9 January 2013

Zimbabwe: Is 2013 the Year for More Women MPs?

DESPITE women constituting 52 percent of the country's population, the obtaining situation in the legislative assembly does not mirror their dominance with the fairer sex presently occupying a mere 18 percent of the Parliamentary seats.

Women's representation in most organisations, including political institutions, has been subdued by patriarchy which is still heavily entrenched in Zimbabwe.

Disparities also exist in the legal field, access to and control over productive resources, education and health.

A report by the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of Democracy in Africa illustrates that there were a total of 100 seats in the legislature in 1980 and 1985, and only nine were taken up by women.

In 1990, 1995 and 2000, there were 150 seats in Parliament with 21, 22, and 14 taken up by women respectively.

In 2005, there were 120 seats and only 20 were taken up by women. In 2008 there were 210 seats and only 30 were held by women.

Statistics from Envision Zimbabwe Women's Trust shows that women comprised 28 percent of councillors in rural district councils and 11 percent of urban councils in 2005.

In 2008, in the 1 967 wards of Zimbabwe, 367 women councillors were elected in rural councils and 63 were elected in urban councils. Men comprised the rest of the 1 547 councillors.

Women made up only 22 percent of the total, while out of 10 provincial governors, only two are women.

While the available figures show progress in gender equality, women emancipation and gender mainstreaming, a lot still needs to be done to break the glass ceiling.

With the 2013 elections on the horizon, women are hopeful of increasing their numbers in political leadership.

The Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) draft charter already offers women candidates a quota of 60 uncontested parliamentary seats, giving a flicker of hope to women.

Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development Deputy Minister Jessie Majome, said adopting the COPAC draft would boost women's chances of tilting the scales in Parliament in their favour.

"Without these measures, women are likely to be crowded out as happens when the political tension levels rise. The 2013 elections are a do or die for the parties like never before and women are at risk of being cast aside as 'weak'," she said.

The culture of male dominance has remained strong in Zimbabwe where some sections of society still believe that women belong in the kitchen.

Recent utterances by ZANU-PF politburo member Obert Mpofu that Matabeleland North will not introduce a quota system for women in the forthcoming party primary elections shows that even some in top positions still pour scorn at women. This is despite the fact that the government is signatory to the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Develo-pment, which envisages a 50/50 representation by 2015.

Article 28 of the protocol states that: "State parties shall endeavour to put in place measures to ensure that women have equal representation and participation in key decision-making positions in conflict resolution and peace building processes by 2015 in accordance with United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security."

Since the Beijing Conference in 1995 when governments in southern Africa set benchmarks and targets to mitigate gender disparities and enhance human development goals, Zimbabwe has been making progress towards promoting the inclusion of women, minorities and other excluded groups in its electoral system.

Women have also been aggressively pushing for recognition.

Only this week, Grace Kwinjeh, a journalist and human rights campaigner, declared her interest to contest the Makoni Central seat in the next elections.

To set the ball rolling, she has launched her campaign on social media through Facebook.

"Please support my campaign for a parliamentary seat by liking this page. At the moment I am campaigning for endorsement in Makoni Central. The date of the primary election is yet to be announced," she said.

The 2013 elections will provide a litmus test for female politicians to shift the current Parliamentary statistics from 18 percent to at least 50 percent.

If Rwanda can achieve 56 percent why not Zimbabwe considering women often make up the bulk of participants at any rally or political event?

Zimbabwe's Organisation for Youth in Politics (Midlands) director, Nkosilathi Moyo, said the best bet for women would be the fruition of the current draft constitution into a fully functional constitution as it provides 60 seats for women legislators.

"This, however, is highly misleading when it comes to the attainment of 50/50 representation. What needs to be done is an adoption by political parties of a policy that provides for the secondment of female candidates outside the 60 seats, in this way it would be feasible to look at equal representation," Moyo said.

"Zimbabwean politics has not reached a stage where we can safely say equal representation can be achieved. Female candidates might be available but may even lose to their male counterparts who would have done a lot of work before and have gained much visibility. This is politics and sympathy has no space," Moyo added.

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