A day in Parliament & the problem with ‘proportional representation’

Pretty Chavango.

Honourable Irene Zindi (ZANU PF) – “… I am a farmer and Member of Parliament. When I am here, the pigs keep consuming food yet time for them to go to the market has elapsed and that is money being lost. – [HON. CHAMISA: Inaudible interjection] – Forgive me Mr. Speaker for laughing, Hon. Chamisa just asked me whether I do not have a boyfriend to do some of these things for me. I need your protection, Mr. Speaker, this is sexual harassment. I want the Hon. Member to apologise for that utterance. I think you heard my request Mr. Speaker, I need your protection and Hon. Chamisa owes me an apology when he returns to the Chamber because I take it as sexual harassment. He said that because I am a woman, he would not have said it had it been a male counterpart debating…”

Another day in Parliament, as in most Parliaments far and wide  emotions  flare , temperatures rise and egos are bruised .Zimbabwean Parliament is no exception , though less in drama as compared to our neighbour down South , it has its own share of feisty moments.

There are days when sittings stretch far over schedule debating on a controversial point .In some instances harsh words are exchanged with some MPs bullied into silence by attack on their persons.

Female Parliamentarians while not always at the receiving end tend to be intimidated by such attacks most resorting to being bench warmers. When we talk of vocal female Parliamentarians the likes of Honourable Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga and Honourable Jessie Majome spring to mind.

I have attended many parliamentary sittings and there is one particular lady who always catches my attention. Clad in long skirts, a long sleeved blouse and a head scarf almost all the time, I find myself wondering if she is a member of the Mwazha apostolic sect – not that it matters, but because for me she stands out I have particularly found interest in observing her during most sittings.

Parliamentarians have a tendency to be late. She on the other hand is usually among the first to arrive, taking her seat at the back benches as usual and never contributes a word. As my curiosity grew I was prompted to ask a colleague who she was, he didn’t seem to know her name as well but indicated that she had no constituency but was a proportional member. It seemed to answer my unasked question for a while until I got to know that proportional members are also elected into office, indirectly. It boggles my mind as to how one would gain votes gets elected, sit in parliament and say nothing. Up to now I’m still to get her name.

Already there are few women in Parliament; the 8th parliament saw 350 parliamentarians being elected of this number 270 sit in the National Assembly while 80 sit in the senate chamber. 84 women are MPs while 34 are Senators totaling 124 out of the 350 barely half of the number and yet some can still afford to sit quietly while issues are being discussed.

Being a woman there are times when sitting in the press gallery i cringe as to some of the issues raised for debate by female MPs. Some of these issues are trivial and can be expected at a council meeting not among parliamentarians.

I have always found something wrong with , why not quality in place of quantity? Elected to simply to square up the numbers and not because I deserve the spot makes my contributing capacity questionable. There are a lot of capable women leaders, I believe in equal representation but only when the people involved are equally capacitated. Women are termed docile and emotional and by putting forward women who are yet to conquer their own fears into leadership positions is pure murder. They will in turn behave as expected further strengthening gender stereotypes.

Sexual innuendos in Parliament are common, something one would not expect from lawmakers however when in parliament they become law unto themselves.

“Rules and Orders do prohibit that kind of errant behaviour. I know for certain because I moved for the specific use of the terms ‘sexual harassment’ and ‘sexism’ among prohibited conduct kinds when we were amending them and yes they have been used.” says Hon. Jessie Majome.

Section 148 of the Constitution on Privileges and Immunities of Parliament states that members of Parliament have freedom of speech in parliament and are not liable to civil or criminal proceedings, arrest or imprisonment for anything said in, produced before or submitted to Parliament or any of its committees.

I wondered if this would cause unnecessary personal attacks and prolonged debates.

I’m yet to hear of a child who says when i grow up I want to me a Member of Parliament. I wonder why? Maybe because Parliament is not easily accessible or because it’s not a formal job.

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