Women participation in politics: Challenges & Opportunities

By Tapiwa Machemedze

Women’s political participation in Zimbabwe has been shrinking over the last few years despite local, regional and international policies aimed at bridging the gap between them and male political counterparts.

As the 2023 election draws nearer, there are growing calls from the political front to clear the hurdles by implementing policies that promote equality.

The drive for increased women’s political participation date back to September 1995 when the fourth world conference on Women’s participation convened in Beijing China with a view to improve gender equality and empower women globally.

At the conference 189 government representatives made a historic agreement which became known as the Beijing Declaration that identified and resolved to take measures to ensure women’s equal access to and full participation in power structures, decision making and increasing their capacity to participate in decision making.

Zimbabwe was among the governments undertaking to fulfilling these objectives, among them reviewing and where necessary reforming electoral systems to encourage women’s electoral participation.

The declaration was buttressed by the SADC gender protocol and of late the 2013 constitution which according to Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Honourable Tsitsi Gezi legally provides a women’s quota in the national assembly under section 120 and proportional representation in the senate under section 124.

Deputy Speaker of the House of Assembly Honourable Tsitsi Gezi

‘Beside the Beijing declaration Zimbabwe is also a signatory to global and regional instruments which include the United Nation Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and SADC protocol on Gender and Development. As a country we also have our own policies.’ said Honourable Gezi.

Despite all these blueprints, women’s political participation is declining. A study carried out by Gender Links Zimbabwe shows that the number of women in parliament fell from 32 percent to in the 2013 elections to 28 percent in the 2018 elections, while women in local authorities fell from 16 percent in 2013 to 14 percent in 2018.

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Bindura Chapter Co-ordinator Mandi Piyasi believes there should be a level playing field for men and women as female representatives in parliament selected via the quota system do not even represent any constituencies.

Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Bindura Chapter Co-ordinator Mandi Piyasi

‘As Women’s Coalition our position is clear. We want 50/50 representation as according to section 56 of the constitution. We have had the quota system since 2013 and people laugh that is just a window dressing measure. These women in quota system do not really have a constituency to run so how would you want us to support the quota system. If it means you are going to put in place a scenario where in one constituency women would contest against each other, maybe that would make sense, but now we want 50/50 representation in as far as politics is concerned,” she says.

But what could be the limitation, blocking women from politics? Bindura South Legislator, Honourable Remigio Matangira dismisses the widely held notion that finance is the major impediment to political participation, adding that women need mentorship so that they can be able to woo the masses.

Bindura South Legislator, Honourable Remigio Matangira

“I would want actually to say that women’s political participation is lagging because they lack mentorship from those who were in politics before them and as a country, we actually want to adhere to the global equality of 50/50 participation in representing the people and putting into cognisance that women are more in population than men in any country,” said Hon Matangira.

The Bindura legislator argues women should be better able to market themselves and their ideals to the electorate so as to guarantee votes.

“And again, they (women) must now want to shun shyness. You know when you put a woman in front of a people, they will not actually be able to express themselves like men do,” he said.

To ensure equity in women’s political participation, Honourable Gezi believes the electoral law should be changed ensure to proportional representation.

“I am also of the opinion that our electoral laws should be changed. The first past the post in the national assembly on 210 constituencies and local authorities should be replaced by the proportional representation. As women in politics we continue to bring awareness and we encourage more women to campaign for political positions,” she said.

On paper, the multiple policies on enhancing patriation of women are an excellent solution to the problem, but on the ground, more policy change by government and political parties are required as they hold the keys to unlocking more doors for women to participate in politics as the 2023 elections beckon.