The other side of Malawi’s election campaign
The campaign period is here again and many people are seizing their various opportunities in this once in five years’ time craze.
While others are looking forward to convincing people to vote for them, others are taking this as a business opportunity while others still are considering it time to make easy money.
One forgotten thing, however, is the issue of HIV infection as a result of being away from spouses during this time.
Malawi News Agency has observed that women and the youth are particularly at risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs) during election season since they seem to be going everywhere to spice up campaign rallies.
Mana has learnt that since Dr Kamuzu Banda’s regime, women were moved away from home and were accommodated at primary schools or elsewhere.
Party officials would pick up the women they fancied from there in the night, sleep over with them and then return them in the early hours of the following day.
In addition to that, recently, Mana witnessed a situation where party women were accommodated at a rest house. In the middle of the night, the women were seen going back to their rooms slightly drunk with party men.
Mana also spotted some party women at a filling station near where the rally was held, loudly asking party men to buy them beer. Others were even trying to shake their waists for the men to give them money.
People’s Party deputy spokesperson, Ken Nsonda says the party does not ferry people from one district to another but rather uses people that are on the ground in a particular district.
“We are mindful that some of these women are married and need to be respected. It’s not good to generalise that party men sleep with women dancers during the campaign period,” he says.
Nsonda adds that the party has a health policy, which has an HIV and AIDS component that aims at reaching all party followers, including the youth, on such issues.
“We are intensifying HIV prevention messages during the campaign period since we are aware that other people (especially those in the National Executive) have no limits of moving around,” he emphasized.
Malawi Congress Party Spokesperson, Jessie Kabwila says women play a crucial role in politics and are vulnerable to be sexually abused during the campaign period.
“Realising this fact, our party has an HIV programme, which aims at building responsible men and women on sexual issues. We have also extended this to the youth who will also be travelling throughout the country,” she says.
Kabwila also points out that it is high time men understood that women are not sex objects but that women have got brains too, adding that it is very important that political parties should educate their people about the ABC concept of HIV prevention.
“During campaign period, issues of morality, being sexually responsible, making the right decisions are very important,” she says.
Director of Women in Democratic Progressive Party (DPP), Patricia Kaliyati, says the party discourages affairs within the party and ensures that it should not ferry people especially women from one district to another.
“We know that such things may discourage others to release their wives and in so doing as a party we may lose a vote so we are trying as much as possible not to bring confusions into marriages,” she says.
Kaliyati discloses that in situations where people will have to spend a night away from home, parliamentarians or party people who have big houses accommodate them in their homes or they are booked at a rest house.
She says the party includes HIV and AIDS messages in its meetings at all levels.
Presidential aspirant for the United Independence Party (UIP), Helen Singh, says women find themselves in a trap of contracting HIV in exchange for money because the poverty levels are so high in the country.
“Some women don’t have money to travel around the country and they take the campaign period as their opportune time since they use free transport and sometimes given free food,” she notes.
Singh adds: “Sexual abuse of women taking advantage of their financial state is abuse of human and civil rights. I believe political parties should avoid ferrying people to campaign rallies and use people on the ground in that particular district at all costs to avoid this.”
Acting Director of programmes at the National AIDS Commission (NAC), Tione Chilambe, says much as there are a lot of resources channelled into treatment care and support, there is little for behaviour change and that could be the reason the country is still registering over 50 000 new HIV infections annually.
She says NAC would like to take advantage of the elections campaign period hence it gave MEC and NICE US$242 429 for HIV Information Education and Communication (IEC) material development.“We want them to help in disseminating HIV prevention messages as they conduct voter and civic education. We are positive that they will reach out to many people,” Chilambe says.
This is the first time ever that NAC has done this and according to Chilambe, people are tired of getting HIV messages in isolation, saying it is high time it is incorporated in other issues such as elections.
However, Mana has learnt that NAC has never funded any political party to have their own HIV prevention programmes.
Statistics indicate that the country registers over 50 000 new HIV infections every year. – Malawi News Agency