19 July 2018

Zimbabwe: Parties Undermining Women's Quota System

Photo: New Zimbabwe
Opposition leaders Tendai Biti and Nelson Chamisa (file photo).
analysis

There is a real risk by political parties to undermine the spirit behind the women's quota system which is provided for in the Constitution aimed at empowering women by reserving 60 National Assembly seats for them.

Mr Speaker Sir, an observation on candidates as the country races towards the July 30, 2018 harmonised elections, showed that some women MPs with geographical constituencies have given up those to take up seats under the proportional representation system which the Constitution envisages should be taken up by a woman who wants to be a legislator for the first time.

Needless to say the objective of such a provision is to elevate disadvantaged, but gifted women in decision making bodies such as Parliament.

There are many examples, but one that quickly comes to mind is Mufakose MP, Ms Paurina Mpariwa (MDC-Alliance), who has been MP for that area for almost 20 years, but suddenly relinquished contesting that constituency to take up a seat under the proportionate representation system.

There is also Ms Lynette Karenyi, chairwoman of the Nelson Chamisa led MDC faction who has been a legislator during the Seventh Parliament.

She was offered the seat upon losing primary elections in Dangamvura-Chikanga constituency in tension-filled polls for that party.

Mr Speaker Sir, there is no need to mention that the women's quota system was received with a lot of jubilation by women activists as an important milestone that would transform the political landscape of the country by empowering them. They had been previously marginalised due to various factors and other culturally related issues.

Women representation in the Parliament of Zimbabwe has improved to 35 percent, the highest since 1980. This was mainly achieved through the constitutional provision that 60 seats must be given to women through the proportional representation (PR) quota.

The inclusion of the 60 female MPs is over and above the 210 legislators with geographical constituencies where they are still free to contest with their male counterpart.

Section 124 (b) of the new Constitution reads:

". . . For the life of the first two Parliaments after the effective date, an additional sixty women members, six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected through a system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces . . ."

The adoption of the women's quota system by Zimbabwe was in line with relevant international instruments relating to full political rights for women, among them the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Political Rights of Women.

What this means, Mr Speaker Sir, is that the provision will only be valid for the first two terms of Parliament, meaning it will run up 2023.

It is on that basis, Mr Speaker Sir, that it only makes sense to allow female MPs coming for the first time to Parliament to be allowed to fill that quota otherwise political parties would be undermining the spirit of the constitutional provision.

There are already fears within political circles that without the extension of the quota representation of women in both political parties and Parliament, gender representation in politics will be taken 15 years back, where it stood at 10 percent.

Coming from a background of little resources, political violence, skewed political structures that are in favour of men and patriarchal practices that regarded women as inferior and weak political partners, women might find themselves in the cold -- again -- if no drastic action is taken by political parties.

Mr Speaker Sir, it appears that political parties are taking advantage of the absence of an enabling law as envisaged by the Constitution that bars such practices.

If the practice is allowed to persist, Mr Speaker Sir, attaining gender parity would remain a pipe dream if political parties do not demonstrate commitment to fulfil the letter and spirit of that objective.

In all fairness, Mr Speaker Sir, what would motivate a sitting female MP to take up a seat reserved for those that are disadvantaged.

Women activists would need to be forgiven for concluding that greed, ego and personal aggrandisement is what is motivating sitting MPs and former women legislators to take up seats earmarked for the marginalised.

Political parties, Mr Speaker Sir, would inevitably not escape blame on the deviation of the provision of the Constitution, where purposive interpretation of the law is needed.

The intention of the legislature, in coming up with such a legal instrument was to empower disadvantaged women who aspire to be legislators, but were failing to realise it owing to various factors such as resources.

It is also sad that affected women in those political parties have been silent when a window that had been created for them is being closed by colleagues.

Affected women should raise the red flag in their political parties and expose their leadership for paying lip service to women empowerment programmes.

The only way forward, Mr Speaker Sir, is for Parliament to enact laws that ensure that political parties observe the spirit of the constitutional provision.

If that is not done, the intended objectives of the provision will not be achieved given that there is timeline within which it would be in effect.

Already, Mr Speaker Sir, women lobby organisations and activists have started lobbying for the extension of the legal provision from its current two five-year term, saying it was too short a period for them to attain full empowerment.

This means, Mr Speaker Sir, that strict observance of the intention of the legislator in coming with that legal instrument is of paramount importance otherwise women would continue to complain that they were being marginalised.

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