WOMEN have often been used by male politicians during election campaigns and as mere voters. But despite their relatively high participation in elections, very few have managed to get into political office.
BY VENERANDA LANGA
A recent debate session at Sapes Trust on a topic on affirmative action within the governance and politics sector by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) and the Gender Media Connect had different speakers unpacking the role of women in politics and leadership.
Reyhana Masters, a gender specialist at RAU, says it is high time women sat at the same table with men rather than being used as campaign fodder during political rallies.
“If we are going to have women being part of a campaign at a rally for support during elections, and we use them for toyi-toying and getting support, then surely we must find a way to include them in that government,” said Masters, who is an avid supporter for continuation of the proportional representation quota system in Parliament, even beyond the year 2020.
Another gender specialist, Sakhile Sifelani Ngoma, of Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU), says it is now time that women got an equal share of seats with men in Parliament if Zimbabwe is to talk about achieving affirmative action and gender equality.
“We have spent so much time talking of the 60 PR seats in Parliament, but it is about the 210 seats if we really want to talk about equality. There is no democracy that breeds inequality, and so we should talk of 105 seats for men and 105 seats for women in the National Assembly and the same with Senate, and this can only begin with political parties practising affirmative action to deliver equality,” she said.
Jacob Mafume, who is a committee member of the MDC Alliance, says the only way to solve disparities of inequalities between men and women is to have the quota system in place.
He says historically, women have always been marginalised by legislation such as the Legal Age of Majority, making people believe that women are minors.
Mafume says cultural norms are forcing women — even very powerful women — to behave as if they are lower than men.
“There is backwardness in a patriarchal society, where even the head of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Justice Rita Makarau, kneels before a man who is a President (Robert Mugabe),” he said.
“We need to get rid of this cultural issue and we should actually put a clause in the Constitution that the chairperson of ZEC should not kneel before a President.”
But Norton MP Temba Mliswa says men cannot be blamed for getting into power because women are the majority in Zimbabwe, constituting 52% of the population, and nothing stops them from voting their own into power.
“Why blame men? Justice Rita Makarau is in power and is a member of the Judiciary and why should she kneel? What I am saying is that we have presidential elections at party level and people have a choice, and if they choose a man, then why should they begin to say that women have been short-changed? During the biometric voter registration exercise, more women than men registered and why are they not voting women in power,” he queried.
Mliswa says even some of the women MPs who got into Parliament through the PR system are not aggressive enough, adding that as a male MP, he is distributing sanitary wear to girls, while some female MPs are doing nothing about the problem.
Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition acting director, Memory Kadau ridiculed the manner in which women like First Lady Grace Mugabe were firing people in their party under the guise of affirmative action.
She says the fact that there is a push for 60 free seats for women is a waste of taxpayers’ money, adding most of the 60 PR legislators have been mum and failed to prove their worth.
“The argument is that if we have 60 women in Parliament, then they are going to stand for women rights and issues, but are those women really raising the issues that are affecting other women? If then you are saying that there are more women than men in Zimbabwe then why remain boxed in the quota system?” Kadau says.
“The issue of affirmative action comes to the issue of reinforcing stereotypes. Let us build on having efficient leadership. In Zanu PF, issues of the quota system are being raised for convenience yet when a woman (former Vice-President Joice Mujuru was chased away not even a single woman spoke out.”
Political activist, Linda Masarira says it is imperative that at a tender age boys be taught to respect girls, so that they respect women when they are grown up.
“I am worried that when the constitutional provision for the quota system expires, what will happen to these women that are waiting to be given seats on a silver platter,” she queried.
But Masters says the political playing field is dangerous for women and hence the need for the quota system.
She says Zimbabwe is signatory to several protocols that seek to empower women and so there is need to ensure that the requirements of those protocols are met.
Mafume says in Zimbabwean politics men have always had it on a silver platter, adding it is high time that they are reduced.
“Even at a young age boys are told that they are the ones that are going to inherit wealth, and so marginalisation of women is historical. We have to give those 60 women (PR MPs) exposure and we hope after that exposure they will begin to find Parliament an interesting place and begin to debate,” he said.
But Mliswa argues that there is need to review how the 60 PR legislators have been performing, adding that in his opinion it is better to empower 10% of the country’s population living with disabilities than women because in Parliament right now, there are women like Jessie Majome (Harare West MP) and Sarah Mahoka (Hurungwe East) that have successfully fought for their seats, contested with men and won elections, yet people living with disabilities are more disadvantaged.
“Women must not sell themselves for nothing. Politicians know that if they give women pots and blankets the women will vote for them. If you are going to say that let us put together resources to capacitate women then I will agree.”
Currently, women in Parliament are clamouring for 105 seats in the National Assembly, if at all gender equality is to be achieved.
They hope that during the 2018 general elections more women will be able to get into Parliament.