Ruth Butaumocho, Harare Bureau
Zimbabwe’s new Constitution promulgated into law in 2013 brought many robust changes that were achieved through wide consultative forums where millions of people participated throughout Zimbabwe.
Far from being a solid legislative piece that was expected to take Zimbabwe to another level in terms of people-oriented governing, the new Constitution was touted as one of the best governing documents in Southern African Development Committee particularly in addressing gender equality.
Much celebrated was the inclusion of a clause in the Constitution which provided for the equal representation of women in Parliament through the appointment of 60 additional non-constituency female legislators as part of efforts to empower women.
Section 124 (b) of the new Constitution reads:
“. . . For the life of the first two Parliaments after the effective date, an additional sixty women members, six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected through a system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces…
The adoption of the women’s quota system by Zimbabwe was in line with relevant international instruments relating to full political rights for women, among them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Political Rights of Women.
From a female representation of 15 percent in the 2008 Parliament, the figures jumped to 32 percent in 2013 after 83 women made up the total figure of 350 Parliamentarians from both the Lower and Upper House when the Government implemented the proportional women representation quota as stipulated in the Constitution.
However, the provision which was only valid for the first two terms of Parliament, comes to an end in 2023, a development that has been met with apprehension by the majority of women.
There are already fears within political circles that without the extension of the quota representation of women in both political parties and Parliament, gender representation in politics will be taken 15 years back, where it stood at 10 percent.
With no legal basis to hinge their gender quality campaign on, the majority of female political aspirants could find themselves in political Siberia.
Coming from a background of little resources, political violence, skewed political structures that are in favour of men and patriarchal practices that regarded women as minors and weak political partners, women might find themselves in the cold – again.
It was against this background that Speaker of Parliament Cde Jacob Mudenda recently encouraged women to call for the Amendment of Section 124 to ensure an extension of the provision.
Speaking at the Women Manifesto launch in Harare a few weeks ago, Cde Mudenda said women should start lobbying for the amendment of the section so that it can be extended for another period.
A political analyst said the two terms provided for in the Constitution were not enough to increase representation of women in politics.
“There is need to have an open ended provision of Section 124 that talks on proportional representation to ensure that women are exposed to political leadership, and in the process gain confidence, while encouraging their peers to venture into politics,” said the analyst.
The political analyst, who chose to remain anonymous, said it would be folly to expect a jump in the redress of historical imbalances and the collapse of physical structures stalling the political progression of women in just 10 years.
A gender specialist Virginia Muwanigwa reiterated, adding that there was need to extend the period for proportional representation to support and encourage the participation of more women.
“The requirement should remain until there is parity in representation.
“I guess the constitutionally guaranteed 10 years were meant to be complemented by measures by political parties to ensure the transformation towards equal female representation. Until that happens it follows that the quota should remain to ensure that more women venture into politics, which currently is dominated by men,” she said.
Women Coalition of Zimbabwe national director, Sally Ncube said the amendment of the section on proportional representation would be a progressive measure that would need to be supported by regulations to operationalise the quota system.
“The regulations should be developed from a nationwide and multi-stakeholder consultative process to ensure that we learn from the previous performance of the quota and facilitate for a legal framework that provides for mandatory standard selection criteria of candidates that is transparent and inclusive for all political parties,” she said.
Commenting on the sustainability of the quota system and benefits accrued to date on the process, Ncube said the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe was in the process of consolidating the achievements of the quota system with regards to women’s participation in Parliament.
“We will be profiling the achievements as soon as we finalise the report,” she said.
Ncube, however, noted that extension of the proportional representation provision would not be without challenges.
“We foresee a backlash linked to deliberate and structural invisibilisation of women MPs under quota seats’ performance in Parliament and governance processes.
“Naturally, we cannot rule out patriarchal resistance, when men within the structures fail to acknowledge the contribution of women in decision making,” she said.
Member of Parliament for Shamva South, Honourable Joseph Mapiki, however, said proportional representation should only benefit women who possess unique skills.
“Proportional representation should bring in women who possess special skills in areas like health, commerce or experts in various fields, not just ordinary women,” he said.
Mabvuku Member of Parliament, Mr James Maridadi reiterated, adding that the quota system would need to only consider judicious and hard working women for seats in the august House.
However, a Midlands State University political science student, Moses Tiwane said proportional representation could only work once the Government also addressed other socio-economic variables, which stop women from actively participating in politics.
“Changing laws in favour of women without women accessing economic resources may not be adequate in transforming patriarchal norms against women participation in politics.
“The landscape would be better and possibly permeable, if aspiring female politicians have adequate funding for campaigning, and even use it on the potential voters like what men do,” he said.
In the absence of strong social and economic structures that women can hinge on to nurture and promote their political aspirations, proportional representation remains one of the effective models in guaranteeing women’s representation in politics.
Globally, it is impossible to talk about development of women’s representation in politics without implementing political quota systems.
Zimbabwe is among several countries in Sadc if not the majority in the African continent that still has a low representation of women in top political decision making positions, particularly in Cabinet and other important political structures.
Currently, Cabinet only has only four women. Although there has been significant progress since 1980, the under-representation remains a point of debate, because it is among the critical areas of concern outlined in the Beijing Platform for Action and other gender statues that speak to gender equality.
While the situation on the ground shows that women have made remarkable progress in many professions and various fields, politics is not one of them.
But with the persistent implementation of the proportional representation quota, the political fortunes of women can change for the better.
The decision by Zimbabwe to agitate for equal representation of women in politics is not an isolated and unique situation, but several countries across the globe have over the years taken the same route.
Research shows that no country in the world has managed to achieve at least 30 percent of female decision makers without effecting a legislative quota system policy.
Today several Nordic countries are among nations that have the highest female representation in the world, achieved through the quota system.
With Norway and Sweden leading the pack of Nordic countries with high female representation in Parliament, hovering between 38 and 50 percent, theirs has been as a result of various aspects of proportional representation systems implemented over 100 years.
Outside the Nordic countries, several other states boast of high percentages of women in politics through successful implementation of quota systems meant to elevate and promote women in politics.
They include South Africa, Rwanda, Cuba, Costa Rica, Angola and Mozambique. While the quotas vary, the popular ones include legal quotas enshrined in the Constitution, single mandate constituencies in which each party only nominates one candidate, and where the candidate receiving the majority of the votes wins the constituency and political part quotas.
Party quotas usually put in place a policy that a minimum of 40 percent of the party’s candidates list should be women.Party quotas have effectively worked in India and Rwanda with the former insisting that a third of the elected candidates must be women, while in Rwanda, two women must be elected for each polling district.
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