Women call for more say in decision-making

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Fungai Masuku (not real name) is still haunted by the events of the election re-run campaign of March 2008.

The memories of that bloody plebiscite, which ended in a controversial stalemate between President Robert Mugabe and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai, still send chills down the 31-year-old’s spine.

“It was a terrible time,” recalls Masuku. “We lived in fear. Youths would run around at night singing liberation war songs.”

She says they were only able to let out a sigh of relief after the excruciating birth of the Government of National Unity (GNU) which brought together unlikely suitors President Robert Mugabe and Prime Miniser Morgan Tsvangirai, in September 2008.

At the height of the political violence in the run-up to that inconclusive election, vendors in Chitungwiza were a major target of the political party-aligned mobs, mainly Zanu PF youths who had camped at their infamous “base” in Zengeza 5.

But the latest talk on possible elections this year has resuscitated fears and Masuku believes there is something wrong with the way this country’s elections are conducted.

“Does an election always have to be violent? Perhaps if there were more women involved in politics, it would have been better. Women are more humane,” she says. “We hate violence.”

Her sentiments reflect those of many women drawn from various strata of society, who all seem to concur with the idea that women make better politicians as they are believed to be more peace-loving and development-oriented.

But gender activists argue that there have to be widespread changes in the political arena if they are to make a mark as the status quo in the political world is too masculine to accommodate them, while those that make it to some extent do not go far.

Speaking at a plenary session of the international conference on economic and political empowerment and peace building in Harare last week, a gender activist Rumbidzai Kandawasvika-Nhundu noted that many countries have increased women’s participation in decision-making positions through implementation of the quota system.

“From all our research, there is no country in the world that has managed to achieve at least a 30% quota of female decision-makers without a legislated quota system,” she says.

“Legislated quotas do not discriminate against men, but they simply re-right the wrongs of the past and remove barriers that impede women from holding the same positions as men.”

In August 2008, Sadc Heads of State and Government signed the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development.

This was an important step towards the empowerment of women, the elimination of discrimination and the achievement of gender equality and equity, a goal the regional body hoped to have achieved by 2015.

Countries that have managed to achieve at least 30% female representation in decision-making positions include Rwanda (56%), Mozambique (44,5%), South Africa (39%) and Uganda (31,5%).
Kandawasvika-Nhundu says there is need for supportive legislation for women’s participation in politics to be significantly upped.

Speaking at the same occasion, the UN resident representative in Zimbabwe Alain Noudehou stressed the need to formulate strategies and policies that advance the empowerment of women in economics and politics.

During the 2000 elections, there was the highest number of women – 55 — who ever contested for political office, but only 16 won.

Nine were from Zanu PF, and seven were from the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC). President Mugabe then appointed three of the sixteen women as Members of Parliament.

In 2008, the Women’s Trust led a campaign to get more women into politics dubbed “Women Can Do It”. This saw a total of 919 female candidates running for various posts in the elections.

Fifty were elected into the House of Assembly and the Senate.

At a national conference held on August 14 and 15 in Harare, women celebrated the fact that they had participated as candidates in their highest numbers ever.

They had managed to mobilise one another to increase women’s contestation by up to 50%.

Deputy spokesperson of the MDC- T and human rights activist Thabitha Khumalo told NewsDay last month that in her experience, despite her successes and capabilities, she had discovered that men do not believe that women can deliver.

“Males believe that women must give 200% just to be considered and respected on a comparable level to them,” she said.

“Even if you deliver, the men are quick to point out outstanding factors.”

Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development deputy minister Jessie Majome is also on record describing the current Zimbabwe Constitution as “defective” in that regard.

“Zimbabwe has one of the worst constitutions in the world, and I don’t make apologies for saying this. It fails to provide for equality between men and women. It gives licence to discriminate against women,” she says.

According to the supreme law’s “deficient” Section 23, Majome says, “you can constitutionally discriminate against women.”

Section 23 reads in part: “. . . Discrimination shall however not be said to have occurred where it is in relation to matters of personal law or where customary law is applied or for the betterment of a previously disadvantaged group”.