would allow members as well as the delegation to talk about their experiences of working in Parliament. In 1994, at the start of the first democratic parliament, Parliament as an institution was not gender sensitive or women friendly with the physical environment only in favour of men, with toilets being used only by men. Significant work went through redesigning the environment which included creating a crèche for women in Parliament and external issues regarding how to monitor legislation from a gender sensitive perspective in government service delivery. Before 1994 the representation of women in Parliament was very low and after the 2014 national elections there were 41.9% National Assembly members being women and 35.2 % of National Council of Provinces (NCOP) delegates being women. In addition, the Speaker of the National Assembly and Chairperson of the NCOP were also women which showed the significant strides made in changing the representation of women in Parliament. Three provinces had not reached the 40% mark of women representatives at provincial government level, being Gauteng at 36.9 %, Western Cape at 35.7% and Kw Zulu-Natal at 38.7 percent. Local government level had been experiencing significant challenges with regard to representation of women, one of the reasons being that women were not often fronted as candidates, lack of awareness of rights and how to claim them, lack of access to information about laws and policies and institutions that govern peoples’ lives and also the issue of creating a balance between work and family life. While there was significant progress in increasing the number of women in politics there were still some challenges in terms of getting 50/50 representation. The Multi-Party Women’s Caucus looked at women’s issues within the Constitution and ensured that government service delivery and legislation was gender sensitive. While there had been progress in improving and enacting legislation such as the Domestic Violence Act, some of the challenges were not so much related to the legislation being progressive but how to implement them and to ensure there were resources for doing so.

 In terms of access to basic services regarding gender and households 69.2% of South African women had access to water, 80.4 % had access to sanitation, 60.5% had access to waste removal, and 80% had access to electricity. However, male-headed households received more basic government services than females did.

Remarks by Members of the Committee and Malawi Delegation

The Acting Chairperson asked Members of the Steering Committee to share some of their experience working in the Committee and in working towards the liberation of women

Ms G Tseke (ANC) explained the role played by women in Parliament. She highlighted the celebrations done in Parliament around March such as celebrating the women who played a role in the contribution of liberating the country and the legacy they left behind, International Women’s day and Women’s day in August. She mentioned the 16 days of activism which took place in December where awareness is raised on gender based violence. It was the duty of women collectively to fight against patriarchy and raise awareness on women’s rights and ensure that women in rural areas were aware of their rights. Members were still fighting for a 50-50 representation of women in Parliament and in organisations.

Ms C Majeke (UDM) highlighted that government had done quite a lot to include women in businesses, politics, and to try and make sure that women and their households had basic service delivery. Government was also doing all that they could to ensure that women had education.

Ms D Robinson (DA) mentioned that there were many improvements to try to ensure gender equality since the dawn of democracy but given that the country was big there were still challenges and it was not easy to get to every corner of the country, especially rural areas, and not enough funding was allocated to the Departments, particularly the Commission of Gender justice. She raised a question at the Department of Women in the Presidency’s budget debate which took place on 10 May 2016 and asked could the reason of not being allocated enough funding be because women were less important and this department focused on issues related to women. There were challenges in the administration as well where chairpersons were constantly changed and the Committee had been struggling to find their feet. Male patriarchy was still very much a problem and while they might preach equality among men and women it was very often not the case and influence was sometimes very subtle and quite obvious. There still existed a huge problem of domestic violence and abuse and the reason was some men felt displaced and complained that too much focus was given to women and children and they were often neglected and men started feeling inferior. Even though there were measures to try combat domestic violence, these efforts were not enough, with Thuthuzela Care Centres, which were one-stop centres where victims of violence went to find shelter, health services and report abuse and sometimes the women did not receive excellent services and some workers involved were not gender sensitive. The days allocated to raising awareness did have an impact and played a big role in the fight to end gender-based violence and domestic abuse, mentioning the 16 days of activism campaign, but these were very often events-based and not enough was being done every day and throughout the whole year. There remained the common consensus that more needed to be done.

The Acting Chairperson said they were committed to ensuring that the number of women in politics increased and would be going out to support candidates participating in upcoming elections.

Ms M Semenya (ANC) said the system that South Africans found themselves in found it difficult to create a society that was gender sensitive and this was the result of the legacy of apartheid. Women had never been spectators in the struggle of the liberation of the country but active participants, and women came together from different political parties and took part in negotiations. It had been a very difficult journey for the women of South Africa and it was still an ongoing one.

Ms J Basson (ANC) said the apartheid system was created to make women, especially black women, to feel inferior and she recalled being told as an adolescent that a women’s place is in the kitchen and this still upset her. The women in South Africa were fighting hard to overrule that rooted stereotype and campaigns are hosted in order to address these issues.

The Acting Chairperson allowed the Malawi Delegation to give their input.

The Chairperson of the Multi-Party Women’s Caucus from Malawi said they had been listening to a very rich presentation.

Ms Emily from the Malawi delegation remarked on the rich presentations given by the South African members and really appreciated the work that had been done. The question she posed was how did the South African Multi-Party Women’s Caucus assist the departments that sought to empower vulnerable people and what strategies were there to make sure that poverty stricken women were empowered. What strategies were there to make sure that the police officials and security guards who perpetrated violence on women were punished as they were told was sometimes the case. Since South Africa was a big country and was hard to reach all rural areas was there a mapping that allowed citizens from rural areas to reach centres like the Thuthuzela Care Centres rapidly given the lack of availability of phones.

Ms Aisha Adams asked how Steering Committee was supported by civil society and other organisations in making sure that women representation in parliament was high and maintained good performance, as that was also a way of gaining support and trust in their leadership roles.

Ms Beatrice Olipa asked how opposition parties practiced the 50/50 women representative campaigns in their parties, what were the figures of members of Parliament that they had, were they in support of the fight for representation and were they being oppressed by the male members of the parties and if they were, what were they doing to fight it. She also asked whether they carried gifts and gave hand-outs during campaigns because in Malawi they had to have something to give out to the public.

Ms Emily Phiri, also a member of the Malawi delegation, referred to the issue of land and asked what the issue of land distribution was with regard to women.

The Chairperson of the Malawi Multi-Party Women’s Caucus said they have exhausted their questions.

Ms Van De Merwe responded to the question of representation of women in other political parties. She mentioned that it was a very hot topic these days in political parties and in the IFP a decision was made that in the provincial elections campaigns list there should at least be 40% of women and 30% being the youth. It was not a perfect system but it was up to them as women to ensure that women were higher up in the list so that they actually did come into positions of power. On question of whether other institutions lobbied for more representation of women, there were Non-governmental organisations involved as well as the Gender Equality Commission and this Commission required for political parties to have representation of women when lists for election campaign candidates were submitted before the elections. When the lists did not have enough female representation, the Commission wrote to political parties and reprimanded them further asking the parties to correct the list. They did try to take food parcels to the communities and also contacted the Department of Social Development to assist.

Ms Semenya said the issue of land was a contentious issue regardless of the policy of redistribution and was honestly not working. It was a struggle that still needed to be waged. With the issue of giving hand-outs during election campaigns, from her days of being a social activist and fighting for the majority power of the ANC, she remembers teaching people to do the right thing and choose the party they believed should rule regardless of what they received because their vote was what would determine their future, the people decided for themselves and hand-outs differed for each party.

The Chairperson of the Malawi Multi-Party Women’s Caucus saluted the Steering Committee’s Chairperson in her absence as she was someone that she looks up to a lot. The delegation was very aware of the amount of work that the South African Women’s Movement had done in its diversity. She saluted the Speaker of Parliament Ms Baleka Mbete and mentioned that the country had produced strong women leaders outside of Parliament too like Ms Miriam Makeba who addressed the UN at the age of 23. She hoped to still continue discussions between both sides and as a caucus. She was particularly interested to know where their support came from because one of the challenges that the delegation experienced was not having researchers, clerks and offices to help tackle a budget, especially coming from a background where religion and culture taught them to stay at home and raise children and they still often encountered such treatment when they raised their grievances. She would have wanted to hear how the committee transcended party lines, put away their differences and managed to form an allegiance as women and put women first.

Her question on the reduction of women in parliament had been partly answered and the Committee should remember that getting women in Parliament should not be looked at as an event but as a process. Leadership had no gender, and women were born leaders as they gave birth to everybody, which was leading in itself and it was unfortunate that she felt she had to bring out her CV to show that she was a leader. She thanked the members and said she would have loved to know more about what the Steering Committee was doing to speed up the inclusion of women in political spaces and asked if they could all take a photo which she could show to other members in Malawi. She thanked the Acting Chairperson for the opportunity and then mentioned that the fight still continued.

The Acting Chairperson asked for the exchange of contact details as there were so many issues that need to be discussed. She assured them that they would be visiting Malawi.

The Acting Chairperson thanked everyone present at the meeting.

The meeting was adjourned. 


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