Lessons from the Malawi Electoral Cycle Support Project in promoting women empowerment within the workplace
Seated on a long table cluttered with pliers, screwdrivers and other electrical tools and equipment, is Diane Mgemezulu Mwanza. Her face concentrated as she works on the equipment in front of her.
She is one of the technicians, working to repair and maintain the Biometric Registration Kits that have been used for the voter registration exercise, and based at the Malawi Electoral Commission Warehouse in Lilongwe.
The Biometric Registration Kits that enabled the use of the National Identity Card as the primary means of identification for the voter registration has been lauded by some, as key to having the cleanest voter register in Malawi's history.
As an essential component for the electoral processes, the smooth and successful operation of the voter registration exercise, has been dependent on the work of the National Registration Bureau technicians like Diane, who worked diligently in maintaining and repairing the Biometric Registration Kits that were used in all the phases of the exercise.
The story of Daine Mgemezulu as one of the trained technicians, is one of dedication and resilience as she follows her dream in a field that is largely dominated by men.
“I became interested in the field of Computer Sciences when I became aware of the trend that the world was going towards, in terms of technology advancement. This is what drew me to it. I wanted to be part of the group working to help Malawi develop technologically. I did not want to be left behind in my knowledge and passion, so I enrolled for a programme in Information Technology in 2009. From there, I decided to go further and enrolled for a bachelor’s degree programme at the University of Malawi, Chancellor College,” said Diane.
The field of Science, technology, engineering, and mathematics, famously known as STEM, has historically carried the stereotype as a field for ‘men and boys’, that is embedded in our society and continues to hinder women’s representation in the field.
The young women technicians trained and oriented by the National Registration Bureau in the aspects of computer sciences and electrical engineering, are an excellent demonstration on how the Electoral Support project has gone far and beyond to challenge gender stereotypes within their workforce in the electoral processes.
The Sustainable Development Goal 5, calls for achieving gender equality and empowering women and girls. And similarly, The Gender Equality Act that was enacted in 2013 in the country, calls for enhancing women’s equal rights including access to economic resources through education opportunities and employment opportunities in public service.
However, although women’s participation in all areas of society is important to make lasting change for themselves and for the nation, in many ways women and girls lag behind.
UNDP Malawi is working with other partners in promoting the participation of women and youth in the electoral processes, as Malawi prepares for the 2019 Tripartite Elections.
As the UNDP Resident Representative Ad Interim, Ms. Claire Medina states: We have a lot of young women who were either previously hired during the Mass Registration Campaign, and some that are new recruits, operating the Biometric Registration Kits. All those hired have also mentioned that this work exposure was precious experience they could take forward into a future career”.
Diane explains that the knowledge and skills gained from her work, both as the Registration Officer for the National Registration Campaign and now as a technician, responsible for maintaining the Biometric Kits that were used for the voter registration will help her grow her career.
“Even though this is quite a short contract, I have still managed to learn a few important things to help grow my career in this field. The training we were given was a bit more theory, so this practical work has been enlightening and exciting to do the actual work”, she said.
Promoting women empowerment is one of the crucial roles that UNDP in partnership with the UNWomen Malawi continue to advance, including in its work for the Electoral Support Basket Fund Project, that is financed by the EU, DFID UK, Ireland, Norway, USAID, and UNDP itself.
“To make sustainable development work for all, we need effective and inclusive governance institutions that embrace excluded groups. We must therefore ensure that women and other excluded groups participate in elections processes”, said the UNDP Resident Representative.
Diane has nothing but praise for the other technicians and officers working to support the electoral processes. She said, “Unlike some of my previous experiences, working for this assignment that has a lot more men than women, has been easier than I expected. They treat us all equally and we all work together, regardless of our gender”.
To help other women in advancing their careers, Diane is using her experience in a field that has traditionally been associated as ‘more suited for men’ to reach out to other women to stay in school and follow their dreams.
“My message to the women out there struggling and being excluded simply because of their gender; Let us stand up and demand to be treated as equal human beings. There is no such thing as a field that is more suited for men than women. Find what you are passionate about, get the required skills and education and follow your dreams”, she said.