You will never know the value of a moment until it becomes a memory – Dr. Seuss
A big hearty congratulations to all Malawi women for the forthcoming celebratory conference marking the 25th anniversary of the historic Beijing UN Women’s International Conference (1995). Already very few of the Malawi women that attended the landmark historic conference, will attend next Wednesday, December 9, 2020 meeting that will take place in Lilongwe.. This is encouraging and heartwarming. The conference is being coordinated by long-term gender champion Emma Kaliya.
Previous events on meetings of this nature were marked by some players being sidelined; hopefully, this wills not the case and the organizers will not make yesteryear’s mistakes. Of paramount importance is the participation of Malawi’s First Lady and Second Lady, parliamentarians, laws, civic and religious leaders, and other captains of industries. Hopefully, the organizers could persuade the VVIPs to re-organize their schedules to enable them to attend this once-in-a-life-time life-changing event.
Frankly, the world is a better place because of Beijing. We have local, regional, continental, and international statutes and policies that are protecting and promoting the lives of women and girls. To quote former US First Lady Hillary Rodham Clinton, “women’s rights are human rights, and human rights are women’s rights.”
Ironically while the BPfA aspires to create an equal environment for women and girls, in the end, it also protects and promotes the rights of boys and men. There are twelve critical areas that came out of Beijing. These are namely: 1. Women and poverty; 2.Education and training of women; 3. Women and health; 4; Violence against women; 5. Women and armed conflict; 6; Women and the economy; 7. Women in power and decision-making; 8. Institutional mechanisms; 9. Human rights of women; 10. Women and the media; 11. Women and the environment; and 12. The girl child. As women’s and girls’ lives improve, so too do the lives of men and boys change for the better.
Numerous landmark events have taken place locally and globally since Beijing among them the establishment of UN Women, women ascending to positions of leadership, various landmark laws on women and girls like gender policy and ending child marriage, raising the term adult from 15 years to 18 years, advances in education and health, the economy, the environment and human rights, among other sectors.
While huge strides have been made globally and admittedly we’ve come a long way, a lot more needs to be done. Now more than ever, more women are needed in the participation pool in not only implementing but living and flourishing in the BPfA.
Former President Dr. Joyce Banda, has in a word, after going to Beijing conference, came back, coordinated the introduction of the Beijing concept along with her fellow Beijing delegates at the Malawi national conference dubbed “Bringing Back Beijing to Malawi” under the Gender Initiative Network (GIN). My publishing company, Now Publications, was engaged in issuing daily 4-page newspapers to record the three-day event. The national conference, attended by President Muluzi and his cabinet, gathered Malawian delegates including chiefs from all corners of the country. The event was successful in that it introduced the Beijing Platform for Action, complete with accommodation and per diems for all delegates.
Dr. Banda, who at that time was a businesswoman, and founder-chair of NABW, like a bullet, forged ahead to single-handedly implement and live by example the many areas of the BPfA. After winning the Hunger Project Sustainable End to Hunger in Africa in 1997, which I was pleased to co-sponsor her nomination, she established a girl’s secondary school, an orphanage, and then entered politics. She later made history by becoming the first woman elected Vice President and much later ascended to become Malawi’s first President, and also the first woman to sit in the SADC Heads of State Summit (which she chaired in 2013-2014).
In her rise in political circles and international stardom, Banda has lifted and raised the profiles of local, ordinary, and professional women, appointing the first female Chief Justice Anastacia Msosa, the first female Chief Secretary, sending more women to diplomatic positions, promoting women in the civil service and many other sectors. Apart from raising her own profile in Malawi, in the SADC region, on the African continent, she also rose internationally, appointed to boards, speak as the guest of honor at conferences, winning awards and honorary doctorates, and pulling women up as she trudges on. She has also written a book titled “From Day One.” Banda joined a small, but growing number of women leaders.
While working at the UN Malawi Mission, I’ve been privileged to meet leaders of Israel and Myanmar. There was great recognition and mention of President Banda’s name after they were told that I am a diplomat from Malawi.
Other members of Malawi delegation to the 1995 Fourth UN Women’s International Conference in Beijing included Edda Chitalo (Minister and head of the delegation), Mrs. Joyce Banda, Emmie Chanika, Mary Nyandovi-Kerr, Vera Chirwa, and Emma Kaliya (this year’s 25th Beijing anniversary commemoration conference).
Turning to the Malawi legal sector, if anyone thought that Chief Justice Nyirenda, the ConCourt judges, and lawyers did a great job in overturning the 2019 presidential election results, frankly speaking, Malawi’s lawyers and judges must be appreciated for their positions on various judgments and policy guidelines in the past 30+ years, viz women and girls. There have been phenomenal men and women; among them Retired Chief Justice Richard Banda, Makuta, Chatsika, Kalaile, Msosa, Makuta, Singini, Mordecai Msiska, Twea, Mwaungulu, Kamanga, Mzondi Chirambo.
Early on when I was publishing The Independent, I had the presumptuousness to ask a Senior Justice to review a child molestation case where a father had caught a young man molesting his daughter. The magistrate had given the accused a 3-month suspended sentence but because he was a first-time offender. Furthermore, the culprit’s father promised to monitor his son’s behavior. He was released back into society. She was, after all, just a child and was not …..(I had stopped listening).
I was so abhorred. I pleaded with the Justice that the child is scarred for life, was seen by her father doing things that are done in private. He put the case under review; he and his team reversed the lower court decision and slapped the molester with six-month in jail term.
BPfA is working, but the story needs to be kept alive, and more needs to be done.
Editor’s Note: Watch this space for Part II: Preparing for the Women’s UN conferences in Malawi