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Women left in the cold in party polls

Major political parties in Zimbabwe, Zanu PF and MDC-T, are in the process of putting in place teams that will represent them in the parliamentary and local government elections this year.

By Moses Mugugunyeki

Zanu PF is almost done with its primary elections although the party has ordered a rerun in a handful of constituencies. On the other hand, MDC-T last Tuesday unveiled the list of candidates vying to represent the party in all portfolios — from councils to the National Assembly.

While MDC-T is yet to conduct primaries across the country, it is the Zanu PF primary elections that leave a lot to be desired with regard to equal representation of men and women in the august house or in local authorities. As of last week, out of the 210 seats to be contested for in the House of Assembly, only 19 women would represent Zanu PF, which translates to 9%. This is not a healthy situation for democracy. The ball is now in the MDC-T’s court whether to increase women’s participation in politics or to follow suit.

Gender equality and equity in politics is an important condition for effective democracy and good governance. Apart from strengthening and enhancing the democratic system, the participation of more women in political decision-making has many positive effects on society that can help improve the lives of women and men. Benefits include more equitable societies and inclusive governance, higher standards of living, positive development in education, health and infrastructure, and a decrease in political corruption.

In in its endeavour to create an enabling environment for the attainment of equity and equality on the political arena, Zimbabwe has ratified various international conventions and declarations on gender equality — Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women [CEDAW] (1979), Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and Sadc Gender and Development Declaration (1997).

At home the country has put in place various national legislative instruments aimed at increasing women’s participation in politics and decision-making. Section 17(1)(b) (ii) of the Constitution states that: “The State must promote full gender balance in Zimbabwean society and in particular …must… take all measures, including legislative measures, needed to ensure women constitute at least half of the membership of all commissions and all elective and appointed governmental bodies established by or under this Constitution or any Act of Parliament.”

To ameliorate women representation in the National Assembly, S124b provides as follows: “For the life of the first two Parliaments after the effective date, an additional 60 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.”

Despite efforts to bring about gender equality and equity in politics, men still dominate the country’s political landscape. While in other countries women have been steadily increasing their share of top leadership positions in political institutions in the last decade, Zimbabwe is still lagging behind.

According to the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), in the Seventh Parliament, representation of women was 16% in the National Assembly and 25% in the Senate. The percentage of women in the Eighth Parliament increased to 35% in the National Assembly and 48% of the Senate.

RAU said the increase only occurred courtesy of the quota system but there was a huge decline in the number of women directly elected. The number of directly elected women representing constituencies decreased from 34 in 2008 to 26 in 2013.

Social commentator as well as journalism and media studies lecturer Admire Mare said there was no enabling environment that promotes equal participation of men and women in politics in Zimbabwe.

“The outcome of the Zanu PF primary elections shows that despite the AU [African Union] clarion call for 50:50 representations, female politicians still face glass ceilings within mainstream patriarchal political parties,” Mare said.

“There is need for more political will and gender awareness within political parties and society in general in order to embrace female politicians.

“Although primary elections are often represented as fair contests, there are gendered and stratified according to many visible and invisible variables which work against the ascendancy of female politicians. For instance, male politicians are generally well-resourced financially and in terms of human resources which enable them to cover considerable ground and mobilise their supporters.”

Mare said equal participation of men and women in politics was a boon for society.

“Gender equality is important in politics and in any other areas because it allows for both male and female politicians to determine who gets what, when and how. As it is now, it’s mostly male politicians who determine the allocation of scarce resources, yet females are more than males according to the Zimbabwean population statistics,” he said.

Human rights activist Nyari Mashayamombe said the results of the Zanu PF primary elections did little to advance women’s participation in politics.

“It’s so shocking when we see a big party like Zanu PF having 9% women representation. This is real troublesome for gender equality in politics. I have not seen that of the MDC, but there has been a lot of male chauvinism and violence against women as well,” she said.

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