Political Will Needed to Achieve 50/50 Representation

Women marching in Harare, led by Walpe calling for 50/50 representation.
Photo Credit : Walpe
By Sindiso Mhlophe
ZIMBABWE is counted among top countries with an impressive legal framework aimed at increasing women’s participation in leadership and decision-making processes. 

Some of the protocols that Zimbabwe is signatory to include the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. 
 
In addition, Zimbabwe’s Constitution, which came into effect in 2013, not only provides for 50/50 representation in all spheres but provides for a quota of 60 parliamentary seats for women’s proportional representation in Parliament.
 
The new Constitution also gave birth to the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, whose mandate includes monitoring issues concerning gender equality and to ensure gender equality as provided for in the Constitution; and to investigate possible violations of rights relating to gender equality.
However, despite this impressive legal framework that seeks to increase the inclusion of women in political participation and other major decision-making organs, Zimbabwe is yet to achieve 50/50 representation.  
 
Statistics show that after the adoption of the new Constitution in 2013, the proportion of women in the National Assembly increased from 14 percent to 32 percent and in the Senate from 33 percent to 48 percent, resulting in an overall representation of 34 percent.
 
In the 2018 elections, however, this proportion reduced to 31 percent  despite the 30 percent proportional representation quota for women.
 
Human rights activist and Zimbabwe Peace Project (ZPP) director Jestina Mukoko said one of the major reasons why the country was yet to achieve 50/50 representation was the lack of political will to turn the legislative framework from paper to practice.
 
“The political will is missing because if we go according to our Constitution it speaks of 50/50 representation in any institution. At the moment, we had Cabinet posts that were open because the people who were in those posts passed away. What stopped us from deliberately going for women? 
“It’s not that we don’t have the calibre of women of women who can take up those positions. I’m sure we could have been able to fill in those three positions quite easily with women only so that we raise the number of women who are in strategic positions in government… We are still struggling with the number of women trying to catch up with men in Cabinet,” Mukoko said.
 
Cabinet, the highest decision-making body in Government, has a proportion of five women as  compared to 25 men.
Mukoko said another concerning issue threatening women’s political participation was that of political and intra-party violence against women.
 
“We are concerned about the political violence that women are subjected to. What we have seen in the past is that when a woman is subjected to political violence usually, they think about their family and as a result they throw in the towel to save the family around them. 
“So for us we believe that for the playing field to be level and also have a large number of women that could offer themselves for public office we need to do away with political violence,” Mukoko said.
 
“The other problem that we have is intra-party violence. What happens is that political parties have quotas which they are saying they work around, but none of those actually sticking to those quotas. 
 
“You will find that at times there are constituencies that are left for women, but you will find men who have the means coming into those constituencies. So we also need a reform of the laws for political parties to be made to stick to their quotas. Women cannot be made to get what the men are calling bhakosi (freebees). They are actually belittled because of the quota system and are told that they have come into parliament through bhakosi (freebees). That strips women of their confidence,” she added.
Mukoko called for stricter laws to hold to account perpetrators of political violence against women.
 
“We do not have the culture of punishing those who perpetrate violence, so there is nothing that deters them from using violence in the next election after they used it in the last. 
“We need to have laws that are punitive enough to ensure that if anyone perpetrates violence they are brought to account. Once that has happened, that person needs to be removed from the list of political candidates and that will be punishment enough for people to know that they cannot cross that line,” she said.
 
She said political will also had to extend addressing the use of hate language against women politicians, particularly on social media.
 
“At the moment we are also worried about some of the language that is used on social media, especially when it concerns women. You will see issues like women being questioned whether they are married or not. 
“When you are seeking public office, it is not a requirement for someone to be married, but then you find that there are lots of these things that are brought out into the public domain through social media. You will find women being called the H word (Shona word for prostitute) and that is always used for women. 
“No one is using it for men. So when it comes to men everything is okay but when it comes to women you really have to be squeaky clean. Who is squeaky clean? Whoever is squeaky clean should throw the first stone, because if we are all not then we should give each other an opportunity to get into public office,” Mukoko said. 
 
Bulawayo Councillor for Ward 17, Sikhululekile Moyo said political parties had a bigger role to play in facilitating the achievement of 50/50 representation. 
“While the country has signed so many declarations, there has not been much political will to operationalise the conventions and protocols. Political will starting from the political parties is very important because this is where candidates are nominated. 
“From my experience I think political parties are failing to implement 50/50 and the ground is not level for women during primary elections. It’s all because men will be using cash for vote buying and sometimes the registration fee that will be needed limits women’s participation,” said Moyo who is also the caretaker for Ward 19 and the chairperson of Bulawayo City Council’s (BCC) Future Water and Action Committee. 
 
She added that there was a need for additional laws to hold to account political parties who fail to field 50/50 candidates as stipulated by the Zimbabwe Electoral Act.
 
“There is need to have laws that force parties to have 50/50 candidates for council, parliament and senator positions. 
“Such laws should be in place by the end of this year so that come 2023 we can see a change otherwise with the current situation we are likely to have even fewer women candidates who will make it to those positions,” Moyo warned. 
 
Emthonjeni Women’s Forum’s executive director, Sikhathele Matambo said instead of finding sustainable solutions to address challenges hindering equal representation, the government was opting for a less effective option – proportional representation. 
“Political will is an integral part of achieving gender equality in Zimbabwe, noting that the constitutional provisions are there, and Zimbabwe is party to international treaties. Hence the prerogative is on duty bearers to action the legislative provisions as well as resource the obligation.
“Towards 2023 all the government needs to do is put in place enabling policies and laws towards the implementation of Constitutional provisions that promote 50/50 representation,” Matambo said.
 
“The government needs to provide an enabling environment for women’s participation and denounce political violence, especially sexual violence which inhibits women from active participation. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) should enforce 50/50 regulation on electoral processes as well as enforce that all candidates brought forward by all political parties,” she added. 
 
The government, through the Constitution Amendment Bill II, proposed a 10-year increment of women’s proportional representation in Parliament, a move which was met with mixed emotions.
Various women’s organisations argued that proportional representation would not assist in achieving 50/50 representation, while others saw it as a step towards ensuring women’s political participation. 
 
“Through clause 11 the Amendment Bill seeks to extend the provision for the women’s quota in the National Assembly by another two parliaments. The proposed changes fall short of equal representation as envisioned in section 17 of the constitution. 
“From all assessments of election results done, the quota system has not achieved the desired equal representation of men and women in public offices. The Constitution is too important to be amended to extend provisions which have been proven ineffective in the past,” the Election Resource Centre (ERC) said.
 
Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (Walpe) programmes manager, Batanayi Gwangwawa said the current state of women’s representation indicated that the country had only signed the 50/50 declarations for “cosmetic purposes.”
“Ratifying international declarations is not tantamount to automatic increased representation at domestic level. Ratifications must come along with political commitment at domestic level in order to operationalise those declarations. Zimbabwe has done well in coming up with a progressive 2013 Constitution, which in many ways is alive to gender equality trends across the globe.
 
“The Constitution needs full implementation as well as amendments and alignments with the Electoral Act in order for women to realise meaningful progress in political participation. So, unless if the Constitution is fully implemented, we will remain stagnant,” said Gwangwawa.
  
She added that there was a need for leaders to focus on the implementation of equal representation instead of quota representation which has not helped in the attainment 50/50 representation.
 
“Zimbabwe has very little political will, but I will acknowledge that in 2013 our government implemented a quota system which they anticipated would increase the representation of women. However, this has not been the case.
 
“I say little (political will) again because our Constitution is clear in sections 17, 56 and 80. It does not provide for a quota but equal representation, so if the government is sincere, they will ensure the full implementation of these not only at parliamentary level but at all levels of leadership including councils,” she said.
 
Gwangwawa indicated that political will was the single most important aspect which could turn around women’s representation and political participation.
 
“For instance, if leadership decides today that they now want equal representation, they will simply reign in all political parties through the Electoral Act and the Political Finances Act and ensure that all political parties who do not adhere to minimum 50/50 representation are automatically disqualified from an election or do not benefit equally from finances. 
“They have the power to implement such measures if they wanted,” she said. 


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