WOMEN in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) executive director, Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma says, women’s voices in Zimbabwe have been suppressed for a long time, and this should end.
She said the current Cabinet has overlooked constitutional provisions that require gender equality, where only four women were allocated ministerial posts.
She said it is high time that women are allocated very powerful Cabinet posts such as Health, Finance, or even Defence. The following are excerpts of an interview between NewsDay senior Parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa (ND) and Sifelani-Ngoma (SSN) on different issues affecting women in Zimbabwe.
ND: Who is Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma, and what does WiPSU stand for as an organisation?
SSN: I am the WiPSU executive director. WiPSU is a women’s rights organisation that works predominantly on issues of women participation and representation in politics, in order for them to be given rights to political voice. We have worked with four categories of women; those in communities, women in political parties, women in local government, as well as women in Parliament.
ND: After working with these women, have you seen any improvement in their performance, for example in Parliament?
SSN: I think the story of women in Zimbabwe is now encouraging, and certainly in the past 17 years of post-independence Zimbabwe we have seen an increase in the number of women in public office. This is a sign of improvement in that for a long time the issue of decision-making in this country has been dominated and characterised by men. It is encouraging to see more women going through the process.
However, it is tragic in that it has taken 37 years to get where we are. We need to talk seriously about Zimbabwe being a society that facilitates women’s participation in politics as easily as it does men’s.
As for rating the contribution of women in politics, I think it is a question that I have grown to dislike because women are constantly being asked to prove themselves and their contribution to national development.
Everyone knows that women do participate, but when it comes to issues of power and giving them their due rights, we suddenly need to assess what their contribution has been. I do not think it is right.
ND: What are some of the reasons that deter women from participating in politics?
SNN: I think government needs to be characterised by values in the Constitution such as good governance, accountability,
transparency, and it is critical for political parties to embrace and support these principles. Unfortunately we have a history of politics in this country characterised by violence, hate speech and denigrating one another and this affects participation of women in politics. One thing that is constantly raised as deterring women participation is the issue of access to resources.
We need to have reforms on how political parties are financed because the Political Parties Finances Act awards political parties that are already in Parliament and those that are not are left out. When we looked at the Act, we observed that women in political parties are perennially underfunded, yet these are the same political parties that receive resources from the Political Parties Financing Act. We need to review the Act to make sure that it is aligned to values of our Constitution and supports democracy.
ND: Do you think the new Cabinet by President Emmerson Mnangagwa has embraced women participation?
SSN: The call for equal representation in Cabinet is a call that matters because those are the rules that were set and rules need to be followed. One of the rules is around equal representation stipulated in section 17 of the Constitution and clearly prescribes that there must be gender parity.
It clearly says we must take legislative and other measures to correct those imbalances. This section should be read together with section 56, which talks about equality, and it means there should be gender equality in elected and non-elected posts.
When it comes to numerical arguments, we fall short in terms of numbers and are not adhering to constitutional provisions.
Women are beginning to question certain things. For instance, women are the greatest users of health facilities, and health workers like nurses are predominantly women. So, why is it that in Zimbabwe we have not yet had a female Health minister? We need women to begin to occupy key ministries like Finance, Defence and International Affairs.
There are several key ministries that women have never been given to lead. We need women to begin to take up posts in key sectors so that it improves women’s lives.
ND: We will have the 2018 national budget announced this week, what issues would you want announced pertaining to the uplifting of women?
SSN: One of the key budget priorities should be the financing of health to ensure it is 15% of the National Budget as per the Abuja Declaration. Health issues affect mostly women. We need the scrapping off of maternal fees, so that women and their babies are not detained at hospitals for failing to pay. Sanitary wear should also be provided free to girls and duty on sanitary wear scrapped. The 2018 budget must be pro-poor and pro-women.
We also need the issue of devolution of power to be solved because the issue of service delivery rests in local authorities and women are the most affected if there is no service delivery. The 2018 budget also needs to deal with the issue of illicit financial flows because Zimbabwe has a lot of natural resources that can add to the money in the national fiscus.
The common pot is leaking, and we need to deal with issues of corruption and make sure we do not keep bailing out ministries and State enterprises that are failing to adhere to the Auditor-General’s recommendations and are perennially loss making.
We need a taxation system that is not stringent because women are paying taxes, but are not receiving quality services from those taxes.