Road to gender parity remains an uphill struggle

The road to gender parity has been littered with negative stereotypes, social attitudes, violence against women and financial constraints. These have negatively impacted on the progress of women, especially those seeking political office.

Vice President Joyce Mujuru blames women.
Vice President Joyce Mujuru blames women.

Realising the much sought-after 50 percent benchmark by women in decision-making positions remains an uphill struggle. Women constitute about 52 percent of the country’s total population – but they are vastly under-represented in politics and hardly visible in the economic sphere. Those in the cabinet constitute 16 per cent, Parliament 18 per cent and local government 19 per cent, according to a recent United Nations report.

Zimbabwe is one of the eight countries that have signed and ratified the SADC Gender and Development Protocol, which promotes a 50 percent female representation in decision-making positions, both in the private and public sectors, including the use of affirmative action, by 2015. With three years to go, our statistics are a far cry from the perceived goal.

Vimbai Mushongera, a female activist, recounted some of the difficulties women politicians have to grapple with.

“The environment militates against women,” she said. “Some women parliamentarians have been forced to leave their matrimonial homesteads due to prejudice, a situation not common among their male counterparts. There is a great need to address the social empowerment of women and denounce violence in political parties. Women should stand up and demand political tolerance for a free and fair environment.”

She called for society’s change of attitude towards women, rather than a mere documentation of policies.

“Women are the majority, but lack the confidence and support of each other. Why is it that when a woman wants to take up a leadership position, it’s more on her integrity instead of her leadership qualities? Surprisingly, it’s women who will be on the forefront of that interrogation,” said Fiona Godo of Budiriro.

As women strive for a better life, there is need to look back and correct past mistakes, especially lack of unity among themselves. “Women should appreciate fellow women, while those in power should appreciate and converse with the grassroots to ease the differences between themselves,” added Godo.

Women working together can foster better relationships and bring progress in the fight for gender equality.

One parliamentarian pinned her hopes on the new constitution. “The new constitution is the sharpest tool for the delivery of the 50 percent target,” said Jessie Majome, MP for Harare West.

Rwanda has already made history by ensuring 56 percent of women in parliament with the quota system being instrumental and, should Zimbabwe adopt the 50 percent target, that would be welcome. “We can do it and it’s a win for everyone,” said Majome.

The Constitution and the Electoral Act purport to promote women’s political rights, but have no specific provisions for strategies such as quotas and reserved seats to increase representation in Parliament. This has hampered efforts by women to compete, especially in an environment that favours men.

Vice President Joyce Mujuru blames women. “Women lack confidence and instead of relying on quotas to get into power, they should be bold and aggressive enough to pave their way,” she said recently. The 50 percent target is a must, but Zimbabwean women have to stand their ground to get their share, as nothing will come on a silver platter. Has history not taught us that power is not given but taken?

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