As Malawian MPs prepare for their national election next year, female parliamentarians face unique challenges.
Catriona Matheson is visiting the country to provide media training for Malawi’s Women’s Caucus, and reports from the constituency of Dedza East.
When Malawian MP Juliana Lunguzi tours her constituency, she distributes newspapers from her car window to people at the side of the road.
On the day she asked the Malawian government to step up efforts to tackle cholera. Juliana says she delivers the newspapers just like a traveling library” she laughs, and that it’s a cost she is willing to personally pay so her constituents have access to them.
Newspapers are not sold or delivered in these parts of Dedza East, her rural constituency south of Malawi’s capital, Lilongwe. “The papers don’t last long, as lots of people want them, or like to tear bits out”, she narrated.
“I ask how many people can read them. “Less than forty percent of the communities are literate.”
And therein lies one of the many challenges facing Malawi’s parliamentarians, as they campaign to hold on to their seats at next year’s national elections.
Juliana is passionate about improving literacy and said that many children in Malawi still learn under the tree an aspect that many don’t attend classes due to the lack of facilities.
“We cannot talk about child marriage but we need to start with classrooms. Families will keep their girls at home, to do domestic chores, and if they’re not in education they will remain illiterate and be more likely to get married younger.” She said.
According to her, when it comes to politics, illiteracy is also holding back the representation of women. Malawi’s parliament conducts all business in English yet many women, particularly from poorer backgrounds, speak only their local tongue, and they can’t write.