18 December 2012

Zambia: ZNWL Launches Fund to Push Women to Parliament

DEFEAT is not despair for losing Mangango Constituency independent candidate Bridget Likando, who has vowed not to give up hopes of trying over and over until she makes it to Parliament.

Ms Likando, a retired nurse was one of the only two female parliamentary candidates for Mangango Constituency in the 2011 tripartite elections.

Mangango Constituency with 17,157 registered voters as per 2011 voter's register, measures about 350 square kilometres.

According to Ms Likando, her decision to contest the Mangango parliamentary seat was based on her passion to ensure that she contributed to the SADC Protocol of ensuring 50 per cent women representation in decision-making positions.

Ms Likando explained that election campaigns are not easy, especially for female candidates, many of whom she said were still highly financially indebted because of financial resources which they borrowed.

"I had to borrow K80 million from micro finances to fund part of my campaign, this was in addition to the K30 million I had as my personal savings, and I received K1 million from the Zambian National Women's Lobby (ZNWL) to support my campaigns," she explained.

However, these resources were inadequate because she spent K20 million on food, K50 million for campaign posters, K30 million on lubricants and fuel, and K4 million on communications and air-time vouchers for her campaign team.

Some of the challenges Ms Likando experienced during the 2011 campaigns and elections include having her campaign posters pulled down, being verbally abused and called all kinds of names, but none of these deterred her from going all the way.

However, some female candidates succeeded in the 2011 elections, despite the numerous challenges they faced.

One such example is Rachael Mwelwa, who is the current Deputy Mayor in Kabwe.

The 2011 tripartite elections were not the first that she contested.

She stood as a councillor in the 2001 elections, but did not succeed until 10 years later when she decided to attempt again, and won.

Ms Mwelwa commended the ZNWL in Kabwe for supporting her candidature in the 2011 elections by giving her a grant of K1 million which she described as having gone a long way in assisting her in her campaigns.

"Although the money came very late (two weeks before the election date), I used the money to purchase eight torches, note-books, pencils, batteries and I also used part of the money to buy food stuffs for my election agents," she explained.

"Elections are not easy. I stood against four male candidates in my ward.

"It was not easy-going, especially that I was in the opposition party at the time. The only media we could access as opposition candidates was the community radio stations as a platform to sell our candidature," she explained.

Today, she is among the four female councilors in Kabwe, which has 27 wards.

Contrary to widespread perceptions that women do not support one another, Ms Mwelwa received over-whelming support from her fellow female councillors as well as her male counterparts, during the last mayoral elections, when she sailed through unopposed, earning her current title as Kabwe's deputy Mayor.

The experience she gained from the 2011 elections, has given her impetus to go for the top position of Mayor during the next elections.

The two women are just among hundreds of other similar stories of women that took part in the 2011 elections, which yielded 18 female parliamentarians and 85 female councillors in the country.

To this effect, the ZNWL in collaboration with other stakeholders last week launched what has come to be known as the Women Campaign Support Funds (WCSF) to assist aspiring female candidates for the 2016 local government and parliamentary elections.

These funds are meant to assist women mount effective campaigns to ensure that more women are elected into political office.

Speaking during the launch, ZNWL founding member Gladys Mutukwa explained that the funds were part of efforts by the women's movement to fulfill the SADC declaration of having at least 50 per cent women in decisio-making positions.

According to Ms Mutukwa, the decision to have a financial resource base for women candidates was arrived at after reviewing the findings of the report on the performance of women in the 2011 elections.

This is because one of the main highlights of the report were attributed to the poor performance of female candidates to lack of financial resources.

Despite the fact that a many of the female candidates did not succeed into political office in the 2011 elections, there have been tremendous efforts by both public and private sectors to ensure that women ascend to decision-making positions.

She explained that it was unfortunate to note that other countries in the SADC region for which Zambia was a model country in ensuring equal representation of women in decision-making positions, have surpassed the country by getting closer to achieving the SADC declaration.

"A lot of countries whom we trained have gone ahead of us and are now getting closer to the SADC target, while Zambia has continued to lag behind," she said.

Ms Mutukwa, who herself pledged K10 million towards the newly-launched women support campaign funds, implored women to uphold equal participation as a human right.

The WCSF has a historic background that dates as far back as 1995, when the late Princess Nakatindi Wina first launched the funds.

According to Ms Mutukwa, the reason behind establishing these funds, was to ensure that more women participated in the country's decision-making process.

Although she may be no more today, her efforts have eventually begun to bear fruit because some of the country's leading institutions which were predominantly led by men just a few years ago like the Zambia Police Service, the Drug Enforcement Commission, the Anti-Corruption Commission, the Judiciary among many others are today being led by women.

The funds were collected from institutions and people of all walks of life including cooperating partners, business entities, ordinary men and women.

Fundraising boxes were placed in shops, at events like the agricultural show, drama performances and community events to raise resources.

The Fund later grew and in the 1996 elections, 44 women from various political parties as well as the independent candidates who were contesting elections, benefited.

The women candidates were supported in the area of training, campaign materials, bicycles, actual cash for women to utilise it to purchase fuel, bicycles, campaign materials like caps, t-shirts, posters and fliers.

The current chairperson for the ZNWL Beauty Phiri explained that the launch of the funds was an indication that her organisation was committed to improving the representation and participation of women in decision-making processes, which had reduced especially in Parliament, which has recorded a reduction from 14 to 12 per cent, while in councils the margin has reduced by one per cent from 7 to 6 per cent.

The gender election analysis brings out the challenges that women faced during the 2011 elections and the recommendations that would improve women's participation in future elections.

In confirmation of some of the challenges faced by the two female candidates, the report indicates that one of the reasons why some women have fewer resources is due to inadequate financial and material support received from their political parties.

"In most cases, it has been established that male candidates receive more money from the political parties than their female counterparts.The other reason why women have less resources is that women in general still have fewer links to both the formal and informal networks that influence campaigns in Zambia.

"Women are less likely to have ties to the business and professional communities that supply campaign funds to their male counterparts, and they are more likely to be excluded from male-dominated networks within political parties that might otherwise help candidates gain a foothold through contacts, funding and other essential resources for the elections," Ms Phiri elaborated.

Over the years, the ZNWL has been assisting women candidates with a minimal financial and material support, but over time, the support has been reducing because of the reduced donor support in this area and this can be evidenced on how ZNWL struggled to support women in the 2011 elections.

Some of the specific objectives of the funds include raising general awareness on the importance of women's participation in decision making, to woo support from key stakeholders on financing women's participation in elections, and to reduce some of the funding needs and challenges that women encounter during campaigns and elections.

Ms Phiri explained that various sources of funding will be identified to contribute to the support fund.

"The sources of funding will be obtained from the private sector, cooperating partners, ordinary organisations and individual men and women from all walks of life. The distribution of the funds in 2016 will be done in a non-partisan manner to all women that have adequately prepared themselves to stand for elections and have successfully filed in their nominations for the elections. All women will benefit regardless of their political affiliation," she said.

The WCSF, which would be hosted by the ZNWL, is set to operate very independently under a committee that has been formulated and include organisations that represent different interests on issues related to female youths, women, corruption, media, legal and the business sector.

ZNWL executive director Juliet Chibuta emphasised the need for political parities to revisit their policies and adopt and support more female candidates to participate at various levels of political leadership.

It is such exposure and confidence that women are gaining that will ensure that the SADC protocol of having 50 per cent women in decision-making positions a reality, especially for a country like Zambia.

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