Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The State of Internal Democracy within Women's Interest Groups in Malawi

Academic journal article Journal of International Women's Studies

The State of Internal Democracy within Women's Interest Groups in Malawi

Article excerpt


Vibrant women's interest groups are to a larger extent a recent phenomenon in Malawi's socio-political history. Locally and internationally, the contribution of voluntary organisations (including women interests groups) in actively creating possible spaces for new democratic practices is well acknowledged. However studies have not adequately analyzed the extent or degree of the internal democracy in these women interests groups. Furthermore, studies that examines the implication of the absence or presence of internal democracy in such groups is largely missing. Consequently, this paper aims at analyzing the state of internal democracy in Malawian women's interest groups. In addition, the paper examines whether the formal and informal relationships within these organizations anchor the democratic values in tandem with the prevalent political space. Taking a qualitative approach, the analysis combines the use of primary and secondary data. Secondary data was collected through literature review of various kinds of documents such as organizations constitutions, mission statements, background information and reports. Primary data was collected through field interviews with women and men in women-led organizations. Sampling from a pool of organizations under the umbrella body, Gender NGO Coordination Network, organizations headed by women were purposely selected for the study on which this paper is based. The study findings show that the sampled women's interest groups in Malawi are inclined towards democratic structures but have operationally limited democratic practice.

Keywords: Qualitative, Malawi, Internal Democracy


The era of multiparty democracy in the 1990s saw the mushrooming of Non Governmental Organizations (NGOs) in Malawi just like in most third wave democracies, The role played by the civil society in bringing about pluralistic politics raised hopes that NGOs (2) would further lead to increased standards of living for the masses. Globally, NGOs are viewed as being more sensitive to the needs and aspirations of poor communities, minorities and women. It is perhaps this track record that leads them to command more legitimacy in the eyes of the poor than do governmental structures. Within the broad range of NGOs, as a "third sector" existing between the realms of government and business are the women's interest groups. Much of the gender studies in the early 1990s focused on the state-NGO linkages and reinforced earlier findings of the democratic potential of this linkage (Ewig 1999). The studies however largely assumed that these NGOs practice a higher level of internal democracy. By focusing on women's interest groups (also dubbed as Women NGOs) in Malawi, the paper explores the extent to which democratic practices are embedded in these selected organisations.

The first section defines and clarifies key concepts such as social movements upon which the women's interest groups are based. The next section discusses the theoretical perspectives from which the study draws its insights and this is followed by a section that focuses on the role of women's interest groups and their governance style. The concept of internal democracy and its applicability in this study is fully analyzed and discussed, especially its link to democracy consolidation, in the fifth section. The next section presents a methodological framework guiding the study. After methodology, the paper proceeds to provide a broad overview of women's interest groups in Malawi. This section presents the context that is followed up throughout the paper in the general analysis and discussion of internal democracy in Malawian women's interest groups. Finally, the paper concludes by highlighting possible explanatory values to internal democracy in women's interest groups in Malawi.

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