Women's Quota System - Is it Enough?
Has the new parliamentary quota system for women really advanced their participation in decision-making? What are the lessons for the youth?
THE new Zimbabwean Constitution, adopted in May 2013, is a much celebrated document by women activists and organisations.
It captures mostly and tries to address the plight of ordinary women and children in an attempt to end their exploitation and marginalisation by a male-favoured society as a way of elevating them to a better position.
Much rejoiced though is the inclusion of a clause in that Constitution which provides for the appointment of 60 additional non-constituency female legislators as part of efforts to empower women.
Part (4) Section 124 of the new Constitution reads:
“. . . an additional sixty women members, six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected through a system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces.”
Though only valid for the life of the first two Parliaments after coming into effect, this has resulted in a significant increase in the percentage of women representation in Parliament from 19% in the previous Parliament to 31% after last year’s elections.
This adoption of the women’s quota system by Zimbabwe is in line with relevant international instruments relating to full political rights for women. Such laws include Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), and the Convention on the Political Rights of Women.
However, in as much as this gender quota system is expected to influence the Parliament of Zimbabwe towards achieving a 50/50 representation, there is still a lot to be done as there are still disparities in the number of women parliamentarians compared to their male counterparts.
Out of the 355 Parliamentarians, from both the Lower and Upper House, 83 are women, constituting 32%.
It is worth pointing out here that of these, only three women were appointed to Ministerial positions in the new Cabinet, representing an 11,5% female proportion, a figure significantly lower than the 50/50 SADC Protocol on Gender and Development threshold by year 2015.
This clearly shows that women in Zimbabwe are not given due recognition to be allocated key positions in government, despite the country boasting of having an inclusive National Gender Policy and a Public Sector Gender Policy.
Notably, research has shown that women possess immense leadership skills which, despite their being excluded from key government positions, can bring in valuable input in the execution of government policies.
Admittedly, the enactment of a women’s quota system in the Constitution is in itself not enough in advancing women to key decision-making positions as institutional, cultural, economic and societal factors impinge their general participation and upliftment.
Regrettably, these setbacks largely manifest in the structure and organisation of most “political parties” in Zimbabwe and across Africa, where instead of viewing women as critical stakeholders or leaders, female members are used primarily to secure the female vote.
Thus, political parties’ candidate selection during election time highly favours males at the expense of female candidates.
Despite all this, the role of women still remains crucial and hence the quota system is one way of accommodating the voice of women.
However, there is a general belief in Africa that politics is a man’s job, while women who dare venture into politics face the reality of social stigma and discrimination from the society.
They are perceived as deviant, and subsequently ostracised and labelled as those of “loose morals”.
With this amount of homophobia, anything that sits outside the bounds of “normality” is deeply chastised, contributing immensely to the limited participation of women in politics, especially those that are married.
However, this is in contrast to the aspirations and resolutions of the 1995 Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, China, which drew attention to the persisting inequality between men and women in decision-making.
The Beijing Platform for Action (BPA) reaffirmed that women’s persistent exclusion from formal politics, in particular, raises a number of specific questions regarding the achievement of effective democratic transformations, in practice.
The BPA emphasised that
“women’s equal participation in decision- making is not only a demand for justice or democracy, but can also be seen as a necessary condition for women’s interests to be taken into account”.
Without the perspective of women at all levels of decision-making, the goals of equality, development and peace cannot be achieved.
In this regard, there is, therefore, need to educate and change the mindset of people, that women’s participation in politics is something which should be promoted, upheld and not something to be shunned or scorned by society.
There is also need to nurture the girl child to prepare her for full participation from childhood, if there is to be the advancement of women in key decision-making.
Patriarchy must be demystified to ensure that equal opportunities and privileges are given to both sexes at an early age.
This includes the access to equal education to both boys and girls.
Society must not judge people basing on their sex, but merit, a lacking component in Zimbabwe’s Cabinet whereby ministries were allocated on the basis of gender rather than merit.
In this regard, female ministers were allocated “minor and trivial” ministries as compared to key and strategic portfolios allocated to their male counterparts.
To deepen democracy at local, national and international level, it is important to ensure that women’s representation and leadership is not only confined to the traditionally “feminine” areas such as social welfare, but spreads to all areas of influence.
Women and men must participate on equal terms in both formal and informal decision-making structures.
Suffice to say, there has been considerable international emphasis, through the introduction of quota systems for women in many countries to ensure gender equality in government institutions.
The advancement of women in decision-making does not only rest upon the effective implementation of the women’s quota system, but it also rests largely on a societal paradigm shift.
Until patriarchal values and norms that oppress women are eliminated, there remains a huge gap in the effort to advance women’s participation in decision-making.
The Zimbabwean society needs a social and structural shake-up for us as a nation to achieve gender equality.
The women and youths in Zimbabwe have a crucial role to play in ensuring that they build a society where they are viewed as equally capable of holding key positions in decision making, considering that they both constitute socially marginalised groups.
And the youth have a lot to learn from the history of the women’s movement and its notable strides towards pushing for constitutional provisions for their active empowerment in decision-making.
It is equally critical that society ensures that the girl child is educated and capacitated to effectively participate in key decision-making positions in government and also to demand the right to equal participation in all relevant decision-making spheres in general.