Are we there yet? The case of the Women’s Quota System in Zimbabwe.

Are we there yet? The case of the Women’s Quota System in Zimbabwe.

Article by Hazel Chihoro & Caroline Kache

The 2013 constitution of Zimbabwe is widely acknowledged for its firm commitment to gender equality. The Zimbabwean Constitution through Section[1] 3(g) of the Constitution clearly spells out gender equality as one of the founding and guiding values. Section 17   talks about gender balance; Section 56[2]  contains equality and non-discrimination clause and section 67 gives women a right to participate in politics. These political affirmative provisions further assert the Constitution’s resolve for gender inequality redress in compliance with international human rights standards stipulated in international and regional conventions to which Zimbabwe has ratified and domesticated in line with section 34[3] of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Zimbabwe ratified the protocol to the African Charter on Human and people’s rights on the rights of Women in Africa (Article 9 talks about affirmative action in support of gender quotas) and has domesticated the Convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW). Article 7 of CEDAW calls upon state parties to “make temporary measures” to eliminate all forms of discrimination against women in the political sphere and through its general recommendation No.23.In the spirit of eliminating all forms of discrimination against women in politics as stated by the CEDAW which it signed and domesticated, the Zimbabwean Constitution enacted gender quotas in section 124 (b) which reserves 60 seats for women on top of the 210 seats and shall last for ten years. Implying that the legal provision which guarantees the quota system shall expire in 2023. This then throws a lot of dust in the air with regards to whether Zimbabwe has already achieved equality between men and women in the political sphere and if not, should we do away with quota system come 2023?

Recognition of the gender quota system in the 2013 Constitution of Zimbabwe was a very welcome development in that the Constitution gave recognition that quotas are a tool that facilitates women’s participation in politics against patriarchy and male hegemony. What is plausible is that section 124(b), tries to elevate women to take up their legal rights to equity and equality in the political spheres. The flaw with the Constitutional provision is that it prescribes a timeline to the existence of the quota. Yes, it is not in dispute that the quota system in line with international and regional instruments above is supposed to be a short term measure, but then these instruments do not prescribe a timeline for the “temporary measure”. Instead CEDAW article 4(1) states on the removal of “temporal measures” that temporary measures shall be discontinued when the objectives of equality and treatment have been achieved. Furthermore The revised SADC Protocol on Gender and Development set a target of 50% representation by women in decision-making bodies by 2020 and Sustainable development goals (goal 5 on gender equality calls for equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision making in political, economic and public life.

The lived realities of women depict a dire need for the extension of the quota system. Participation of women in politics is still a far cry from the 50% benchmark set and furthermore equality has not yet been achieved. The political playing field is not level. The systematic barriers that prohibit women fully participating in politics like patriarchy, violence, financial constraints and other still exist and as long as these exist women will continue to be absent in politics. The quota although very positive in its current state will not add value to women’s participation. The current practice has been that women are not being empowered to run as candidates but political parties have since relegated all women from contesting to only participating within the 60 reserved seats. In fact, the statistics of the 2018 elections paint a dismal picture. Of the 2018 National Assembly only 14% percent of candidates were women, this is a very low figure. Of those who contested only 26 managed to be elected versus 29 women who were elected in 2013. This means that there has been a 2% decrease in the number of women elected in 2018.[4] This essentially means that women constitute only 12 percent of the directly elected seats a decline from the previous election. If the quota was working as it has in other countries, this number would be on the increase.

If one is to take a closer look at our system, they will realize a number of flaws. Firstly, the women under the quota system have no constituency, they are just an addition to existing seats, in essence they gain no constituency experience which was the intention of the process. Secondly the list is written by political leaders and used as a patronage system, for a woman to ensure she continues on the list she must stay loyal to the party and system or she will lose her position.

According to a research done by WLSA[5], on the 2018 electoral cycle, women want the quota system to continue. They stated that despite the presence of a gender sensitive Constitution, they encountered challenges which ranged from political parties’ limitations, closed spaces in some communities where they did not have the opportunity to participate equally with men, violence against women verbal, physical on and offline, pull her down syndrome from other women, fear of reprisals from their political parties and patriarchy as inhibiting factors that will take time to transform them. All of these challenges call for the need to still reserve the 60 seats removing them will likely see too few or none of the women participating in politics since the lived reality indicates that the playing field is not level. However, a question which remains is will the quota system eliminate these challenges?

Ultimately the quota system is important and if done correctly will go a long way in ensuring that Zimbabwe reached the 50/50 as envisaged by the Constitution. However, as we contend with extending its life span we must introspect to see if in its current form we have gained at all to promote women’s participation or we have simply used to relegate women into non contesting spaces. As we find ourselves at a redefining moment of the quota we need to count our gains and ensure that whatever we come up with ultimately increases women’s political participation fully and not tokenism of increasing women in number and not substance.

[1] It placed on a par with values such as the rule of law and good governance

[2]It clearly states that ‘Women and men have the right to equal treatment including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.

[3] Section 34   makes it mandatory for the state to domesticate all international instruments to which it has signed and ratified.

[4] This is according to Women in Politics Support Unit

[5] Women’s experiences in the 2018 Zimbabwe election cycle. WLSA Zimbabwe  December 2018

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