September 7, 2009
For me this bill has exposed the following issues:
1 The myth of civil society representing the people. I remember sitting in a UNICEF meeting over this issue in 2006 but the way people reacted when this bill went through parliament exposed a disconnect between ‘people’ and those who are said to represent. There was so much furori, it made me question myself as a civil society member the validity of my role in our democracy (assuming that we have one). I think now that President has sent this law back for review, the question is how do we know that it will not just be discussed by men and women in some offices and fail to trickle down to the average Malawian, the very person whom all of us occupying spaces of power in post-neo-colonial Malawi purport to represent. Is there such a thing in the first place? Isnt such a notion a sham, an insult to people’s agency and more a way to amass power for ourselves, the educated elite rather than a way to govern? I do hope that now that we have a second chance to listen to public voice, we will take every effort to let people speak in langauges and spaces accessible to them. When this bill was passed, the fact that the age had been at 15 seemed to be news to many and the handling of this law left a lot to be desired. I hope that this time around, it will be handled better.
2 Another thing this bill exposed was the dictatorship we are now living in. One wonders why the ministry of gender would be the first one to cry fowl when all thse ministries have representitives in parliarment. Where was this opposition in parliarment, whey did it come belatedly? How many other bills are passing when people have reservations and why are those reservations come later. I am one of those people who does not see why I am paying people to sit in parliarment only to agree on everything to a point one fills they are ordered to agree with everything. What we have seen with this bill, we are in the danger of seeing it on other bills too, where people querry things outside parliarment. People who sit in parliarment need to remember that they sit there at tax payers expense and I for one do not want to pay people who go there just to be ‘yes’ bwanas whom when asked to jump just say how high. Our country seems to be quickly sliding into a way traffic in which all you here is how much ‘masomphenya’ the Ngwazi has. The past years, we had a vibrant opposition and the successes that we have registered in the year past are evidence of that. Now that we have oppositon members who can even ask the government to help choose their leader in government, one wonders what kind of year we are going to have?
3 I for one would like to see the language of this bill because the is being talked about as an issue of the girl child and last time I checked, girls do not marry themselves. I think Malawi needs to have a converstation about what marriage is and what it means to us as a people. We need to have a conversation on the link between marriage and child bearing. How does marriage impact the so called makanda and who eats these makanda. At what age parents should be allowed by the law of the land to consent to marriage, why is it that consent is directed to girl children as the media is showing it to be, is that the way the law is constructed – are issues I for one as a scholar of women issues is very interested in. I am not one who usually agrees with the President but I applaud his decision to push this law back to the people. It is clear that Malawians need to interrogate this issue firther. I only wish we could use methods that transcend western constructions, more homegrown methods to facilitate conversation amongst ourselves. Eveidently, the route of civil society representng people has been exposed to be faulty.
4 I hope the bill is written and communicated in a way that potrays marriage to be an institution of two consenting adults and not a power relation loaded institution where women are prayed on by men. Otherwise, women will continue to be infantilised in discourses of this institution and bill.