The Sunday Mail
As the country determinedly seeks to empower women, Government is already actively considering a Constitutional amendment that will extend the women’s quota in Parliament. Currently, Section 124 of the Constitution provides for the proportional representation of women in Parliament by reserving 60 additional non-constituency seats for female legislators. However, the clause expires in 2023. At a recent Zanu-PF Women’s League National Assembly meeting, President Emmerson Mnangagwa indicated that Government was considering extending the clause. The Sunday Mail Gender and Community Affairs Editor Fatima Bulla recently talked to Zanu-PF’s secretary for women’s affairs and Senate president Cde Mabel Chinomona on the proposed extension and the way forward.
Question: Cde Chinomona, you recently tabled your request (for the extension of the women’s quota system) before President Emmerson Mnangagwa and he addressed your concern at the Women’s League National Assembly. What is your response to what he said?
Answer: Knowing that proportional representation, which had been agreed upon, was going to add another step (for women in politics), we even talked to him (President Mnangagwa) way back and he was saying ‘no, produce your (position)paper’, and so forth.
But now when he came (for the Women’s League National Assembly) . . . we talked to him and he said, “no, we are considering (it), but since we also want to be answerable to the quota system or the 50-50, according to the Constitution, I think we need to maybe instruct or tell our (permanent) secretary for justice Mrs (Virginia) Mabhiza since they are working on the Electoral Act so that they see where they can include that.’ We need it to be debated upon, so to us, we are happy that the Head of State has said that.
Q: Are there any changes to the provision that the women want to see?
A: We have not yet agreed among ourselves as women if it is the 60 seats in the country, or in the province or in Parliament which we want, or we need an electoral system which we are certain we are going to have 50-50 (representation). Because with this one we won’t be able to get the 50-50 since it is only six women per each province. When it comes for women to represent in their constituencies, they are made to go into the primary elections, of which this is where they just fail – they would not be voted in.
Q: But women are 52 percent of the population, how come they don’t vote for other women?
A: I discovered that economically we are still very poor as women because our counterparts have money, they have the resources; they can convince women. For example, when I was voted in as Senate president, I left my constituency and I wanted a woman to take over. The President said, “go and contest”. We fielded a woman and a man. Already in the constituency, the houses of the women chairpersons were full of groceries from the men, two-in-one blankets, and they were being sent money through EcoCash. So this is where we are saying even if we are given a chance to contest in the primaries, are we going to make it?
Q: But what are other women stakeholders saying about the soon-to-end lifespan of the women’s quota?
A: The Gender Commission came to my office asking me what I think and that was before the President had said what he had. I think I supported what they were saying that if we can change the Constitution to say we have a party list and say everyone should vote for his or her party, then it will be up to the party now to put in the 50-50; maybe that one will work.
At least the President has agreed and he is going to instruct the Ministry of Justice to include it in the Constitution, where the Electoral Act is going to be debated in Parliament.
Q: Why are women not coming through to contest some of the seats that are falling vacant?
A: It is the same reason: that our women are economically poor. They know that at the end of the day, they are not going to get the vote, so they just stay at home.
This is where we are. So now we do not know whether the President is going to accept that or if he is going to agree that we have the proportional representation through and through, because when we take it from our neighbour South Africa, I think that is what they do.
It will be up to the party to put their own women, but what the President encouraged us is that we include our women who are qualified so that when it comes to the appointment of ministers, they stand a chance.
Q: So what areas do women parliamentarians need to improve on going forward?
A: Maybe among ourselves we can have some workshops . . . so that in Parliament we talk women issues. You have to stand up, yes, courageously, and talk about your issues. Also funding of some organisations like Wipsu (Women in Politics Support Unit), which was helping women, is helpful. You know it is not a lie that culturally or traditionally, it was not easy for our women to go to school and also traditionally, a woman is not allowed to talk too much. It is something we are trying to encourage them to do, so I think we have got to be patient enough to keep on teaching them.
Q: What strides have you made since the introduction of the women’s quota?
A: We have a caucus committee where all the women Members of Parliament belong to. They have workshops where they take each (member) through, so when we have some problems, they discuss and debate so that when they come into Parliament, they do not allow a woman to heckle another woman. They have to encourage them to even clap hands for her so that she gains courage. We (as Zanu-PF) have our national chairperson (Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri) who is in the presidium, we have our Minister of Defence who is also a woman, meaning the parties are agreeing with us, but we still need to do more. We have been complaining about the boards which have been recently appointed, where you can get two women out of 10. Of which we are not quite happy. Qualified women are there .I am inviting women to join us in what we are doing. The young ones should come and take positions, we want to groom young women in this country.