There is no doubt that Zimbabweans are grappling with the challenge of how to effectively increase female political representation in their Parliament. The quota system in Zimbabwe is that for the life of the first two Parliaments, that is Parliament of 2013-2018 and 2018-2023, an additional 60 women members; six from each of the 10 provinces (or States in other countries) will be elected through a system of proportional representation based on votes cast for candidates representing political parties in general election for constituency members in the provinces.
During last week’s Electoral Amendment Bill Conference in Harare, hosted by election watchdogs Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN) and Election Resource Centre (ERC), there was emphasizes on the importance of ensuring gender mainstreaming in all electoral processes. Participant and Member of Parliament Honorable Priscilla Misihairambwi bemoaned how party lists for candidates to participate in general elections are generated by men whilst women are bystanders. She alluded to the need for shifting mindsets in order to increase the number of women representation beyond the quota system.
According to the March 2018 data from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), within Southern Africa Development Community (SADC), Namibia lead with 46.2 percent female political representation in their Parliament, followed by South Africa with 42.4 percent ranked 4th and 9th globally respectively. Mozambique is 13th worldwide with 39.6 percent of women in Parliament. Angola has 30.5 percent and ranked 48th globally; Lesotho has 22.1 percent and ranked 83 in the world. Seychelles is number 90 globally with 21.2 percent of women representation followed by Madagascar with 19.2 percent of women in parliament and ranked 103 globally. Zambia follows on number 112 globally with 18 percent of women representation; Malawi is not far off on number 121 globally with 16.7 percent of women representation in parliament.
Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) that is set to hold general elections later this year is ranked 124 globally with 16.3 of women representation in parliament. Rwanda has taken the lead in this regard. According to the March 2018 statistics available from the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), Rwanda is ranked first globally, with 61.3 percent of its parliament composed of women, while Uganda is ranked as 32 globally with female representation in the national parliament estimated at 34.3 percent. Burundi (26th) and Tanzania (23rd) are in fact not far behind Uganda with 34.3 percent and 30.7 percent female representation in their national parliaments (respectively).
Zimbabwe is however, a whole different case. In the 2008-2013 Parliament, representation by women was 16 percent in the National Assembly (Lower House) and 25 percent in the Senate (Upper House). The percentage of women in the current Parliament (2013-2018) increased to 35 percent in the National Assembly and 48 percent for the Senate, but there was an actual decline in the number of women directly elected, as the increase was courtesy of the quota system.
The number of directly elected women representing constituencies decreased from 34 in 2008 to 26 in 2013; globally Zimbabwe was ranked as 35, a far cry from its Southern African neighbors. This is despite the considerable efforts of civil society organizations towards increasing female political representation. Some progress may however, be seen, during and after Zimbabwe’s 2023 general elections when the 60 seats reserved for women in Parliament expires.
The only hope for women is either to have the quota system extended beyond 2023 or amend the Political Parties Act of 2001 to among other things, promote the participation of women in the formation and management of political parties by for instance requiring that parties ensure that 30 percent or more of all party candidates are women as is the case in Liberia which held its latest general election in 2017. It is anticipated that this will lead to increased female representation in the political sphere; in parliament and in local authorities.
Concerns still persist about such issues as the fact that the Political Parties Act dwell more on banning foreign funding for political parties and negate to stipulate guidelines for the conducting of party nominations, to ensure that women are not sidelined in participating in National Assembly elections. The law also does not require that parties’ structures and cultures be reviewed to ensure that they do not discriminate against one sex. The impact of the regulations instructing listing candidates beginning with women on Senate and provincial council propositional reserve seats was a milestone in the 2013 general elections. This translated into significant gains for women.
The passing of the 2013 Constitution is a testament to the hard work that women’s rights organizations and their partners have put into advancing women’s political institutions and processes. How far this will go in advancing the numbers of women political participation remains to be seen.
There will always be work that needs to be done with aspiring women politicians to ensure that they indeed benefit not only from the 60 seats reserved for the quota system, but also from direct election to the National Assembly which give them a clear mandate and a “real constituency”. They need to understand the limitations of these laws in so far as their ability to participate equally with men is concerned. They and their supporters need to strategize about what can be done to strengthen accountability within party structures in the National Assembly and Senate respectively and to the ideals of gender equity and equality; the accountability mechanisms appear weak.
Beyond the above, it is also important to work on promoting female representation in the leadership of the executive ranks within ministries, semi-autonomous government authorities and autonomous government agencies, beyond the gender balance stipulated in the Constitution. Parliament is just one area where women can express their leadership abilities. It is also as important that in the day-to-day management of government resources, and in the delivery of services, women would be able to assume leadership positions.
This is one critical way of challenging the norm and possibly transforming our understanding of what leadership is in the public and private sphere. With the general elections a few months away one hopes more women participate and win seats in parliament. Zimbabwe still has a long way to go to achieve 50/50 representation parity in parliament.