By-elections highlight low representation of women in politics

Ruth Butaumocho-Africa Agenda

The March 26 by elections ended on a high note, amid reports that there were no reported cases of violence at all polling stations across Zimbabwe.

Celebrations broke out among the winners, while those who lost took time off from both the media and public glare to introspect on their performance.

However, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) aggregated results of the participants paint a grim picture on the participation of women and the percentage of those who won in the just-ended by-elections.

According to the statistics availed by ZEC, only 21,4 percent females won National Assembly seats compared to 78,6 males in polls held on March 26, both parliamentary and council.

Though grim as it may look, it was a premeditated outcome, considering that all political parties fielded less women compared to the men as election campaigns heated up weeks before the plebiscite.

Statistics on the ground show that only a paltry 15 percent of contestants in the March 26 by-elections were female, a decline which is attributed to political parties’ failure to field more women from their political stables, despite a commitment to do so, although their constitutions and election manifestos call for gender equality.

The percentage of female contestants have not moved from the 15 percent that was recorded in the July 2018 National Assembly elections, while participation of women at local authorities the same year stood at 17 percent.

 Such a decline is being recorded despite political parties’ constitutional provisions that aim to promote gender equality by ensuring that women compete alongside men.

The ruling Zanu PF party in its Constitution’s Article 2:14 acknowledges the need for gender equality when it “promises to oppose resolutely tribalism, regionalism, nepotism, corruption, racism, religious, fanaticism, xenophobia and related intolerance, discrimination on grounds of sex and all forms of exploitation of man by man in Zimbabwe”.

The same aspirations and commitments are clearly tabulated in the MDC-T constitution lead by the Douglas Mwonzora faction which was last amended in 2014.

The MDC-T constitution in Section 3:3 clause (k) states that: the party shall seek the mandate of the people and ensure “the equal representation of women in public office and within the Party.”

Defending the low decline in the number of women who were fielded in the March 26 by elections by his party, MDC -T spokesperson, Mr Lloyd Damba, said women did not come forward for selection.

“We fielded less women not because we barred them from contesting but not enough women came forward to present themselves as candidates in the 1st past the post by election over the weekend,” said Mr Damba.

He added that his party’s constitution was very much in line with the National Constitution that believes in 50/50 gender parity in all positions.

“As a party, we are encouraging women to go out and mobilise the grassroots so that they also can contest on a 50/50 basis with their male counterparts in all positions not just parliament but also party positions such as district chairpersons provincial secretary generals and organising secretaries.”

The ruling Zanu PF party, which had the highest number of women that took part in the just-ended elections compared to its counterparts, feels there is room to do more.

The Zanu PF national Political Commissar, Cde Mike Bimha, said; “The by elections were open for both male and female candidates. As a party we were very generous,  those who were eager to contest submitted their CVs. In Harare alone four Zanu PF female candidates took part and one of them sailed through. In 2023, we will have more women participating in elections. 

“We are pushing for equal representation,” said Cde Bimha.

Zanu PF National Political Commissar Dr Mike Bimha

Outside the proportional representation that has since been amended, the party is making several overtures through its women’s wing to ensure that young females are groomed into the party.

At national level, President Mnangagwa, who is also Zanu PF First Secretary recently proclaimed a quota system that will ensure that 30 percent of council seats in local authorities are reserved for women.

However, it appears that female political contestants could be battling a bigger beast than mere in-house politics.

Outside lack of implementation of constitutional provisions by their political parties, structural challenges such as lack of resources, violence, continue to hamper women’s participation.

According to UN Women, two main obstacles prevent women from participating fully in political life.

 These are structural barriers, where discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s ability to run for office, and capacity gaps, which occur when women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.

Systematic gender bias against female leadership, entrenched in socio-cultural and religious values that strongly assert that a woman’s position is in the kitchen still persists in Africa.

Other sections of society choose to parrot the usual sentiments that women do not support each other without looking at systematic diversionary tactics that make it practically impossible for women to be elected despite their levels of ingenuity.

However, history has also shown that the dynamics between women’s capabilities and ambitions on one hand, and the political will and political power of the “gatekeepers” of the parties on the other, determine the extent to which women can participate in local politics.

Opposition Labour Economic Afrikaan Democrats (LEAD) president, Linda Masarira, recently lamented the unabated decline in the country’s number of female politicians in electoral processes, which she attributed to the problem of political violence.

“Women in Zimbabwe continue to suffer from historical marginalisation and structural inequalities that exist in the political, social and economic spheres. Historically, the colonisers made sure that women stayed in the rural areas whilst the men were in towns or mines working and that strengthened the patriarchal system and gender inequalities prescribed by cultural, religious and traditional norms,” she was quoted in an online publication. 

 Though political parties may have 50:50 gender policies, there are still other issues such as stereotypes that have to be overcome that include views from male members of the same political party that women cannot be leaders.

Zanu PF candidate for Epworth – the only female candidate from the ruling party who romped to victory, Cde Zalerah Makari, says although the political terrain is not favourable for women, opportunities are there.

“There are a lot of opportunities opened by the Second Republic.

“There is stigma attached to women and politics. If we are aggressive, we rise and do away with statements like “one needs a man to prosper in the political career. 

“We are the citizens of this country, why shouldn’t women take part in political decisions?

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