Zimbabwe: Disappointing number of women in cabinet

Date: September 18, 2013
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Johannesburg, 18 September: In 1985, I made it to the front page of The Herald newspaper. It was a photo of me wearing a big smile, shaking President Robert Mugabe’s hand during the five-year independence celebrations. This roused my dream to one day become a politician and lead the country. But, with the low numbers of women in Zimbabwe’s government, especially after Mugabe’s cabinet appointment last week, I am left with doubt and disillusionment.

Women make up 34% of the 8th Parliament of Zimbabwe, with 32% in the National Assembly and 48% of Senate. Although the quota for women in parliament led to the dramatic increase from 19% in 2008 to 34%, the number of women who actually won, fell from 34 to 26. The cabinet appointments were the country’s last opportunity to bolster the numbers of women in power. Moreover, because these appointments are chosen and not elected, this presented a chance for political leaders to prove their commitment to gender equality.

Women’s representation in the new cabinet stands at 11.5%, down from 16% in the 2008 cabinet. Mugabe appointed only three women ministers out of 26. Dr Olivia Muchena is the Minister of Higher and Tertiary Education; Oppah Muchinguri is Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development and Sithembiso Nyoni remains Minister of Small and Medium Enterprises. Mugabe also appointed 24 deputy ministers of which only four are women.

Outside of cabinet, Flora Bhuka is now one of the Ministers of State for Presidential Affairs. Two female Ministers of State will lead Harare and Bulawayo provinces, while eight men will lead the rest of the country.

The underrepresentation of women in parliament, and now in cabinet means Zimbabwe has failed to meet the SADC Gender Protocol target of at least 50% representation of women in all areas of political decision by 2015. This failure also mocks the new Zimbabwe Constitution, which specifically aims to promote gender balance.

The Constitution clearly stipulates, “1(a) The State must promote the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men; (b) the State must take all measures, including legislative measures, needed to ensure that (i) both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level; and (ii)women constitute at least half the membership of all Commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies established by or under this Constitution or any Act of Parliament.”

Asked why there are so few women in cabinet, Mugabe explained that there are less educated women in Zimbabwe. “Education is for all now… It is no longer necessary for us to have affirmative action, it is now free for all. Let women contest alongside men without any preferential treatment,” Mugabe said. He also added that women should perform better in elections if they want to make it to cabinet.

On the contrary, affirmative action along with political will is imperative for redress. Had Zimbabwe not fast tracked the land resettlement scheme, the country would still be sitting with unequal land ownership. The same is true for South Africa. Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) had to be put in place to give previously disadvantaged groups access to economic opportunities not available to them during apartheid.

As long as our leaders do not strive to implement all the policies in place to address imbalances, the oppression of the majority, those that actually put them in political office, will continue. It is fact that there are more women voters than men. Denying women equal and full participation in decision-making is unmistakably undemocratic.

I do not want to believe that my aspiration to hold political office one day is dead. I strongly challenge the three women in Zimbabwe’s cabinet, who have served in several cabinets before, to identify and mentor young women in politics and to dig their heels in to ensure their male counterparts do the same.

I call on the ZANU PF Women’s League, to reconfigure its role in the political sphere and encourage more women to stand for political office. They should identify and support those women who have the potential to lead Zimbabwe. Men look out for each other and so should women.

I urge all women to claim their space in politics and use their initiative and agency, because our empowerment cannot be left to male politicians. It is high time women ensure that they shape the agenda and position themselves at the heart of our struggle for equality and liberation.

Finally, those SADC countries set to hold elections before 2015, must take up the 50/50 campaign wholeheartedly, following in the footsteps of countries like Seychelles with 44% women in parliament, South Africa with 41% in Cabinet and Lesotho with 49% women in local government.

Saeanna Chingamuka is a media consultant and former editor at Gender Links. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.




2 thoughts on “Zimbabwe: Disappointing number of women in cabinet”

Edward Kuyipa says:

The current low appointment of women to cabinet positions may be perceived, by some as a recidivist parcelling out of posts on political patronage basis to the patriarchy, in blatant disregard to regional and international expectations, but the other school of thought postulates that meritocracy must carry the day and thus most female canditates fell by the wayside because they didnot qualify. In otherwords, puttingg them into the cabinet would be tantamount to being subservient to gendering political correctness at the expense of setting up an effective executive for the good of the nation.

“Education is for all now. It is mixed. The yield is the same. It is no longer necessary for us to have affirmative action, it is now free for all. Let women contest alongside men without any preferential treatment,” says President Mugabe. But is this more apparent than real or is truth a dog that must be whipped? Are women continuously awaiting to be fed by the proverbial silver spoon or is their concern genuine?

‘Zimbabwean women’s participation in politics is more apparent than real. It is hampered by lack of resources, family commitment by the patriarchal nature of the political environment and the Zimbabwean culture in existence. In addition, women’s opinions are disregarded in the democracy discourse, beyond what is perceived as women’s issues and mere representation

In Zimbabwe a woman, or a man for that matter, cannot wake up one morning and decide to be the representative of a political party without the right background, networking, credentials and having risen through the ranks of the party.
Women are a vulnerable group; consequently an enabling environment should be deliberately put in place to ensure their unfettered participation.

Meritocracy, which some people espouse, does not favour democracy and women’s candidature, because of electoral and political party systems. At the end of the day it is not necessarily the best man or woman who wins. It is the most popular candidate, most likely a man with resources and support from the party. His commitment to represent his constituency is not a primary factor. Unfortunately, people tend to be represented not by the most suitable candidates, but survivors of the political Serengeti within the parties, who have the required financial resources.

Inequality in political participation is related to economic inequality. Women’s participation in politics is closely linked to women’s access to resources, financial, technical and human. The United Nations declared the 21st century ‘the century of women,’ yet they lack the same access as they male counterparts. They are by and large excluded from the distribution of wealth within families, in communities and at national level and resultantly accessing the means of production.

Despite the fact that 52 percent of Zimbabweans are women there are 28 women out of 210 parliamentarians in the House of Assembly and 38 female councillors out of 1209, Given the 14 percent representation in the House of Assembly and 24.2 percent in the senate , Zimbabwe is ranked 86th in the world in terms of women’s representation in parliament.


Whilst it is true that much has been done to encourage women’s participation in Zimbabwean politics, much more needs to be done, especially given that their role in the liberation struggle, as comrades in arms and collaborators was critical.’ (Excerpt from Arrested development of women’s political careers. http://www.womensmonitor.wordpress.com)

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