Malawi: Women's representation quotas

Updated February 2019

Legal quotas

The Constitution of Malawi (1994) makes no provision for quotas to ensure women's representation in elective bodies, nor are there any other legal provisions. Unusually, for a Southern African country, the Constitution (Article 13(a)(i)) specifically makes the attainment of gender equality, through the "full participation of women in all spheres of Malawians society on the basis of equality with men", a principle of national policy that the State is obliged to promote. Women's rights are specifically recognized, with a view to attaining legal equality in the realm of civil law (Article 24) and the right to development acknowledges the need to give women special consideration (Article 30).

The failure to translate the women sensitive clauses of the Constitution into practical measures to ensure that women are adequately represented in elective institutions, along with the first-past-the-post (FPTP) system that tends of its own working to under represent women, has resulted in Malawi having poor (though improving) representation statistics in the National Assembly, 5.65% in 1994, 9.38% in 1999, 14.44% in 2004 and 20.83% in 2009 (see Gender issues: Women's representation in the Lower House of Parliament). However, this is higher than other Southern African countries that follow the same electoral system, namely Botswana 11.48% (2004), Zambia 14% (2006) and Zimbabwe 14.29% (2008).

Party quotas

In the absence of formal legal quotes a number of political parties in Southern Africa have resorted to set quotas for themselves in nominating and ensuring the election of women candidates. However, as Matlosa and Patel (2006, 52) remark, "For its part, the FPTP [first-past-the-post] system is generally held to be less conducive to inclusiveness, for example in the case of gender parity. It has been noted in Malawi that there is not much variance between the percentage of women nominated and the percentage of women elected. The number of women in the National Assembly is therefore due to the commensurately low number of women nominated by political parties". Khembo (2005, 40) goes further to say, "Most political parties in Malawi do not have gender quotas and affirmative policies, nor do they have egalitarian ideologies of the 'left' that promote equality. As a result, gender is largely treated rhetorically as an electoral campaign issue but is never seriously integrated into party structures".

According to the Global Database of Quotas for Women (2006), the two largest parties in the National Assembly in the aftermath of the 2004 elections took steps to change the situation so as to have more women in parliament. The Malawi Congress Party (MCP), according to its manifesto, committed itself to ensuring that women hold at least 30% of decision-making positions in government (Global Database of Quotas for Women 2006). This, however, did not translate into gains for women in the National Assembly after the 2009 elections, for the party performed poorly and saw its representation fall from 57 seats in 2004 to 27 in 2009 whereas only 3 seats, representing 11.11% of the total seats held by the MCP, were won by women (see 2009 National Assembly seat distribution by party and gender. In the 2014 General Elections, women candidates performed marginally better, and won 2 more seats even though MCP candidates won 21 more seats, this equated to female candidates accounting for only 10.42% of the total seats held by the MCP caucus after the 2014 elections. This poor result in terms of female representation is despite the Malawi Congress Party's (MCP) manifesto, which stated that an MCP government will "encourage women to participate in presidential, parliamentary and local government elections in order for them to fully participate in the governance process" (Malawi Congress Party 2014, 44).

Kuyani and Muriaas (2014, 393) write that "the problem is that certain kinds of gender quotas, such as voluntary party quotas or legal quotas, are less likely to favour the election of women in majoritarian electoral systems than in other systems". This is because the single-member districts that characterize FPTP majoritarian systems make it harder for parties to successfully nominate women. What the above researchers show is that Malawi voters have no issues electing female representatives, however political parties lack the political will to ensure more women are nominated. Additionally, the FPTP electoral system used by Malawi is not conducive when it comes to the election of women into parliament. Therefore, if Malawi is to have more women in Parliament, party quotas represent a viable method of achieving that goal.

The UDF, the other large party after the 2004 General elections, set a quota of 25% of its seats in the National Assembly for women in its party constitution (Global Database of Quotas for Women 2006). However, in the 2009 General elections, the party fared even worse than the MCP, winning only 17 seats, as against the 49 seats it won in 2004. In those 2009 elections, only 1 seat (5.88%) was won by a woman candidate. In the most recent 2014 elections, with 14 seats, the UDF won three fewer seats. Of those seats, only 2, representing 14.29% of the total UDF caucus, were won by women candidates. The Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), formed in February 2005, won 113 seats in the 2009 election, of which 31, or 27.43%, were taken by women candidates. In their next elections in 2014, the DPP only managed to win 50 seats, of those 50 seats, only 7, representing 14%, were won by female candidates. This represents a nearly 100% fall in the number of female representatives from the DPP caucus.

In the runup to the 2009 elections, the donor community, working together with NGOs, started the 50-50 Campaign in order to recruit, finance and support female candidates running for office. All six political parties represented in parliament were targeted for candidate selection, meaning that the campaign had the buy-in or at least tacit approval of all of the political parties (Kayuni & Muriaas, 2014: 393).

Party leadership quotas

A critical aspect of reversing under representation of women in publicly elected structures is to ensure adequate representation of women in political party leadership positions. The MCP has led the way here by committing itself to allocating a third of all leadership positions in the party to women (Global Database of Quotas for Women 2006). The former leader of the People Party's Joyce Banda is thus far the most prominent female leader to have occupied a leadership position in Malawi.


AMUNDSEN I, CHASUKWA M, CHIWEZA A & KAYAMBAZANTHU E 2016 "Women in politics in Malawi", CHR Michelsen Institute, [www] (accessed 14 Feb 2019).

GLOBAL DATABASE OF QUOTAS FOR WOMEN 2006 "Malawi", [www] [opens new window] (accessed 21 Jan 2010).

KAYUNI H & MURIAAS, R 2014 "Alternatives to Genders Quotas: Electoral Financing of Women Candidates in Malawi", Representation, 50(3), 393 - 401, [www] (accessed 14 Feb 2019).

KHEMBO, N 2005 "Gender and Party Politics in Malawi" IN Khembo, N (ed) Elections and Democratisation in Malawi: An Uncertain Process [PDF], 40-43.

MALAWI CONGRESS PARTY 2014. Manifesto 2014, Sustainable Development Network Programme.

MATLOSA, K AND PATEL, N 2006 Towards Electoral System Reform in Malawi, Konrad-Adenauer Stiftung Occasional Paper No 10.

PATEL, N, TAMBULASI, R, MOLANDE, B & MPESI, A 2007 Consolidating Democratic Governance in Southern Africa: Malawi, EISA Research Report No 33.