Dar Es Salaam — TANZANIA is gearing towards the Presidential, Parliamentary and Councillor elections later this year. Already there have been various activities that tell election euphoria is here.
They include spots in electronic and print media that aim to mobilize people to register to vote, updating of the permanent voter register and special announcement encouraging women to take active participation in this year's general elections.
The voter registration process has been finalised and papers readied for these important undertaking. Budget estimates indicate that the National Electoral Commission (NEC) will spend about 134bn/- for this year's general elections.
This amount does not include money to be spent by other actors interested in the election such as the 16 registered political parties, election observers, the media, civil society organizations and individual candidates.
The exact amount to be spent cannot be easily estimated but the amount is huge, thus, there is need for a public debate on what must be the key issues if value has to be realized for this spending.
The ruling party is among the 16 registered political parties which have come out in the open and announced it is expected to fund raise about 50bn/- to finance this year's election alone. It has gone further to explain how much this money will be spent.
It includes buying a helicopter for election campaigns, vehicles, motorbikes, and media spots and other campaign materials - head scuffs, khanga and vitenge, T-shirts and caps. Our major concern is the women representation in the parliament and whether their number there has helped address the issues of concern for the welfare of the citizenry in which both men and women must benefit.
A reflection of women representation in parliament from independence in 1961 to date indicate a lot remains to be desired and a lot remains to be done, firstly, to address the imbalance and secondly to respond to international protocols that the country has ratified.
For example, at independence there were only eight per cent women in the house. Out of the 80, only 6 were women parliamentarians. During the one-party state and the party supremacy spirit came into play, the number of parliamentarians in the house went up while the number of women proportion worsened.
The percentage of women in Parliament fell from eight per cent in 1961 to only four per cent in 1965. The Legislators more than doubled in 1965 to 185. The male - female ratios remained very poor with only seven per cent women in parliament ten years later in 1975.
This was below the independence ratio of 92 to eight per cent. For ten years from1980 to 1990, the percentage of women in Parliament remained at eleven per cent despite the increase of its size from 239 to 248 parliamentarians.
A little push up in gender representation came in with the wave of the road to the 1995 Beijing Fourth World Conference on Women led by Ambassador Getrude Mongella who later became the first President of the Pan-African Parliament (PAP) and the incumbent MP for Ukerewe Constituency.
The number of women in Parliament rose to 16 per cent in 1995 and to 22 per cent in 2000. The number increased to 30 per cent in 2005 in response to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) and later Africa Union (AU) protocol on gender parity. A decision has been made by the ruling CCM to reach the gender parity target of 50:50 in the Parliament by 2015.
The initial plan was to reach this level by end of this year's general elections. The key question remains whether all this will improve the performance of the parliament in terms of quality of debates.
Experiences in the recent past indicate there has been some improvement, though much more could have been done, in terms of the quality of debates in the House. Watchers admit that legislators are now more careful in passing legislations that have direct impact on women and children.
Gender activists for example, acknowledge, with appreciation the contribution of Mrs Mary Nagu, the then Minister for Justice and Constitutional Affairs in pushing for Special Offence Special Provisions Act (1998) and National and Village Land Acts (1999) that have direct impact on women and children.
Mrs Nagu is now the Minister for Industries and Trade and the incumbent MP for Hanang Constituency. They believe more women in Constituencies will help bring more development to the people because they have qualities which assure change in the communities.
Mrs Gema Akilimali, gender activist and independent consultant argues why there should be more women from constituencies. She says women are born leaders because they are: good planners, trustful, patient, daring, cooperative and care for welfare of others.
In an engagement with Tanzania Standard Newspapers (TSN) Limited editorial staff in Dar es Salaam over the weekend, Mrs Akilimali said the media need to be more proactive at this time leading towards the general elections to identify such women and encourage the political parties to pick and support them through the campaigns and election process.
"Money should not be a problem to women candidates if their political parties support them right from the beginning," she said, adding that the "media should also help in portraying the women's leadership abilities."
She mentioned lack of resources (money, transportation, food, public hearing system, mobilization teams and negative media attention), lack of campaigning skills as among major challenges facing women political aspirants for generations.
Customs and traditions which look down upon women in the society, different forms of corruption have also been identified as inhibiting factors to women's active participation in public life including politics.
But Mrs Akilimali says she believes there is a good number of well educated and qualified women who have the interest for the development of the country and are better placed to bring about transformative changes at the constituencies.
Professor Ruth Meena, a political analyst in Dar es Salaam says there are few women in political decision making positions in the country because parties have no commitment and no support system to ensure the effective participation of women in politics.
"Political parties are dominated by a patriarchy system which oppresses, marginalises and excludes women," noted the Political Scientist, Gender and Human Rights activist who added that parties need to be transformed to offer more space for women.
Professor Meena further noted that there are other "hidden issues" which put women out of the political arena and these include a harsh campaign environment and the lack of resources. She says these issues must be studied and properly addressed if any progress is to be made.
There had been cases of some party leaders arguing that women are not included in the decision making processes because they are not willing to face campaign challenges in the constituencies.
But activists argue that if the challenges; including corruption, abusive languages were not contained in political campaigns, more women would have come out and win the elections.
They also pointed out that it is upon the political parties to address such challenges if they are serious in seeing more women leaders in parliament representing their electorate.
However, the survey states that experiences from the last general elections, held in 2005, have showed that where women have been fully supported by their political parties they had huge chances of winning elections in the constituencies because majority of them had won.