The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: 'Give Us Our 51 percent Share'

THEY came from different backgrounds, sat, spoke, sang and raised issues that affect them. The young women ate together, laughed at each other's jokes, yet they were still hungry for more.

One thing brought these young women together - opportunities for women their age are hard to come by in their political parties.

This was a rare day, as young energetic women from the three main political parties - Zanu-PF, MDC-T and MDC - came together to discuss challenges facing them and what they would do to get around them.

This was not a meeting to change anyone's line of thinking, political allegiance or beliefs, it was a day dedicated to sharing ideas and make their voices heard once back home.

It was at this meeting that the young female politicians called upon Zimbabwean women to be more aggressive, demand political space, grab opportunities and shun political positions handed over to then on a silver platter.

Meet the Zimbabwe Young Women's Network.

Currently, under the leadership of Maureen Kademaunga, Tendai Wenyika, Cecilia Chivhunga, Melissa Ndlovu, Varaidzo Mugodi and Cecilia Chimbiri, the network brings together young women politicians who seek to promote their participation in decision making processes and structures.

They put special emphasis on capacitating young women leaders in politics.

The network's main thrust is capacitating young upcoming and aspiring female leaders through the provision of an interactive and networking platform as well as building a formidable force to fight for young women's political space.

Speaking during a consultative and consensus building meeting of the Zimbabwe Young Women's Network in Harare last Friday, the women unanimously agreed that young women were the missing piece in a political chess game hence the urgent need to fill the gaps.

They said they would come up with a taskforce and identify the number of women who want to participate in the next elections since they all face similar challenges including gender discrimination and sexual harassment among many others.

Member of Parliament for Shurugwi South Anastasia Ndhlovu, who is the country's youngest woman parliamentarian, said the Young Women's Network was long overdue.

She said young women in Zanu-PF are fortunate because their constitution stipulates that one in three positions should be held by a woman.

"However, the numbers of women become smaller in the Central Committee and Politburo, where decisions are made. The Women's League has made a conscious decision to involve young women in their structures.

"We now have space in the Women's League. Oppah Muchinguri took it upon herself to kick- start a project where older women would be deputised by young women. This is still being worked on and once agreed upon will go a long way in mentoring and preparing us for leadership," she said.

She added they do not intend to make older female politicians insecure, but would want to be mentored by them and fill the existing gaps.

"Revolution of women is important and can only be effective if young women politicians are taken on board," she added.

Kimberly Bhebhe, who represented MDC-T, said women in her party are not participating effectively and there is a lack of formalised relationship between the youth assembly and women's assembly.

"There is no female MP under 30 in MDC-T, we just have councillors. Reasons include the political environment, which is not conducive," she said.

She said people should demystify that only men can make it in politics.

"We should take off our political jackets and look at the destiny of young women in political issues," she added.

MDC representative Cecilia Chimbiri described the under-representation of young women politicians as disheartening.

She said the visibility of young women in politics was a challenge as they were at the bottom of the political ladder.

"There are issues like violence, and lack of support from other women. We have been in many forums and talking about the challenges and are happy that we have a network that will enable us to find a way forward.

"We need to teach people that politics is not a dirty game," she said.

She bemoaned that young women are not receiving enough mentoring from experienced female politicians.

"Mentoring still remains a challenge. Mentoring will bring great confidence to young women, sadly not much is not done though there is room to manoeuvre," she said.

Maureen Kademaunga said the challenges would soon become a thing of the past as the network is a unique platform that offers networking opportunities to young women from across the political divide.

"It also seeks to mobilise, agitate and organise young women from all walks of life to form a critical mass, which will be able to push for gender parity and the upliftment of young women's rights.

"It is feasible for young women to work together under this platform because the issues that unite them are more than the issues that divide them.

"The core values on which this network is being created include the celebration of diversity. It also presents a safe space from which young women can deliberate issues that affect them; this alone makes the goal of the network attainable," she said.

She added that their mission is to close the gender gap in political leadership through enhancing and increasing quality participation of young women in governance and political processes.

"Our vision is to see a Zimbabwe where young women are free and equal partakers of our political liberties," she added.

Senior politicians from Zanu-PF, MDC-T and MDC took some time off their busy schedules to give motivational talks to the women.

Minister of Youth Development, Indigenisation and Empowerment Saviour Kasukuwere said young women have been underestimated for too long in politics yet they constitute the majority of the population.

"Women are in the majority and I do not know why we do not have them in leadership. When young people from various political persuasions come together, they are breaking the barriers," he said.

He added that sexual harassment within political parties is a serious problem and they are working hard to protect young women and give them due respect.

Minister of Information, Communication Technology Nelson Chamisa said young women should assert themselves and not become beggars in politics.

"Politics is not charity; leadership is not a baby shower. Do not accept that young people are leaders of tomorrow, do not wait to be invited, opportunities are grabbed, taken, what is offered is Christmas by Jesus Christ, not politics, not leadership," he said.

Public Service Minister Lucia Matibenga said women should not be apologetic if given positions of responsibility.

Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare,Monica Mutsvangwa: "Politics is about values and principles of you country not about other people. You should learn to fit everywhere. You will to make it in politics if you are arrogant.

Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development Jessie Majome also urged women to be aggressive and claim their space in politics.

Women in Politics Support Unit) says women make up more than 51 percent of the population of most African countries, including Zimbabwe (approximately 52 percent according to the recent census).

Wipsu says participatory democracy cannot be achieved if more than half of the population remains voiceless with no full access to decision-making and to the activities that influence the course of their future.

"According to the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), 'genuine democracy cannot exist without the full and equal participation of both men and women in politics'.

"Zimbabwean statistics reveal that women's representation in Parliament has reached 9 percent at its lowest and 22 percent at its highest -- a far cry from the 30 percent minimum set by the 1997 Sadc Declaration on Gender and Development and even further from achievement of the 50 percent benchmark set by the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development and Millennium Development Goal 3," according to the Wipsu website.

Regionally, Rwanda is the only country to have surpassed the 50 percent mark with 56,3 percent women in its current Parliament.

South Africa follows closely behind at 45 percent as at the 2009 elections.

Adds Wipsu: "According to statistics from the Inter Parliamentary Union, given the Sub-Saharan Africa regional average of 17,8 percent women's representation in Parliaments, it will take some 25 years just to reach the a critical mass of 30 percent and another 25 years to reach 50 percent."

Wipsu notes that there are several reasons why to date, Zimbabwe has failed to meet both the 30 percent and the 50 percent targets.

"An assessment of the current legal and policy framework for women's representation in politics in Zimbabwe has shown that the relevant laws and policies are somewhat deceiving.

"While there appears to be no legal barriers to women's representation in Parliament in Zimbabwe, the legal framework for elections (the process which enables women to enter parliament) has glaring gaps.

"Both the Constitution of Zimbabwe and the Electoral Act (chapter 2:13), seemingly promote women's political rights, but make no specific provisions for strategies such as quotas or reserved seats to increase women's representation in Parliament.

"Further, there is no provision in the current Constitution of Zimbabwe that allows for International and Regional conventions that, once ratified by the Government of Zimbabwe, should become part of national laws without the need for domestication.

"This means the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, ratified in October 2009, will take many years to be domesticated, yet the next elections will be the last chance to achieve the 50/50 benchmark set by that Protocol," the website added.

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