Rumbidzayi Zinyuke-Senior Reporter
The participation of women in politics has registered a downward trend over the past nine years, despite the introduction of the proportional representation system, a development which stakeholders have said calls for concerted efforts to push the 50-50 gender parity agenda as enshrined in the national Constitution.
According to statistics, only 16 percent of the candidates who took part in the 2013 local authority elections were female, while the national assembly elections had a 34 percent female representation.
The increase in the representation of women came after the inclusion of the quota system into the national Constitution which reserved 60 national assembly seats and 30 local government seats for women.
However, the 2018 harmonised elections witnessed a decline in the number of female parliamentarians and councillors to 14 percent and 31 percent respectively.
During the March 26 by-election, political parties did not field female candidates in 17 of the 28 seats that were up for grabs.
Speaking during a meeting held in Kadoma recently to map a way forward in the attainment of the 50/50 gender parity, former ZEC Commissioner Netsai Mushonga said there was need for political parties to go back to the drawing board.
“Since the introduction of the quota system in Parliament, we initially saw a big increase in representation of women, but what we are now seeing is that the number of women who are running for seats seems to be continuously coming down with each election,” she said.
“It is not going to be easy to claim those seats from men, but if we have this included in laws such as the Electoral Act, then we might end up having nominations which are gender balanced.”
Zanu PF Women’s League national political Commissar Maybe Mbohwa said the attainment of the 50/50 gender parity could be achieved if it started being implemented at party level.
“The lack of equal representation of women in politics is a cause for concern for everyone,” she said. “There is a tendency to point fingers and blame each other, but as women we should be thinking about what we want to achieve.
“President Mnangagwa has led by example and appointed five women and five men into the Provincial Ministers’ offices. We should follow suit and have party constitutions which compel us to submit a candidate list that is compliant with the 50/50 agenda to ZEC.
“Politics has been viewed as an area for women who are not cultured and that leadership was just supposed to be for men. That stuck in our minds and we have now passed this on to our children.
“So we now have to start uprooting that idea through educating the girl child. Politics should be taught from primary level so that girls grow up knowing they can take politics as a career and not face any stigma for it.”
LEAD president Linda Masirira said women needed to develop a thick skin for them to compete with men and win seats in local government and the national assembly.
“Being a woman in politics in Zimbabwe is very difficult because people will not accept you easily,” she said.
“What is important is for women to take time to get into the political field so that they can change the country’s situation from within.
“There are many things that affect us as women that we fail to change because we are not there in the making of decisions.”
Lupane local board chairperson Councillor Monica Ngwenya reiterated the importance of using the quota system to push more women onto the political arena.
“The quota system has helped to put us on the map as women, but as long as we have not changed our mindset and we don’t know who we are and what we want, still segregating each other according to tribes and political parties, we will not get anywhere,” she said.
“The system should be a stepping stone. It should help us get more women into politics for them to move forward and support other women to get to the top.”
CCC vice president Lynette Karenyi said women should support each other to increase their participation in politics.
“We have not done enough to push women participation in politics,” she said.
“Even our structures in parties should change and we need to start having conversions on doing away with women’s wings so that everyone can be included in the main wings of the parties.
“It is time for women across parties to unite and fight for 50/50 instead of fighting for the 60 proportional representation seats.”
Government, through the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Small and Medium Enterprise Development, reiterated its commitment to achieving gender equality.
Director for gender mainstreaming within the ministry, Mr Stephen Nyaruwata, said the formulation of the 2017 National Gender Policy had been a step towards achieving this.
“In the formulation of the policy, one of standalone thematic areas covered was the Women in politics and decision making,” he said.
“The thematic area was to inform all national efforts to ensure equal representation is a reality in our country.
“It will also inform the participation of women in the policy formulation and implementation of Government policies at community level, in local government, in the community itself, in the public and private sector including the public service.”
Women and Law in Southern Africa national director Mrs Fadzai Traquino said women across the political divide were facing similar challenges hence should unite to achieve similar goals of women empowerment and gender parity.
“The statistics are not lying,” she said. “While we have the constitution and Zimbabwe is a signatory to a number of regional and international instruments that advance women’s rights which have set benchmarks towards a 50/50 gender parity, we seem to be regressing.
“We need to come to a common understanding of what are driving this regression and how do we build common strategies across the political divide, institutions and begin to work towards a common goal.”
Mrs Traquino said gender equality should be taken as a priority within all institutions of government and political parties and individuals to ensure that everyone supports women’s participation in politics.