Just mention her name and anyone with a goodwill for this tiny, landlocked, poverty impoverished southern African state honestly agrees that she is one of few, humble daughters of substance and a role model for a girl child and fellow women at all levels in this country and even beyond the borders!

This great woman is Malawi’s Vice-President (VP) Joyce Hilda Banda whose qualities and past contributions including hardworking background had prior to the 2009 general elections, won President Bingu wa Mutharika’s heart to hand pick her as his running mate disregarding his fellow men in Democratic Progressive Party (DPP).

Banda has vast experiences that have contributed to Malawi’s social-economic development before rising to the position of VP.

The experiences among other things include in international relations acquired while serving and travelling to many countries including Iran as Malawi’s Foreign Affairs Minister.

It was even Banda, on behalf of all Malawians who had put pen to paper when the country decided to switch-off ties with the tiny dragon, [Republic of Taiwan (Taipei)] to light the candle of diplomatic cordial relations with its giant mother, People’s Republic of China (Beijing).

The Lilongwe-Beijing relations that were sealed by Banda on behalf of Malawians have within a short time seen Malawi witnessing some visible infrastructure developments including New Parliament Building, Five Star Hotel in Lilongwe, Cotton Factory in Balaka, on-going construction of Karonga-Chitipa Road in the north, Malawi University of Science and Technology (MUST) in Thyolo and an earmarked stadium construction in Lilongwe.

Banda, wife to Malawi’s retiring Chief Justice Richard Banda, has even been recognized on the international scene due to her hardworking efforts and contributions in social-economic development in Malawi.

She was among others recognized internationally for contributing in the fight against poverty and hunger while working at Hunger Project where just as the First Lady Callista Mutharika was also internationally recognized on the same efforts. when she was working for the same organization before becoming motherof Malawi nation.

Banda also fought for fellow women economic empowerment while heading National Association of Business Women (NABW).

Further, she is first ever Malawi’s female VP who has also been contributing to education improvement in the country through her Joyce Banda Foundation.

Just few months ago Banda, daughter to one of Malawi’s great musician cum policeman, late Gray Mtila, was also in recognition of her hardworking efforts invited to give lecture at Harvard University in the United States (US).

Recently, the reputable international Forbes Africa Magazine also announced that Banda ranks the third most powerful woman in politics, business and other sectors in Africa after Africa’s lone female President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Nigeria’s woman Finance Minister.

As if not enough Joyce Banda was further invited by newly elected Zambia’s President Michael Sata to attend Zambia’s 47 year Independence celebration in Lusaka since that country attained self rule from Britain on October 24.

As this gender feature appears on Africanews.com Joyce has also been invited to a keynote address at a high profile International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Dakar, Senegal in November this year.

Banda’s invitation to Dakar comes after Malawi Government removed her from the position of Malawi’s Goodwill Ambassador for Safe Motherhood in April last year.

Joyce was replaced by Mutharika’s wife, Callista who has since been included on the list of Cabinet as the National Coordinator for Maternal/Infant and Child Health, HIV and AIDS/Nutrition/Malaria and Tuberculosis.

One would have automatically thought that with the envious, strong track record attached to Banda and as second in command in authority in Malawi she would have at whatever cost been the first to receive support from Mutharika, DPP and government to try her lack for the 2014 presidency.

After all, Joyce’s track record and several studies by some researchers that reveal that women can make good leaders on the continent than men because most women unlike most men have empathy hence could put more interests of the electorate ahead during their rule than men just vindicates that Bingu made a wise choice by picking and grooming this hardworking woman to become Malawi’s next president!

Mutharika had already earlier invested in Banda for the highest office through appointing her in some important decision making positions in government for instance as Foreign Affairs as well as Gender and Child Welfare Minister, before choosing her to be his running mate.

This was even why the vocal DPP’s Director of Women also current Malawi Government spokeswoman (Minister of Information and Civic Education) Patricia Kaliati went in town with pomp and great pride awashing Bingu with alot of praises for picking Joyce as his running mate and becoming VP before and after the last general elections respectively.

“Honourable Joyce Banda’s rise to Malawi’s first woman Vice President is a great honour from State President Professor Bingu wa Mutharika to all women. It symbolises that every woman in this country is also a vice president in her own right,” said Kaliati then.

However, after using Banda as a political bait to attract more votes especially from women since according to Malawi Electoral Commission (MEC) statistics 60 in every 100 registered voters in the 2009 general elections were women, she was dumped on allegations of creating parallell structures in DPP [whose slogan believes in promoting three pillars of progress/development, security and justice] yet the ruling party’s application of justice remains questionable.

How can anyone fail to question the ruling party’s justice application after firing Joyce Banda for creating parallel structures in the party and endorsing Bingu’s young brother, Peter as the party’s 2014 presidential candidate when the fact is that Peter has also directly or indirectly created parallell structures in DPP through his imposition on the party without the party first holding a convention since its formation over five years ago?

Was it even democratic and fair for Democratic Progressive Party to declare that Banda’s expulsion from the party was a Christmas gift for its suporters in the country last year after the VP differed with the party’s National Governing Council(NGC) decision to impose Peter Mutharika on the party as its 2014 presidential candidate before holding a convention?

Since her expulsion from DPP, Malawi Government and the ruling party’s agents including state controlled but taxpayers financed Malawi Broadcasting Corporation (MBC), government and presidential spokespersons, the ruling party’s officials have all been doing all they can to frustrate Banda from performing her duty as a democratically elected VP in one way or the other.

To frustrate Banda’s duty as VP, the DPP led government has been throwing some spanners in her office by among other things snatching one of the vehicles on her convoy, banning her from using a sirene, cutting down allocated resources to her office, denying her coverage on MBC and exchanging war of words with her after she has criticised some of the state’s wrong decisions.

Following her expulsion from DPP Joyce alongside other politicians formed People’s Party (PP) some months ago.

But PP’s formation has seen Mutharika filing a case to seek a judicial review to determine whether a VP who is not part of the ruling party can still remain part of government and not have constructively resigned from public office.

This is despite Mutharika himself after dumping the party that had usherred him into office in 2004 [United Democratic Front (UDF)] to form his DPP that party did not take such an initiative against the President because like any Malawian citizen has the right of political association.

“The honourable thing the Vice-President Honourable Joyce Banda can do is to resign from government because she cannot be part of this government and attack it at the same time,” charged presidential spokesperson Hetherwick Ntaba adding that every member of any government elsewhere worldwide supports and not embarrass it.

But Banda said only Malawian voters can remove her from public office.

“The decision to remove me from public office is with all Malawians who had put me in this office through their votes during the general elections in May 2009,” said Banda.

Since succeeding Bakili Muluzi as President Bingu wa Mutharika has won alot of praise from Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) in Malawi and the international community for his efforts in women empowerment.

“From the word go after taking the reigns of power from former president Dr. Bakili Muluzi, State President Professor Bingu wa Mutharika has appointed women in high ranking decision making positions.

These include former Attorney General Jane Ansah now a Judge in the Supreme Court of Appeal, Vice President Joyce Banda, Director of Public Prosecution (DPP) Rosemary Kanyuka, in the cabinet, directors in ministries, in Malawi’s foreign missions just but mentioning a few,” said Gender Child and Community Development Principal Secretary (PS) Eric Ning’ang’a.

The PS even differed with some circles claiming that Joyce Banda’s removal from DPP was a setback on gender equality and women empowerment in Malawi.

“What are they talking about? Honourable Joyce Banda is still Malawi’s Vice-President and as a journalist yourself you are even aware of the efforts Professor Bingu wa Mutharika has made on women empowerment and that few years ago he even received a torch in Oslo, Norway in recognition of such efforts in this country,” charged Ning’ang’a.

He added:”Malawi Government recognizes that gender equality is a token for social-economic development. It’s a fact that as government we fully recognize that gender equality and empowerment of women is globally recognized as a human right and integral issue to achieving Millenium Development Goals (MDGs).”

But contrary to Malawi Government’s claims that it recognizes that equal opportunities between men and women are vital in achieving MDGs to eradicate poverty Joyce Banda’s treatment exposes how women in Malawi and southern Africa despite having all it takes and even surpassing men are being denied leadership and resources for development.

This is instead of giving the women support to hold important decision-making positions and resources opportunities to contribute to social-economic development.

In fact DPP regional governor for the south Noel Masangwi said there is no way Malawians can elect a woman in the highest office of president because the time is not yet ripe.
“Malawi is not ready for a female president,” he said.

However, Jacqueline Adhiambo-Oduol at the United Nations (UN) Division for the Advancement of Women (DAW) said poor developing countries like Malawi in Africa will continue struggling to achieve social-economic development to eradicate poverty if their mindsets will not accept women as agents of development.

She emphasized that there is an urgent need for societies on the continent to transform their traditions into vehicles for women’s empowerment to enable them take leadership roles and access resources to contribute to social-economic development to eradicate poverty.

“Women constitute a large proportion of the poor in Africa as elsewhere in the world. Addressing the survival needs of women is therefore central to the formulation of policies aimed at eradicating poverty,” said Oduol adding that it requires more than just policy formulation to eradicate poverty.

She said addressing poverty requires approaches that do not view women as mere objects of policy who are instrumental to development, “but as agents of production, growth and change whose potential has been constrained in many countries by social and cultural norms underpinned by traditions.”

“In many African countries, there is still a lack of appreciation of women’s rights and gender equality. Thus, women and girls face discrimination in areas ranging from ownership of assets to access to social and economic services. This discrimination, coupled with the influence of traditional practices is a significant obstacle in the quest for women’s empowerment,” said Oduol.

She added:”The empowerment of women is an absolute necessity for countries that are prepared to face the challenges of globalization, as reflected in the global integration of trade, finance, investment and use of new technology.”

Malawi’s Gender Child and Community Development Minister Reen Kachere said one stumbling block to women empowerment in leadership and access to resources for development in the country is men’s lack of appreciation that women are contributing alot in development.

“For example, 70 percent of our agricultural production is done by women but they get little from it yet they deserve respect and to be given space so that we develop this country together,” said Kachere.

She further said women in Malawi [over half of the country’s over 13 million population] are contributing a lot in social-economic development at household and national levels through informal trading in rural and urban areas through selling their produce in markets hence play a role in fight against poverty.

Kachere also said women also shoulder the burden of caring for those infected and affected by HIV and AIDS, caring for orphans and providing support to households gripped by the pandemic.

She however, explained that women in Malawi are contributing in social-economic development amid a lot of challenges including lack of access to credit, markets for their produce, land and farm equipment to produce food in the field, water and sustainable energy sources.

“Women are also walking long distances to access health facilities and are unable to access information on their rights, to know, claim and defend them,” said Kachere.

She disclosed that her vision is to see women in Malawi access equal opportunities with men at all levels to enable them fully contribute to their society’s social-economic development to eradicate poverty.

Kachere explained that the road to empowerment and attaining decision-making positions for women in Malawi has not been easy and cited the low number of female Members of Parliament (MPs) as an example.

“When it came to the Parliamentary seats we only managed to get 4 percent after working so hard in 1994,” she said.

Kachere disclosed that after noting that men were then monopolizing the seats in Malawian Parliament, women decided to have their own movements to support each other to secure seats in the House.

“After mobilizing ourselves then we moved from the previous 4 percent in 1994 to 8 percent in 1999 and we progressed with the movement and we came to 16 percent in 2004 and until now we roughly have 24 percent representation of women in Parliament,” she said.

Before joining Malawi government, Kachere has been in the forefront fighting for women’s rights and empowerment.

She disclosed that after noting that women in Malawi were for many years just political spectators instead of participating she was part of members of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) championing for women empowerment.

“I have worked as an activist for 15 years to promote women in politics and decision-making before I joined politics,” she said adding,“If more women are empowered and hold key decision-making positions in our society, their voices will be heard, the country will achieve more social-economic developments at all levels and we will be able to eradicate poverty.”

Unless women are empowered with resources and leadership roles in Malawi achieving outstanding social economic development and poverty eradication remains a dream.

Women make a greater part of Malawi’s population but are denied opportunities and resources.

And when hardworking and women achievers like Joyce Banda are being intimidated through among other things blocking them from leadership opportunities, this boosts inferior complex in most women to continue believing that they are a weaker sex while men are stronger hence have to lead in everything.

Malawi Government recognizes that women empowerment is a token for development hence is party to regional and international Protocols aiming at promoting equal oportunities for men and women.

However, more still has to be done because for example, the 24 percent Parliamentary women representation is below the 50 percent by 2015 agreed by most Southern Africa Development Corporation (SADC) leaders after they had signed the Protocol on Gender and Development some years ago.

It is also far lower than the 30 percent women representation in key decison-making position by 2005 target which was set by the SADC region.

Therefore, it is a clear fact that while some strides have indeed been achieved to promote equal opportunities for men and women by Malawi Government, women are still weeping for power and resources to contribute to social-economic development to eradicate poverty in the country.

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ZIMENE MUMAKONDA

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