We write with a heavy heart in such devastating times being witnessed in the country. Recent and ongoing developments in our political sphere has set us 10 years back where representation and leadership of women was less than 10% in elective politics in Zimbabwe.
Owing to women’s rights activism, Zimbabwe is a signatory to many declarations aimed at increasing women leadership and decision-making such as the Southern Africa Development Committee (SADC) Gender Protocol on Gender and Development of 1997, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) 1979 and the Beijing Platform for Action of 1995. In 2013 Zimbabwe’s constitution came into effect providing a women’s quota through the 60 seats for proportional representation hence increasing the number of women in Parliament from 16% to 34%. However the quota expires in 2023 and it also does not extend to local government, which is currently at 15%. Furthermore, it does not have clear provisions to include young women.
In this article we make a case for a 25% young women’s quota in Zimbabwe. Lets look at the facts and current developments. We witnessed the recent political parties’ primary elections of ZANU PF and MDCT with focused lenses on women’s participation, specifically young women. About 10% of women made it in the ZANU PF primaries and we are yet to do an analysis for the MDCT and other political parties since final candidate lists are yet to be published officially.
We believe that this anomaly can still be addressed by the political parties before the nomination court sitting on the 14th of June 2018. In this season, political parties are also presenting their policy documents to the electorate, blueprints of how they will govern the county for the next five years until 2023, if elected into office. Our response and petition to political parties is that, there is no democracy without gender equality and equity. There is no democracy when the majority, who are women making up 52% of the population and young women found at the intersection of youth and women which represent 67% are not equally represented and instead are marginalised. Your policy documents are vacuous and devoid of key tenets of a democratic society where the Supreme law of the country is respected. Sections 17, 56 and 80 of the constitution oblige the government to ensure gender equality and non-discrimination at all levels. Having a seat at political and elective table is our right and should be respected.
There are many reasons why young women fail to make it in the internal candidate selection processes of political parties. The gendered and patriarchal structures and systems that continue to be prevalent in our societies continue to oppress young women among other citizens who are not protected by class and patriarchal power. This is despite the fact that our country has passed on legislation and came up with policies and programmes aimed at advancing women and girls’ rights. The same institutions that seek to advance the rights of women and girls, malign the same by imposing a very limited understanding of such rights.
They impose and reinforce the same oppressive cultural norms, beliefs, and attitudes. When it comes to women’s political participation, it is within the dictates of protecting patriarchal power. Women who have dared challenged the system continue to be labeled and isolated as ways of punishing the transformative power some women offer in the political space. These women include by not limited to independent candidates who have been called all sorts of names from ‘prostitutes’ to vote spoilers.
The issues of economic access and control cannot be overstated. Those with economic power, majority being men continue to have power over women in political and elective politics. Economic equality between men and women translates to power equality.
Governance institutions such as traditional leadership and the traditional judicial systems continue to be patriarchal. This is despite the fact that the Zimbabwean constitution provides for gender equality in all decision-making and governance bodies.
At a state level, the use of politically motivated violence and populist rhetoric that is polarizing continue to make public decision-making and political spaces toxic for women. The culture of political polarization and violence is normalized by the state, robbing women and generality of citizens the true culture of governing that advances the socio-economic and political rights of all. The government continues to fail to create an environment for the full enjoyment of all citizens’ rights and freedoms.
These negative narratives of politics and public decision-making have created a culture of fear among many communities, young women included. Resultantly, young women continue to be underrepresented in these key decision and policy-making institutions thereby perpetuating a culture of marginalisation of their voice and influence at that level.
Therefore to address these challenges we are calling for respect of the constitution and proposing a quota for young women to be extended to local government. This quota is with respect to acknowledging the historical imbalances and some of the aforementioned challenges faced by young women in politics.
We need to go a step further as a nation and political parties by changing our mindsets and accept that young women’s leadership is a democratic right and a must to the development of our nation. Nothing for us without us! A nation cannot move forward by leaving the majority of its population behind. Lets give the future generation role models and teach them a non-compromised meaning of equality by ensuring gender justice in political, economic and social spheres of our lives.
There is no better person placed to provide a solution than a person who is facing the problem. We believe that more young women in leadership especially at local government level will promote gender responsive service delivery because young women are primary consumers of these services. They know best the importance of a mothers shelter in rural areas, the importance of ensuring that there are family planning pills in a public clinic among others.
We challenge the government of Zimbabwe and political parties, and call on you today, to address this inequality by doing the following:
Respect the Constitutional provisions section 56 and 80 on gender equality and non-discrimination
Put in place a Young women’s 25% quota at local government level.
Put in place young women’s quota in all political parties
Address structural challenges that hinder young women participation such as violence, patriarchy, economic inequality, among others
Support women’s rights organisations and their causes in fighting for the rights of women and the marginalised.
By Institute for Young Women Development