6 December 2012

Tanzania: 'Viti Maalum' Yet to Fully Benefit Women, Special Groups

The democratic process as legitimized by regular national and other elections is highly contested. Most recently we have seen how, for example, elections involving all wings of the ruling party be it Wazazi, Wanawake or Vijana as well as its governance institution were sodden with allegations of foul play, sometimes the incidents involved the Prevention Corruption Bureau (PCB).

Numerous press conferences were called by different factions in the party accusing aspirants who tried to influence the process in their favour. This tussle for power is not unique to the ruling party and it is observed in opposition factions albeit in varied forms. In some cases violence and the unnecessary loss of life has been the end result of aspirants vying for political and other influence such as business interests.

In the course of the process of collecting views to inform a new constitution for Tanzania citizens criticized the pervasive corruption that has become a feature of Tanzania's nascent democracy. Corruption is one development that is seen to threaten the very foundation of electoral democracy. In such a context people fear that only those who have economic might may be eligible to contest any level of political office.

Listening to some views expressed by both men and women it is likely that women may lose some of the positive gains obtained thus far in so far as promoting women in leadership and decision making positions as required by numerous conventions, declarations and protocols. Indeed, there are some voices that are calling for special measures in the Constitution to be diluted and specifically for special seats at all levels to be scrapped.

Because this is an area I have an interest in I have been listening attentively to some of the reasons tendered as to why special measures, and more particularly special seats for women at the parliamentary and local council level, should be discontinued and instead women should compete at par with men. I am apprehensive about such views not because I am against the idea that all political aspirants, be they women or men, should be at par but because I feel that fundamentally such views misconstrue the concept of equality as a key constitutional imperative.

Additionally, such views give strength to two mistaken assumptions. The first is that women lack competence to be leaders and that their presence in leadership positions is a special measure/ arrangement/token to assure that there will be a presence of some women in such positions as required by regional instruments and national laws.

Secondly, that all men are assumed to be equal in so far as their ability to contest in political processes as if there are no men who are or risk to be marginalized by reason of money, education, social or other status from vying for and assuming leadership positions.

Also, it is a belief that assumes that male presence in the leadership and political realm is 'natural' as if this is not a consequence of some special privilege that the male sex has enjoyed embedded in socialization norms and laws whether secular or 'sacred'. Suffice to say that article 13(5) does not prohibit special treatment if such preferred treatment is meant to rectify some inequality brought about by a past systemic exclusion against a group.

Thus special measures, to a large degree, have been recognized in human rights law and various legal systems as a form of redress against state sanctioned or private forms of discrimination that has disadvantaged some groups over others. A recognizable form of gender specific type of special measures in Tanzania is affirmative action.

This has largely taken the form of setting aside quotas for women or other special groups in order that they have a prospect to partake or enjoy opportunities they would otherwise not enjoy. This is common in the education system especially in disciplines that traditionally excluded women. Yet, in the case of the political process, special seats i.e. vitimaalumu introducing a form of quota system to ensure some semblance of gender representation in parliament or local councils are being blasted by men and women alike.

When those opposing special seats expand on their objection it becomes evident that they may not be against women entering political office per say but they object to the current system of operating vitimaalumu. Article 66(1)(b) of the Constitution of the United Republic 1977 provides for special seats for women legislators at the parliamentary level. It requires that women be at least 30 percent of a l l p a r - l i a - mentarians.

Furthermore Article 66(1) (c) requires that at least two out of the five parliamentarians from the Zanzibar House Representatives. Furthermore, sub-article (e) of the same article requires that at least half of the 10 parliamentarians appointed by the President be women.

It has not always followed that the quota is filled since the President has the discretion to appoint the 10 members or not; and at any given time not all available appointments are filled. Article 78(1) provides the process of electing or appointing female legislators under the special seats arrangement. Multi-party politics pursued in Tanzania since 1995 required that the quotas be divided proportionally between parties voted into Parliament among political parties obtaining more than 5 percent of the votes in general or local elections.

The expectation by having such an arrangement is that all parties, not just the ruling party, would have an opportunity to benefit from the electoral system.This expectation is yet to be realized. Indeed, everywhere we have visited thus far, the proportion of women who are shehas in the case of Zanzibar or village chairs is negligible when compared to that of men occupying similar posts.At this level there is greater likelihood of seeing women in appointed positions such as the Ward or Village Executive Office (WEO or VEO) than an elected official like the local councillor such as diwani.

Thus if more than 15 years after the proportional representation system has been introduced where more political parties have been able to nominate or appoint women in representative bodies yet similar concerns of partisanship and ineffective representation still dominate popular opinion then certainly the problem of viti maalum is more fundamental than merely one of the incompetent weaker sex.

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