EDITORIAL COMMENT: More women need to come forward for polls

The progress of women in politics is moving forward, but very slowly with only 115 of the 637 candidates standing for the constituency seats in the National Assembly being women, according to the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development.

The percentage of women in Parliament will be far higher. There are the extra women elected on party lists in each province according to the proportion of votes their parties candidates won in the constituency elections.

This group of women was brought in Parliament via the Constitution precisely to rectify the rather low percentages that came in through constituencies.

But it was thought 10 years would be enough and it was not, and the period for these extra women’s seats had to be extended for another decade the last time we amended the Constitution.

Even with these seats, the membership of the National Assembly is highly unlikely to reach even 50 percent women.

The Senate is a bit different. The largest group of senators are the provincial representatives, elected in each province on party lists depending on the party proportion of votes in the National Assembly constituency elections.

This group invariably has a majority of women because of the “zebra” lists that the parties have to submit.

Each party list must alternate women and men, with the first on the list being a woman. Because the actual number in the Senate is based on proportional representation it is exceptionally unlikely that any party will win all six seats in any province.

With the “zebra” list headed by a woman, any party winning an odd number of seats in a province will have a female majority. And that happens.

This is counterbalanced by the 18 senator chiefs, two from each of the eight non-metropolitan provinces plus the president and vice president of the National Council of Chiefs.

While the odd woman chief has now appeared, mainly in Matabeleland where male preference primogeniture prevails, the numbers are so small that they have yet to produce a senator chief elected by their fellow chiefs.

Political parties in Zimbabwe do not bar women from participating or standing for office, but fewer women come forward than men.

To take Zanu PF, the most organised party and the only one to run primary elections to select the party candidate for wards and constituencies, has a deliberate policy to encourage women to come forward.

But the positions in the party organisation, and the winners of the primaries, are the result of straight forward internal elections by party members. And despite the encouragement given to women, fewer women win nominations than men.

Before the women’s extra quota was established in 2013 Zanu PF went to the extent of reserving some constituencies for women. This well-meaning move did give rise to some problems.

For a start the best women candidates in a province or even a district might not be in the reserved constituency, and there was a tendency by local politicians to see other constituencies as reserved for men, not always but it was a factor.

The quotas for party list women is better, but it still in most political parties generates an attitude that if there is a first class woman facing a reasonable man, to get both by moving the woman to near the top of the party list for her province, with the near certainty she will get in that way.

So in some ways the party lists and women’s quota by creating a side route for women remove them from the front line in the constituencies. The same problem is likely in the wards where this year sees the same system applied to all local authorities.

The only way forward is to try and have more women competing in and winning primaries, and that requires more than just a change in attitudes by some voters.

Most Zimbabweans now accept that women can fill any position, but that does not always translate into helping exceptionally able women move up the political ladders.

Exceptional women do make it to the constituency and ward nomination level, and when you look at the neighbouring wards and constituencies it is obvious that their percentage of the vote is almost identical to that won by their party in the next door election.

So voters are not biased against women, and presumably primary voters are not biased either.

So, we come down to why fewer women get involved in the nitty gritty of local politics, and winning a party nomination for Parliament or a council is nitty gritty politics. Successful primary candidates have to spend a lot of time showing their worth to communities and here the general problems faced by women, still, in many professions comes to light.

It is a very time-consuming business requiring something close to 24/7 availability.

To this must be added that in the past, there were more women drop outs, more women married far too young and losing education opportunities, and women still regarded as somewhat threatening if they moved out of the home. So the pool can be smaller. These attitudes are changing, and about time, but there are still some effects down the line.

Opposition parties, where candidates tend to be parachuted in by national leaders, present their own problems.

The parachuted woman has to attract the attention of the national leader, and that has led to some unpleasant remarks that would tend to make other women wary of putting their name forward.

This is a pity as every party needs to move towards the position where around half their candidates are women, who have emerged from the primaries of the more obscure political processes by being the best candidate for a particular seat.

The Constitution recognises this, with the women’s quota being a clear temporary position, even when the temporary period had to be extended, and to fall away when women were coming up for half the number of ordinary seats.

It is just a longer process than we had hoped, but we now have society largely changed, there is remarkably little bias among voters.

So we just need more able women to come forward.


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