Women’s quota: A political parties tool to sideline women’s participation in mainstream politics

Tafadzwa Mwanengureni

Ahead of this year’s elections, Liliosa Mujere (36), was hopeful she would contest the parliamentary Proportional Representation (PR) for Masvingo West under the MDC-T banner.

However, the High Court’s dismissal to MDC-T’s appeal to field its 87 candidates shattered Mujere’s goal to run for the PR which she wanted to utilise as an entry point to the National Assembly.

“Since l had no resources, running for PR was my first move as l was going to familiarise with the new constituency where my Ward 33 was moved to, through delimitation,” she said.

“If I had won the PR seat, my plan was to make a name so that in the next election l would contest for the direct MP seat.

“However, the constituency is too big such that l could not campaign with the few resources that l had… It (campaigning in the constituency) requires someone who is financially stable.”

Mujere’s plight is shared by several women in Zimbabwe.

Many women cannot afford to fund campaigns while in many situations those with a desire to contest to be direct legislators are often overlooked in prefference to male candidates. Women are then pushed to the PR system.

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Zimbabwe’s constitution, adopted in 2013, saw the introduction of the women’s quota system which reserve 60 seats for Proportional Representation in the National Assembly.  The clause slightly increased female inclusion in the last few years compared to 2008 and before.

The PR system was introduced as a remedy to bridge the gap of gender equality in parliament. Many women celebrated it as a success at the time.

In recent years however, political parties have used it as a weapon to deter women from contesting in a direct election.

As Veritas warned in 2013, following the introduction of the PR system in the constitution, “political parties may tend to put forward men as candidates for the constituency seats in the National Assembly because their women candidates will have a greater chance of election as party-list candidates.”

So,considering the results from the elections, one can be tempted to say political parties are pushing women towards the 60 seats and  vacate the competitive seats for men.

MDC-T Vice President, who is also an outgoing PR legislator for Harare Metropolitan Paurina Mpariwa believes that political parties are using the system to eliminate women.

“The women PR was actually put in place to take advantage or take onboard the women, but l would say alas because the space is now abused as parties are just ignoring to field women saying that you have your reserved space,” she said.

“l have been in the game, where they put you on a PR list and make you fight because number 1(National Assembly) and 2 (Senate) are safest seats for any political persons to be able to be in the parliament.”

This shows that gender equality is far from being achieved in the political arena.

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A combination of directly  elected MPs, youth and women’s quota constitues  83 seats of the 280 seats in the 10th Parliament.

 The fact that there is no increase of directly elected women from 2018  portrays how women are socially disadvantaged in terms of resources to stand on their own to participate in election and this resulted to many rely on their political parties.

The main opposition party Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) says it is ruling party’s policies that impede women’s participation in politics.

CCC Spokesperson Promise Mkwananzi told She Corresponds Africa that PR is a decent remedy but the party requires to see more women coming through the first past the post.

 “Our party has a progressive affirmative action support of women, however, the combative environment created by ZANU PF makes it very difficult for women to come forth,” he said.

“The criteria is set out in the constitution and we just follow that, and of course internally we then look at the person’s contribution, history and standing in the party to be shortlisted.”

The Constitution of Zimbabwe on Section 17 (ii) stipulates that the State must take all measures including legislative measures, needed to ensure that: “women constitute at least half the membership of all Commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies established by or under this Constitution or any Act of Parliament”.

However, in provinces such as Mashonaland Central and Matabeleland South no woman was elected through direct vote from all parties that field its candidates.

 For ZANU PF cultural norms, social barriers and party dynamics continues to impede women from political participation, but the party has a policy to encourage the inclusion of women in leadership positions.

ZANU PF Information Director Farai Marapira acknowledged that increasing the number of women in political positions is just one aspect of achieving gender equality.

“While PR may have contributed to the election of 33 women within the party out of 60 possible seats, it doesn’t automatically solve all gender-based issues within the political system,” Marapira said.

“Creating an environment that supports women’s meaningful participation, addresses systemic barriers, and ensures their voices are heard and respected is equally important and this is what Zanu PF stands for.”

He also said that the Women’s League play a role in identifying and endorsing women candidates for parliamentary elections.

 Mpariwa lamented the male domination in electoral boards of Zimbabwe’s political parties.

” Where political space is supposed for women, men and those who lead political parties are also in departments such as election directorate and chairpersons of committees that choose candidates”, she said.

Zimbabwean politics lack affirmative policies that mandate parties to have a specific number of women on their candidate list to contest on equal footing with men so as to achieve gender parity.

Mpariwa called for a policy to ensure that parties field women in 50% of the constituencies.

“Political parties should actually enshrine in their constitutions that 210 constituencies have to be divided into two by fielding 105 men and 105 women seats each,” she said.

“Also Gender Commission must make an audit where there is no such policies. They need to enforce it, because without policies in political parties, we will be speaking without any recourse”, said Mpariwa.

Apart from isolation from competing with men for parliamentary seats, those who secure a PR seat struggle to make their voices heard in parliament.

The whipping system also affects the participation of those in the women’s quota as it oblige MPs to follow certain instructions set by their political parties on the lines to and not to debate on in  parliament and this led low  participation  in the National Assembly thereby defeating the purpose of equality especially to women.

 Therefore, the virtue of being selected through the party makes it difficult for women in the PR to go against party directive especially those from the ruling party.

Women legislators such as Ruth Labode, Paurina Mpariwa and Priscilla Misihairabwi contributed immensely in the 9th Parliament.

 Bulawayo Metropolitan PR legislator Jasmine Toffa also sees no advantage with PR as women continue to suffer inequalities.

 “Women’s participation is faced with many challenges and the PR prices will definitely benefit women if the Zebra system is used because with the ‘first past the post’ we are digressing and losing the gains we should be adding on,” she said

Another factor that affect women in PR is having no specific constituency to represent and this keeps women in subordinate positions.

“The challenges we encounter include not having a constituency office back up staff as well as not being treated as equals in constituency development funds,” said Honorable Toffa

Women rights movements have been playing a critical role in developing programmes that strengthen and capacitate women in partaking leadership roles in the country.

Prior to this year’s elections, Hivos Southern Africa conducted a Women Empowered for Leadership program, through She Leads,  where various women’s rights organizations came together and produced an election charter using the hashtag #2023LetsGo5050, which they handed to political parties at the Multi-Party Gender Conference.

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 However, the 23 August election showed that Zimbabwe still has a long way to go to ensure gender balance in politics.

Labour Economic and African Democrats leader, Linda Masarira called for further civic education programmes on women’s participation in politics.

“It is women themselves who can remove the patriarchal system, because we cannot expect male dominant mindsets to free women from the clutches of gender inequality,” Masarira said.

“We have to unite for this cause. We have to be able to speak to ensure that gender equality becomes a reality, but as long as some women continue being patriarchal gate keepers it will remain a mammoth task.”

Due to some gender stereotypes many women are pushed out of politics which leads others to become cheerleaders of male led parties whilst failing to support colleagues.

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