Some election victories, but 50% target missed

Women’s representation in the Zimbabwe parliament shot up from 19% to 34% in the recent disputed elections, thanks to the quota especially for women in the new Constitution. However, several factors have tempered this achievement.

Women Members of Parliament, Zimbabwe
Women Members of Parliament, Zimbabwe

The number of elected women actually dropped, resulting in a heavy reliance on the quota to shore up female representation. Moreover, the percentage achieved falls far short of the 50% target in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in what will be Zimbabwe’s only election before the 2015 deadline.

An estimated 3.4 million Zimbabwean people cast their ballots on 31 July. The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission declared 89-year-old Robert Mugabe as the winner for another five-year term. Both wings of the MDC described the fraudulent 61% win by Zanu (PF) as a “farce”.

The Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network, the USA, Britain and Australia have called into question the credibility of the election. The African Union, SADC and Chinese Observer Missions deemed the election process free but reserved judgement on fair, noting challenges and irregularities. The AU and SADC have yet to release their full reports.

The gender dimensions of the elections provide much food for thought. On a positive note, ZEC for the first time captured gender-disaggregated data for voter and candidate participation, which allows for a meaningful analysis of women’s participation in elections.

Data compiled by the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) shows that women now make up 34% of the 8thParliament of Zimbabwe: 48% of Senate and 32% of the National Assembly.

In the National Assembly, 26 women won constituency seats out of the 111 women who contested.

Click here to download Zim-elections-gender2081.pdf

Compared to the 2008 elections, the number of female candidates who stood for elections dropped from 118 to 111, while the number of women who won dropped from 34 to 26. Without the quota, the percentage of women in the National Assembly would have dropped from 18% to 12%. However, as a result of the 60 seats reserved for women and distributed among parties on a PR basis, women now constitute 86 of the 290 seats, or 32% of the total.

Women won 38 of the 60 Senate seats, or 48% of the total (one represents women with disabilities). In total, (Assembly and Senate) women comprise 124 of the 360 or 34% of the legislators in Zimbabwe, up from 19% after the 2008 elections.

Unfortunately, the quota did not extend to local government. Though the ZEC is yet to compute the gender-disaggregated figures for local government, for now, WiPSU is able to confirm that the Binga District in south Zimbabwe, which has never had any female councillors, now has two women in local government.

Calculations in the 2013 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer published by Gender Links and the Sothern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance show the importance of quotas in increasing women’s representation. Within the SADC region, women constitute 16% of parliamentarians and 9% of councillors in countries without quotas, compared to 38% of parliamentarians and 37% of councillors in countries with quotas. Thanks to a quota in Mauritius, local government representation rose dramatically from 6% to 26% in only one election.

After weighing up the gains and losses, the lesson is clear: quotas are crucial, but they are not an end in themselves. There is need to pair the provision of quota’s for women with genuine cultural and social transformation of the perceptions of women’s leadership. The argument that women do not want to participate in politics is no longer valid as women continue to put themselves forward as leaders, as mobilisers and voters in the electoral process.

For now, the reality is that Zimbabwe has failed to achieve the 50% target set by the SADC Gender Protocol for 2015.

Between August 2013 and the end of 2015, nine other SADC countries – Botswana, Malawi, Madagascar, Mauritius, Mozambique, Seychelles, South Africa, Swaziland and Tanzania are due to hold elections. May these countries heed the lessons learnt from Zimbabwe, because elections present a vital opportunity for the region to ensure 50/50 in government structures.

– Mhlanga is the Information Campaigns and Advocacy Officer for Women in Politics Support Unit, and writes in her personal capacity. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

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