A new government, but where are the women?

With just three women out of a cabinet of 26 members, activist Fungai Machirori has called for all government ministries to get to work on gender imbalance. She spoke to our reporter in Mutare, KENNETH MATIMAIRE, about the need for a holistic approach.

“There are various issues to look at here, including education and the economy.” – Fungai Machirori.
“There are various issues to look at here, including education and the economy.” – Fungai Machirori.

Fungai Machirori, the founder and managing editor of Her Zimbabwe has challenged all government ministries to get involved in addressing gender imbalance.

Machirori’s call comes at a time when women hold fewer than 12 per cent of cabinet seats in the new government. She believes the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development can’t tackle the issue without the involvement of other people and organisations both in and outside government.

Pressure groups such as Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU), Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCOZ)’s and Tag a Life International have criticised the government for its gender imbalance.

In the new government, there are only three women – Oppah Muchinguri, Olivia Muchena and Sithembiso Nyoni – in the cabinet of 26, only three out of 13 ministers of state and five out of 24 deputy ministers.

Although 60 women were elected to the National Assembly in accordance with the new constitution, women make up just 11.5 per cent of the new cabinet – way below the 52 per cent share of the general population recorded in last year’s census.

This is in striking contrast to the African Union and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) protocol on gender and development, which calls for a 50/50 representation by 2015.

Section 17 of the protocol says the State must promote full gender balance in Zimbabwean society, including promoting the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society equally with men. It says the State must take all measures, including passing laws, to ensure that both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level, and that women constitute at least half the membership of all Commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies.

The protocol goes on to require the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level to take practical measures to ensure that women have access to resources, including land, equally with men.

Machirori urged all government sectors to play a pivotal role in fighting gender disparity in political and socio-economic spheres.

Speaking to The Zimbabwean at a workshop on gender in the newsroom, organised by the Media Centre, Machirori said the new government had actually taken a step backwards compared to the previous one, which had 11 women, including deputies.

“We have a cabinet with three women out of 26 at a time when other countries have a balance. So I think we are going backwards,” said Machirori. “I don’t think (gender balance) will come from the Ministry of Women Affairs only. If we take that roadmap, it will limit the approach. There are various issues to look at here, including education and the economy.

Machirori cited education as one of the hindering factors and urged for educational policies to be biased towards women.

Out of the seven state universities, only Midlands State had a higher numbers of female students than in 2009. Private universities, however, such as the Catholic University in Zimbabwe, Zimbabwe Open University, Solusi University and Africa University, had a relatively high number of female students.

President Robert Mugabe defended his cabinet selection when he addressed journalists arguing that there were very few “educated” women to choose from. “Give us the women. This time we did proportional representation, but there were just not enough women. Women are few in universities. It’s no longer necessary to do affirmative action; it’s free for all,” he said.

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