While many have criticized Mugabe’s gender imbalanced cabinet from a local point of view, I feel it is important to analyse the recent appointments as part of a larger problem that affects Africa in general.
Key elective posts in government as well as those gained by political appointment have generally been filled by men, despite African leaders giving lip service to gender equality and signing many conventions that promote it.
Earlier this year, the Gender Working Group in Nigeria, a coalition of civil society organizations working on gender and women’s rights, pointed out that of 25 commissioners appointed by Governor Patrick Ibrahim Yakowa only two were women, and out of 46 area development administrators only one was a woman.
Yakowa made these gender blind appointments even though a gender policy signed and adopted by the government of Nigeria in 2006 states that all nominations emanating from the state for appointments into federal, state, local government and the Foreign Service should reflect a minimum of 35 percent representation of women.
In Ghana, the Federation of Women Lawyers condemned the marginalization of women in leadership positions in 2008. They noted that out of 10 regional ministers appointed that year there wasn’t a single woman and out of 10 deputy regional ministers only three were women.
Why do our leaders continue to side-line women despite making attempts on paper to bring about gender equality? Some scholars in the field of gender studies have defined gender as unequal social relations between women and men in which unequal access to power and resources ensures that women are kept in a subservient position.
They say the marginalisation of women in governance occurs because governments and are not gender neutral – rather they mirror gender differences found in the external environment.
As such, the way women are marginalised in decision making at the societal level and given gender specific roles is the same way they are treated at the governmental level. They are given a small number of posts in line with the general roles women play in the broader society – such as the caring and nurturing functions. This is why you hardly find women being appointed to ministries like defence or state security, which are generally held to be the domain of males.
So it is important to come up with tools such as quota systems to promote participation of women in governance, but also to devise mechanisms to change the culture in regard to how women are viewed.
The reason why I emphasise this point is because quota systems, international conventions and policies on gender are obviously not enough to bring about meaningful participation of women in governance. They have been disregarded by African leaders in the past.
They need to be accompanied by long term mechanisms to change the mind-set of society. Other reasons to do with women not being educated, which have been offered in some quarters to defend Mugabe’s gender imbalanced cabinet, are not only untrue but a sorry excuse to mask the unequal gender balance.
A lot of ministers in cabinet, such as Patrick Chinamasa, only hold first degrees. I find it hard to believe that there are no women in top Zanu (PF) structures who are also in Parliament with first degrees whom the President could have appointed to cabinet.
Furthermore, even if it were true that women in his party are not educated enough to hold ministerial posts, the president could have appointed women from outside his party.
Part 3 of our new constitution, section 104(3) states that ‘ministers and deputy ministers are appointed from among senators or members of the National Assembly, but up to five, chosen for their professional skills and competence may be appointed from outside Parliament.’ If the president was sincere about appointing a reasonable number of women to his cabinet, he could have used this provision to rope in educated women from various sectors who are not in Parliament or do not belong to any political party.
When all is said and done, there is absolutely no excuse in this world that can be given to defend Mugabe’s gender imbalanced cabinet.Post published in: Opinions & Analysis