Zimbabwean women are facing a serious setback in their quest for gender equality and empowerment, as the country's leadership fails to uphold the constitutional provisions that guarantee their representation and participation in politics
The recent appointment of two male Vice-Presidents and a predominantly male Cabinet by President Emmerson Mnangagwa has sparked outrage among women's rights activists, who say it violates the spirit and letter of the country's 50/50 representation commitment.
The Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), a network of women's rights organisations, said the praesidium appointments showed a 100% win for men against women and called for a review of the selection process to ensure gender balance.
Madrine Chiku, Chairperson of WCoZ, further underscored the dwindling representation of women in pivotal decision-making roles, calling for immediate action. "Only 22 women out of the 70 were duly elected as members of the National Assembly in their respective constituencies, constituting a mere 31% of the total number of women who contested for National Assembly seats in the August 23, 2023 elections. This represents just 10% of the total number of directly elected members of Parliament," Chiku lamented.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC), a constitutional body mandated to promote and protect gender equality, also expressed its concern over the lack of a sustained culture of constitutionalism and accountability on gender issues in Zimbabwe.
In a statement read by its chief executive Virginia Muwanigwa at a function organised by WCoZ in Harare yesterday, ZGC commissioner Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe said the country's continual failure to adhere to the constitutional provisions was a huge barrier to achieving gender equality and total advancement of women.
She blamed political parties for not providing an equal platform for women to contest and participate in governance processes, saying gender issues were largely relegated to the periphery and accorded less priority.
She cited the low number of women who were directly elected as members of Parliament in the August 23, 2023 elections, saying it reflected the lack of buy-in from party leadership and the electorate on the importance of women's representation.
"Only 22 women out of the 70 were duly elected as members of the National Assembly in their respective constituencies and this represents 31% of the total number of women who were contesting for National Assembly seats and 10% of the total number of directly elected members of Parliament," she said.
She urged political parties to adopt affirmative action measures such as quotas, reserved seats and proportional representation systems to increase the number and quality of women candidates in future elections.
She also called for the implementation of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Gender Policy, which aims to promote gender mainstreaming in electoral processes and institutions.
According to a position paper by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a civil society organisation that monitors elections, women's participation in politics is guaranteed by various international, regional and local legal instruments that Zimbabwe is party to.
These include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, and the Constitution of Zimbabwe.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe, which was adopted in 2013, provides for gender equality and non-discrimination in section 56 and stipulates that women must constitute at least half the membership of all commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies in section 17.
However, ZESN noted that these constitutional provisions have not been fully implemented or enforced, resulting in low levels of women's representation and participation in politics.
It recommended that ZEC should ensure that political parties comply with the constitutional requirements on gender balance when submitting their candidate lists and that it should conduct voter education campaigns to raise awareness on the importance of voting for women candidates.
It also suggested that civil society organisations should engage with traditional and religious leaders, who have influence over communities, to challenge negative cultural and social norms that hinder women's participation in politics.
It further proposed that the media should provide fair and balanced coverage of women candidates and that women should form coalitions and networks to support each other during campaigns.
The nation stands at a crossroads, where the commitment to gender equality and women's rights will either be reaffirmed or further eroded, leaving lasting consequences for its political landscape and society as a whole.