By Michelle Chifamba
Female legislators in the 9th Parliament of Zimbabwe say although there have been efforts to promote gender equality, the country still has a low representation of women in top political decision making positions.
This slim representation has been identified as one of the many reasons why the country is failing to reach 50/50 equal representation between men and women in the House of Assembly.
While commemorating the 16 days Against Gender-Based Violence, female Parliamentarians say nothing has changed in politics especially in terms of gender equality.
They say the political terrain in Zimbabwe is characterized by power, influence and patriarchy as the limiting factors preventing women from effectively participating in politics.
Senator for Bulawayo Metropolitan, Helen Zivira (MDC), said although Zimbabwe is a signatory to various conventions that promote women, the representation of women in politics has been stuck, making equal power
sharing between women and men unattainable.
“Although there has been much talk on 50/ 50 representation between male and female, we are far from reaching the equal representation mark.”
Senator Zivira added that apart from men looking down upon women, women also look down upon each other preventing them from exercising their potential.
“Women in politics pull each other down. The Women’s Caucus is failing to speak with a united voice in terms of improving gender equality in Parliament. We should look at other countries, for example, Rwanda that have
successfully attained 50/50 representation in Parliament and see how they have managed to achieve it,” she said
The female legislators say in Zimbabwean women have made remarkable progress in many professions, but politics is not one of them.
According to female legislators, instead of an improvement in women representation, the country is witnessing a decrease in the number of women taking up political responsibilities.
Senator Zivira said, “Although the constitution adopted the quota system to promote women to participate in politics, men influence how women enter in politics as they field candidates for proportional representation and if you are not politically and financially connected you are not able to survive.”
Speaking on the same issues Sunningdale legislator Winnie Kankuni (MDC) said there are many challenges that are preventing women from attaining 50/50 in Parliament adding that women are being muscled out by men who make them feel inferior and not able to stand on their own.
She said, “Apart from hate speech from male MPs being used to silence the voice of women in Parliament, women themselves are not united along party lines.
“At the Women’s Caucus, women may agree but when it comes to Parliament most women are loyal to their political parties. They use derogatory language to undermine other women.
“Also due to the whipping system at party level women in Parliament are afraid to speak with one voice when in
the House of Assembly because they are afraid of being whipped at their political parties,” said Honourable Kankuni.
Proportional Representation legislator Goodluck Kwaramba (Zanu PF), said although there have been notable gains in trying to improve gender equality in Parliament a lot needs to be done to for the country to
attain 50/ 50 equality.
“The quota system that supports 50/50 gender equality in Parliament is expiring in 2023 but we have been pushing that it continues so that we make to voices of women more equal.”
Honourable Kwaramba added that there is a need for the Women’s Caucus to partner with organisations that promote women in Parliament and conduct campaigns
and training that encourages women to take part in decision-making processes.
“Women need to be encouraged to speak and should be made aware of their rights. Proportional representation Parliamentarians have suffered derogation from male MPs who call them names such as Bacossi, killing their
self-esteem. Female MPs should know that they are no less than men, and the derogation should not bring them down.
“As a result of the workshops that we have been doing women in Parliament are being supported and are now more confident to engage in debates. The media plays a part in promoting gender equality in Parliament. The media has a role in balancing the voices of both male and female politicians,” she said.
Representation of Women in Parliament (9th Parliament)
Total Number of Females: 121
Constitutionally Elected: 25
Proportional Representation: 60
Female Senators: 36