By Jenipher Changwanda

Gender Activists in Malawi are calling for equal representation of women and men in decision making process after former President Peter Mutharika announced the restructuring of special cabinet committee on Covid-19 to a taskforce.

Mutharika appointed a 21-member presidential taskforce of which four are women, representing 19 percent, a development that has led gender activists to express discontentment with the move. They argue that this is contradicting key legislations of women representation in decision making that mandate a 60:40 gender quota.

Among other duties, the presidential task force is mandated to receive updates on Covid-19 and ensure that the same is relayed to Malawians and facilitate implementation of activities aimed at mitigating the impact of the disease on the social-economic development of the country.

Executive Director of Malawi Human Rights Resource Centre, (MHRRC) Emma Kaliya was quoted in the local media saying that inclusion of women in the presidential taskforce will help the country to tackle issues concerning women and young girls during and after Covid-19 such as gender-bases violence and sexual reproductive health rights.

Chairperson for NGO-Gender Coordination Network (NGOGCN), Barbara Banda says that the 19 percent is way below the agreed 60:40 gender quota which is prescribed in several legal instruments such as gender equality act and others.

“This development clearly shows that political will lies among key barriers to the nation`s progress on gender equality and empowerment of women. Being a global HeforShe champion, he should have done better than this,” Banda says.

She explains that the need for more female representation in the Covid-19 national task force could not be overemphasized as the pandemic wears a female face.

“Global trends on the Covid-19 pandemic show that more women are on the suffering end of the negatives of the pandemic.  Many women are forced to `lockdown` at home with their abusers. Un paid work has increased, with children out of school, heightened care needs of older persons and overwhelmed health services,” Banda says.

An analysis of Covid-19 and women rights released by the  office the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (ONHCR) in conjunction with African Union (AU) hopes that inclusion of women and gender experts in policy development and decision-making process will help countries in Africa to find solution for different realities that women are facing due to the pandemic.

The analysis which is offering possible actions that could be taken to reduce the risks of women and girls being left behind as a result of the pandemic, recognizes that the Covid-19 pandemic is not just a heath issue. It is also a profound shock to our societies and economies and also a burden to women who are embedded in the society- deepening pre -existing inequalities, exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which are in turn amplifying the impacts of the pandemic.

Banda believes that appointing qualified and competent women in the taskforce means that they are likely to put into consideration challenges that fellow women and the likely outcomes of these challenges during and after the pandemic as well as bring in realistic and practical solution to the same.

“Only involvement of competent women is likely to put thorough considerations on several challenges which women are facing and bring in realistic and practical solution to the same,” Banda says.

Executive Director for Women Legal Resource Centre (WOLREC), Maggie Kathewera Banda says the 19 percent women representation in the presidential taskforce on Covid-19 pandemic is retrogressive, bearing in mind that Malawi is a signatory to several legal instruments that mandate equal representation of women and men in decision-making processes.

“With all legal instruments on gender equality that the country has signed and ratified, the President could have done better. This shows that we are going backwards on gender equality,” Banda says.

Banda says that women need to participate in decision-making processes on Covid-19 so that their needs should also be taken on board.

” Lack of participation of women will result in the committee coming up with strategies that might not work for women. So, it is important to have a gender-balanced committee. It will help women to ably explain their lived experiences and guide the committee in what should be done pertaining to women welfare during and after the pandemic,” she said.

Kaliya says Gender Activists are worried because under representation of women in decision process in Malawi is just like a norm despite several lobbying and advocacy initiatives.

“Apart from lobbying for equal representation in the presidential taskforce on Covid-19, we have been calling for 40:60 gender quota but authorities are not following what they signed and ratified”, says Kaliya

Apart from the local gender equality act, Malawi is also a signatory of several gender legal instruments including the African Union Agenda 2063 that calls for an Africa which relies on the potential of African people especially its women and youth, and where all citizens  will be actively involved in decision making in all aspects without exclusion inter alia on the basis of gender.

The Maputo Protocol and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) also edge Malawi to regard women and men as equal partners at all levels of development plus implementation of state policies and guarantees equal participation of women and men in politics and decision-making process respectively.

With these legal instruments, Malawi Government needs to walk the talk by translating these papers into actions. Having figures below gender quota in the fight against Covid-19 pandemic will not only leave young people and women behind but also clog sustainable solutions during and after pandemic as this will inhibit diverse perspectives.

Women are making critical contributions because of their over representation in key roles such as health, agriculture and informal sectors and in their communities. communities. These are all areas that have been heavily impacted by the pandemic so there is a need for them to be consulted and represented by taking on board different realities that women are facing and making tangible solutions for women with women.

Jenipher Changwanda is a Malawian journalist. This article is part of the GL News Services and Covid-19 news series.