Zimbabwe: Political parties oppose women’s participation

Zimbabwe: Political parties oppose women’s participation

Date: July 24, 2013
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Harare, 28 June: With the presidential elections just around the corner, provisionally set for 31 July, tensions are high with a recent swell of infighting as political parties draw up primary election guidelines and hold their internal polls. However, the conflict has been ongoing especially since female politicians have criticised political parties’ hollow commitment to equal representation of women. The lack of quotas for women in local government has also become burning issue, not only for aspiring female politicians, but also for all Zimbabwean women.

In May, spirits were high as Zimbabwe enacted the new Constitution, seen as a stride toward gender equality by supposedly containing 75% of what women demanded. However, at the time many gender activists and politicians not only questioned whether the rights enshrined in the new Constitution would actually be realised, but also highlighted that the quotas do not guarantee the 50/50 ratio.

Article 124 of the new Constitution provides that for the life of the first two parliaments an additional 60 women, six from each of the ten provinces of Zimbabwe shall be elected on a proportional representation (PR) basis to the 270 existing National Assembly seats that are open to both women and men. This guarantees women 18% of the seats in parliament through the PR provision.

Although PR provision does not apply to local government, Article 17 b I states, “both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level”, giving scope for this to be taken up in legislation in the future.

But for now, the quotas do not extend to local government, and this hinders a substantial gain for women in the forthcoming elections. This is very unfortunate because local government councilors occupy the lowest tier of administration, meaning they are closest to citizens making them especially important to women’s every-day lives.

Female politicians have also pointed out that the 60 reserved seats pose a catch 22 for women in government. Although the affirmative action seats enable women to mobilise support at a constituency or ward level, political parties tend to choose male candidates for the constituency seats in the National Assembly because their women candidates have a greater chance of election as party-list candidates.

This tendency confines women to the 60 seats, restricting them from competing at a constituency level and in turn, significantly limits women from becoming direct representatives of constituencies.

Many women liken this to party leaderships’ tendency to relegate female politicians to the women’s wings of the political parties. Some female politicians even feel marginalised because for them the reserved seats have just become another ‘women’s league.’

Following recent internal party spats over statements made by male leadership, women have again raised this issue and accused government of failing to commit to equal participation.

Political parties’ public championing of women’s representation in the next elections, is only an attempt to win votes from women across the country. However, this facade is fading fast as their opposition to women’s participation becomes more blatant. The challenges women are facing in attaining candidature is a clear sign of political parties’ unwillingness to truly mainstream gender in their internal processes.

Nelson Chamisa, spokesperson for the main opposition party, Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has assured people that the party strongly believes in affirmative action and the advancement of women in all decisions making positions. However, the MDC primary election processes yielded very low numbers of women candidates, the majority of which are clearly located in ZANU PF strongholds.

According to a recent report by NewsdzeZimbabwe, “ZANU- PF row over female quotas”, party members allegedly rejected a proposition by the Women’s League for quotas arguing that the party cannot afford to have “weak” candidates, as this would compromise their a victory. Globally, it is common in constituency- based electoral systems for political parties to field male candidates in ‘safe’ constituencies.

Women’s League Vice President and Second Secretary, Joice Mujuru has since urged women to vote for the party’s female candidates, “The challenge we have is meeting the required number of women candidates…let us not be used by men, because elections divide us in a bid to serve the interests of male candidates,” said Mujuru.

Other political factions have also attempted to argue that women’s lack of equal representation in public office is because women simply do not want to support other women. This is highly unlikely considering the Gender and Governance Citizen Score Card (CSC), developed by Gender Links and the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance. The CSC forms part of the 2012 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer, which measures citizen’s perceptions of gender equality in government.

The CSC shows that Zimbabwean women score gender equality at only 51%, demonstrating that women are dissatisfied with their level of participation in political decision-making. Furthermore, in a recent national attitudes survey conducted by the Afrobarometer, 83% of women agreed that women should have the same chance of being elected to public office.

In the face of opposition, activists and women’s organisations have heightened efforts to ensure more women make it to parliament. Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) have launched the “Vote for a Woman” campaign ahead of the presidential elections. The campaign aims to help the country achieve 50% representation of women in decision-making by 2015. This is in line with the SADC Gender and Development Protocol which Zimbabwe has signed and ratified.

The failure of political parties to encourage the participation of women candidates at all levels is indeed a failure to put money where their mouths are. If parties were really in support of equal representation, resources would replace rhetoric, and we would see leadership grooming and supporting women candidates at the level of local government and constituency representation, just as they do their male counterparts.

The opposition to gender equality not only contravenes the new Constitution and hinders achievement of the 2015 deadline, but also prioritises party politics and winning constituencies over improving the lives of all Zimbabwean women. Only when women occupy parliament, will women on the ground occupy equality. So let us stand firm, keep the pressure on political parties and let’s vote for a woman.

Tsitsi Mhlanga is the Information Campaigns and Advocacy Officer for Women in Politics Support Unit. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service, bringing you fresh views on everyday news.




0 thoughts on “Zimbabwe: Political parties oppose women’s participation”

GMB says:

Political parties do not take women seriously, just as unfortunately women are not taking themselves seriously as well. As much as women would like equal representation, we need to actually go out there and stand for office. I know for a fact that a lot of women were just waiting to go into the PR seats including seasoned politicians.

And for future purposes the Constitution is cited by sections not Articles ref. pg 7 of 176

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