The composition of the Ninth Parliament has failed to inspire faith in the fight for gender equality after only a handful of female parliamentarians made it into the august House.
Of the 350 legislators who were sworn in on Wednesday, 117 were women, with the majority getting in through the proportional representation quota system.
In the Lower House, there was a huge decrease in female representation compared to the two previous Parliaments after only 26 women out of the 210 legislators made it into Parliament.
The latest figures point to a dichotomy in the gender equality narrative by political parties, something that has not missed the eye of the Speaker of Parliament, Advocate Jacob Mudenda.
Speaking to members of the International Republican Institute and National Democratic Institute electoral observer mission, Advocate Mudenda observed the need to harmonise the national Constitution and those of political parties to stop the decrease of female Members of Parliament in the legislative assembly.
Suffice to say the gender inequality narrative has been on the table for too long and there doesn’t seem to be a serious commitment to address it by parties, despite the existence of constitutional provisions that speak to the problem.
The speed at which Zimbabwe has over the years been endorsing regional and international agreements on the promotion of gender equality is not matched by action on the ground.
While there are contestations on the causes of gender inequality in Zimbabwe with some blaming patriarchy, the nation needs to investigate real reasons why women are failing to rise to close the gap.
Over the years, political violence has also been blamed for women’s failure to effectively participate in politics. With no high profile political violence cases reported in the just-ended harmonised elections, what other prejudicial factors could have resulted in the decline of female representation even during primary elections?
Are the women themselves not competent or institutional structural issues in political parties are hindering their ascendancy?
The nuanced criticism of proportional representation in the country’s Parliament and failure by political parties to stick to their commitments to the quota system has not aided the call for gender equality.
If political parties are as committed as everyone to ensure gender equality, have they been doing enough to harness and nurture aspiring female politicians and prepare them for leadership?
It is disheartening to note that the same political parties are abusing the female representative quota system by reserving for friends and party loyalties instead of giving the platform to competent, but disadvantaged women who want to get into politics.
The elevation of seasoned female politicians to the august House under proportional representation defies the spirit of this constitutional provision which is meant for competent, but disadvantaged aspiring female politicians.
By now seasoned female political cadres should have been joining men in the political track, rather than use a constitutional provisional meant for political novices to be in Parliament.
Zimbabwe, known for its high literacy rate, seems to have failed to read into the importance of gender equality discourse that has permeated countries like India, Bolivia, Sierra Leone and our neighbouring Malawi which have embraced female leadership at the highest level.
These countries stand tall, way ahead of us in promoting gender equality, dwarfing Zimbabwe’s efforts in the discourse.
As a nation, we need a paradigm shift towards engendered leadership to ensure that we do not remain in the Stone Age era, where women’s roles are not confined to the kitchen.
We must be careful not to bequeath the same archaic narrative to future generations — a narrative that belittles the role of women in national development — but instead train them to promote inclusivity and diversity.
The role of women in decision-making is a key condition for women’s empowerment, in addition to being a basic human right of women to participate in decisions that affect their lives.
As we push for gender equality in Parliament, Cabinet and beyond, let us not also ignore the historical socio-economic circumstances that shaped the current status of women.