By Buhle Tshavango.
Women’s representation in Parliament has recorded a slight increase in recent years owing to 60 reserved seats in the National Assembly, however there is not enough time to celebrate the impact as this quota system clause is nearing its 2023 pegged sunset.
According to the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), since the 1995 Beijing Declaration, the number of women in National Assembly hovered between 18 to 28% and it is only after the inclusion of the Section 124 Constitutional provision reserving the 60 seats for women that the percentage rose to a “impressive” 35%.
While the quota system has successfully increased the number of female Parliamentarians numerically, but by virtue of it being a token to appease the women’s movement it has however gained much criticism especially by directly elected MPs who have labeled it ‘Bacossi’ and a waste of taxpayers money.
“One of the key challenges facing the current female MPs under the quota system has been the difficulty to exist in the context of having to deal with elected MPs in the same geographical locations. Simply put, these female MPs have not been accepted and have earned a “Bacossi” tag that is weighing down heavily on them which needs to be addressed,” says RAU.
The idea behind the quota system emanates from a thinking that by increasing participation of women in decision making bodies such as Parliament will go a long way in formulating gender sensitive laws and policies which are said to be the missing link for women to scale to high positions in society.
Women have complained that they cannot compete with men because they are currently disadvantaged by various gender bottlenecks that dates back to African culture and colonisation which viewed women in low esteem.
However, women have been challenged through capacity building trainings and support by various organisations to contest with men for equal and fair access into Parliament in order for them to be taken more seriously.
Zimbabwe is amongst the top countries in the region with a high number of female representations and the low number of directly elected female MPs suggests that the quota system is might be the only way that will guarantee increased women participation.
With the provision coming to an end in 2023 one can only hope that the growing trend of young female activists vying for constituencies will culminate in seats in Parliament.
Strengthening of affirmative action policies has been seen as the best way to tackle deep-rooted socio-cultural hindrances deterring women from governance issues, however, proportional representative members have not done themselves any good as they seem to have cultivated a habit of not contributing much in Parliament debates or raising women related issues.
The low participation in Parliament by the proportional representation members has already opened debates as to whether or not the 10 year period given for the quota system might need to be extended if meaningful impact is to be achieved.
The new President Emmerson Mnangagwa has come up with a leaner Cabinet that saw some ministries being merged as a cost reduction factor for the financially troubled country and proportional representation members are also seen as to be unnecessarily contributing to the huge government wage bill through the bloated Parliament.
For women’s representation to continue enjoying space, there is need for a clarion call by women organisation’s for political parties to guarantee women some contested seat in national elections for both Parliament and local authority.
According to the Speaker of the National Assembly Advocate Jacob Mudenda, if political parties dont change their stance on gender via constitutions the number of women who will come back to Parliament in 2023 will be much less.