The Sunday Mail
ONE of the 28 proposed amendments to the Constitution, currently before Parliament, provides for an extension of the women’s quota in the August House indefinitely.
Government wants to amend Section 124 (1)(b) in order to extend the seconding of women to Parliament through the proportional representation system beyond 2023.
In terms of the Constitution, 60 seats (six from each province) are set aside for women Parliamentarians in the National Assembly and this provision was set to fall away after the next harmonised elections.
The reasoning behind this provision was primarily to engender women’s participation in electoral and governance processes.
Observers noted that this provision counterbalanced the constituency-based electoral system, which is viewed as highly competitive and unfriendly to women who have ambitions to become Parliamentarians.
This had the net effect of increasing the number of women in Parliament from 16 percent before the provision was introduced to around 35 percent thereafter.
Now Zimbabwe is among the more than 30 countries that have used a special electoral quota system to increase women’s representation in Parliament to at least 30 percent, which is considered the minimum for collective action.
This is why there is consensus across the political divide on the pertinence of this particular proposed amendment.
But has the quota system led to empowerment of women?
This question divides opinions.
The quota system was never going to be a magic bullet that would lead to women empowerment overnight.
Some two years ago the Zimbabwe Women Parliamentary Caucus (ZWPC) launched four valiant initiatives that sought to expedite the promotion of policies and practices that advance women empowerment in decision making positions.
The Women’s Manifesto, Women’s Election Charter, The Pledge and the 50-50 Advocacy Campaign were all launched with the sole goal of energising the women empowerment movement.
Speaking at the launch, Speaker of Parliament Advocate Jacob Mudenda was effusive in calling for women to lead the fight for their own empowerment.
“My hope is that these laudable efforts will lead to some convergent conversation in articulating advocacy for gender parity in all spheres of our Zimbabwean society,” said Adv Mudenda.
“The levels of participation of women in politics and decision making positions remain a major concern in Zimbabwe and the world over despite the fact that they form the majority of voters and citizens as well.
“As of June 2011, Zimbabwe was ranked at position 76 out of 135 in terms of achievements in allowing women political space for representation in Parliament.”
He invoked the Rwandan model where women dominate parliament with over 63 percent representation.
A key resolution to emerge from these initiatives was holding political parties to account prior to elections to field 50/50 candidates.
These initiatives were supposed to represent the beginning of an onslaught towards 50-50 representation in all offices of authority.
Sadly, it was only last week that the caucus held a sensitisation workshop for these initiatives. This was two years after they were launched and nearly two years before the next election.
Very little has been done in the intervening period to make sure that political parties will uphold gender parity when selecting their candidates for the next election.
It may appear to some that our female Parliamentarians have not taken these initiatives as seriously as they should. They appear to be their own worst enemies.
We are as far from achieving gender parity as we were two years ago when the aforesaid initiatives were unveiled. We have not seen an aggressive campaign to prop up affirmative action for women.
What we continue to see is male dominance in spaces of power with women appearing to be comfortable playing second fiddle.
We have observed some women Parliamentarians debating in the House against progressive laws such as the proposed Marriages Act.
Advocacy for legislation on gender mainstreaming has not been up to standard.
Why have we not seen a private members Bill with provisions for 50/50 representation in positions of power, including gender parity when political parties select election candidates?
Come the 2023 elections, we are likely to see a replication of previous elections where women struggle against their male counterparts to make it into Parliament.
The quota system has given women Parliamentarians the numbers to push for collective action and they should wield their strength in numbers now. Failure to do so means that extension of the quota system, as envisaged in the Constitutional amendments, will count for nothing.