Zimbabwe: Women Can Raise the Bar in Politics

16 January 2020

"Women, who are between the ages of 18 and 118, when it is time to vote, please do so in your self-interest. This is what men have been doing for years, which is why the world looks so much like them."

This quote, from American actress Michelle Williams on the night of the Golden Globes 2020, gave a sad, but true reflection of the absence of women in politics, despite their numerical advantage.

In her acceptance speech during the eventful night when most personalities avoided politics amid increasing tension between America and Iran, Michelle talked about the coming US elections, the status of women and their abortion rights.

While Williams' profound speech may have riled some conservationists who believe that no matter how many times women may vote, their votes many never be enough to put other women in power, it gave the female electorate an opportunity to introspect on the power of the suffrage.

Williams' passionate appeal sought to encourage women to vote for presumably female candidates, who will eventually make the world look like them.

What Williams probably forgot to do was to encourage women to be involved in politics as candidates if they want the world to become feminine.

The beginning of the new decade brings renewed hope for multitudes of women across the globe who have been calling for gender parity in political leadership.

It is historical that women's leadership role and political participation have been restricted globally, owing to various reasons.

While other scholars blame this on patriarchy and biological differences, that has not helped women bridge the gap in leadership.

In fact, no amount of voting by women will change the political narrative unless governments, political parties and women themselves make a deliberate decision to remove structural barriers that curtail their participation and involvement in politics.

The tabulated structural barriers, such as recruitment and internal party selection criteria on who should be fielded in a politically volatile constituency against a rival party, lack of financial resources, violence, institutional, cultural and social barriers, make it practically impossible for women to participate in politics.

Some of the said structural barriers are heavily embedded in political and social structures, and may take years to unbundle, hence the need to come up with measures that should expedite the participation of women in politics.

It is against this background that there is need for the amendment of the Constitution of Zimbabwe to extend the proportional representation of women in Parliament.

Recognition of the gender quota system in the 2013 amended Constitution of Zimbabwe was a welcome development in that the Constitution gave recognition that quotas are a tool that facilitates women's participation in politics.

However, the constitutional provision for women proportional representation in Parliament is set to expire in 2023, hence the need to lobby for its extension.

Reflecting on the timeframe that the quota system was operationalised, a lot was achieved on the political front.

The quota system created opportunities for women to be in leadership at such a high level.

In fact, the mechanism also benefited debut parliamentarians.

Some female Members of the National Assembly appointed through proportional representation in 2013 used that opportunity to consolidate their standing within constituencies, and therefore, graduated through direct election to become constituency MPs.

That alone was a firm ground to groom female politicians, who had no proper orientation in politics.

The quota system also provided a fair political field for women to access leadership, which is not available given the political culture in political parties.

Political parties are dominated by patriarchal values and norms of conduct which look down upon women.

Through the quota system some women were able to take up leadership positions which groomed them to graduate into directly elected constituencies as they had gained confidence and political experience.

I strongly believe the nation owes some of the appointment of provincial and current crop of ministers to proportional representation.

The nation now boasts of a high calibre of women heading powerful ministries, among them Honourable Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri, who is the Minister of Defence.

MDC A's Honourable Lynette Kore, who is a proportional representative for Manicaland, was also recently elected Vice President of her party.

Several other females on proportional representation are also doing a lot of work in various Parliamentary Committees, and the Pan-African parliament, among other international bodies.

Outside the extension of the proportional representation for possible two terms, both the Government and political parties will in the long term need to consider setting aside money to resource women interested in politics. Several countries have taken that route, with positive results being achieved.

Zimbabwe can take a cue from South Africa which gives more party finances to political parties which meet a certain threshold of women in Parliament.

The decision to resource women should not be deemed as commodification of women representation, but it is meant to promote female representation which induces a change of culture in political parties.

I believe Zimbabwean women's agitation for gender parity in political echelons is not misplaced, but is merely informed by regional trends, where female representation continues to grow at a phenomenal rate.

Namibia is ranked among the top 10 African countries which have advanced women in political decision-making structures.

The country's National Assembly has 48 out of 104 seats occupied by female members -- ministers and deputy ministers, as well as the Prime Minister and deputy prime minister, who are both women -- totalling 46 percent female representation.

The results of the recently held elections in Mozambique, show that the country is close to achieve 50/50 parity after results released by the Mozambique's National Elections Commission revealed that of the 184 Frelimo seats, 79 went to women.

The beauty of quota systems for women should never be lost on trivial and perceived disadvantages associated with proportional representation of women in politics.

Women should never be afraid of stereotypes often associated with affirmative action's such as being regarded as less qualified, but they should grab all opportunities availed to them to increase their participation in politics.

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