LOCAL female politicians have stepped up dialogue on operationalising the local government quota ahead of the 2023 elections.
Following an earlier strategy meeting that outlined the nuts and bolts of the local government quota, the Zimbabwe Women’s Parliamentary Caucus (ZWPC), Women in Local Government Forum (WLGF) and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) held a dialogue recently to share experiences, formulate strategies and draft an action plan on the 30% local government quota.
Speaking at the learning and sharing dialogue, Deputy Minister of Local Government and Public Works Marian Chombo noted that, “Women’s equal participation in decision-making is not only a demand for simple justice or democracy but a precondition for women’s empowerment.”
The Parliamentary Women Caucus applauded the introduction of the women’s quota at the national level and its subsequent extension through the Constitutional Amendment Bill no.2. The Caucus applauded the extension of the quota from national to local level as a result of the engagement and tireless work by both the WLGF and the ZWPC.
“The decision to support the quota at local government came after the ZWPC’s visit to Murehwa Rural District Council, where we saw first hand the challenges faced by women in local government”, said Goodluck Kwaramba the chairperson of the ZWPC.
Zimbabwe’s 2013 Constitution introduced the mixed first past the post (FPTP) and proportional representation (PR) seats for women only to increase women’s representation at the national level. Until the recent changes, the system did not extend to local government. When parliament voted to extend the 30% PR quota beyond the 2023 elections (when it was due to expire) at the national level, WLGF petitioned President Emmerson Mnangagwa, with the support of Gender Links (GL), to ensure that the same provisions are extended to the local level.
While the quota at national level has increased women’s representation, it has its challenges which prevented women from effectively participating. Some of these challenges included being stereotyped by other members of parliament and not having a constituency. However, with continued engagement, things have improved in some areas and there has been less stereotyping of these women whilst some are able to work in their constituencies. Councillors were urged to prepare to face some of these challenges when they arise as they assume the proportional representation seats at the local level.
One of the key issues that emerged during the dialogue is the need to ensure that women effectively participate in electoral processes either as voters or candidates. Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Commissioner Joice Kazembe unpacked the 30% local government quota saying that the onus is on political parties to decide how they allocate seats amongst youths, ordinary women, and people with disabilities (PWDs).
The local government quota for women passed into law through the Constitutional Amendment Bill no.2 Act of 2021 will see an additional 587 seats added to the existing 1958 council seats bringing the total number of council seats to 2545.
The PR seats constitute 30 percent of the current number of council seats (1958). However, 587 out of 2 545 means women only have a guaranteed 23 percent of the total number of seats – still higher than the current level of 14 percent but a far cry from 50 percent.
GL Special Advisor Colleen Lowe Morna pointed out that to reach gender parity in the 2023 elections, “women would have to win at least 27 percent of the FPTP seats, which is almost double the proportion of women who won through this system in the 2018 elections.”
The dialogue, held in partnership with Silveira House (Jesuit Social Justice Development Centre); GL and the International Idea Women’s Political Participation Programme called for a concerted effort to ensure that women effectively contest in the FPTP electoral system to give them a chance to increase the numbers of women beyond 23 percent. Participants agreed that the onus is on political parties to ensure that the playing field is levelled.
The dialogue tabled strategies which included the engagement of political parties and the training of aspiring or new female candidates. Former GL Francophone Director Loga Virahsawmy shared her experience of increasing women’s representation in local government in Mauritius in the 2013 elections.
Although the gender quota there guaranteed at least 30 percent women candidates in the elections run on a FPTP basis, there was no guarantee that they would win. GL mobilised government and civil society organisations to talent spot and train women from village to municipal level. The local government ministry also ran a spirited advocacy campaign on the benefits of women’s political participation. “There is no short cut to preparing women for effective participation,” Virahsawmy said.