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Demystifying women’s proportional representation in Zimbabwe

By Partinella Ngozo

The doctrines of democratic governance are based on the notion of equality in all spheres, particularly in politics. Therefore, women must have equal representation in all facets of governance including in the formulation of policies.

Women constitute more than half of Zimbabwe’s population, yet their participation in governance processes, where decisions regarding their lives are made, remains peripheral.

Having more women in Parliament is not just a good thing; it is the only way to make sure women’s interests are looked out for in government and our laws.

Speaking in an interview, former MDC Alliance Chief Whip Senator Lilian Timveos said that the proportional representation system has not benefited women in achieving gender balance, but created a patriarchal system within political parties where women are exploited.

“I have to be honest with you, this Proportional Representation system should be removed completely because it has not benefitted women in the past 10 years and if you look closely even debates concerning women’s issues have dropped in parliament. It is very low because these Proportional-Representatives report to their political parties and not to the constituency hence they fear to be whipped by their superiors,” she said.

Timveous went on further to state that for Zimbabwe to achieve gender balance in leadership and politics there is need for the government to align the constitution and give women a chance to participate on their own in constituencies. She also lamented that political parties should be forced to abide by the law and allow women participation from grassroots structures to have total independence of women.

“Gender balance in Zimbabwe can only be achieved if women are allowed to battle on their own in constituencies the government should align the constitution. We need 105 women in parliament who will speak and fight women’s issues even in their constituencies,” she said.

The quota system came into effect in 2013 when the country adopted a new constitution. Section 124(b) of the constitution provides for the women quota system of 60 seats in parliament which are given to each political party based on their tally of votes in the House of Assembly election for each province.

Women of Zimbabwe director Patricia Chinyoka argued that the proportional representation of women should be permanent in Zimbabwe since most women are not willing to participate in politics. She also added that all political parties should create space for women to participate in politics.

“The PR system should be permanent in Zimbabwe because what’s important is creating an environment where women can feel confident to participate in politics and run for seats like anyone else,” said Chinyoka

Meanwhile, Youth Essence director Nobuhle Mahlahla postulated that Zimbabwe is a signatory to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development of 2008, therefore, there is need for the government to review the socio-political environment and adopt a strong mechanism that will push political parties to adopt women candidates.

“The government should amend the electoral act that will enforce political parties to adopt women as candidates in that manner they will be elected and an elected official has a voice than an appointed official who will only serve the one who appointed her,” she said.

Mahlahla also urged the government to amend the Electoral Act, highlighting that if it is not amended the proportional representation should continue.

Proportional Representation allows for a wider variety of views to be heard and considered.  More articulated discussions, unconstrained by party leaders who force conformity on their caucus, can be surfaced, including those of smaller minority voices, leading to a healthier debate for society. 

Florence Guzha of Ebenezer Women Social Entrepreneurship Trust said that the effectiveness of the proportional representation is not seen at all since there are no statutory instruments that guide them in parliament.

“Equality can only be achieved if women are given the opportunity from grassroots, from local authorities, the government should have specific instruments that certain constituencies should belong to women because at is stands those women in parliament through the proportional representation are not helping in achieving gender balance,” she said.

Guzha also noted that Section 17 of the constitution provides clearly that the State must ensure full gender balance and take measures to ensure that women constitute half membership of all commissions and other elective and government bodies.

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