Quota system: A stumbling block towards women’s active participation in politics

By Michelle Mulingo

BULAWAYO pressure groups have called for electoral reforms which will do away with the constitutional quota system viewed by many as a stumbling block towards women’s active participation in mainstream politics.

The quota system, implemented in 2013 through new Constitution’s wide consultative forums where vast populace participated, is government’s way to be in line with relevant international instruments such as the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, Convention on the Political Rights of Women, and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).

Part (4) Section 124 (b) of the new Constitution reads: “For the life of the first two Parliaments after the effective date, an additional sixty women members, six from each province into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected through a system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces.”

Through the quota system, the number of women in political positions increases due to the reservation of seats specifically to be occupied by women. Thirty-two percent (83 women) made up a total figure of 350 Parliamentarians from the Lower and Upper house in 2013.

However, this provision which was only valid for the first two terms of Parliament comes to an end in 2023, a development that has been met with calls for voting restructurings by women organisations.

Women organisations have challenged the quota system saying it is a sign of bad governance as women’s ascendancy to power is only in theory but not in the decision-making process.

“We want women who are elected, whom we believe can deliver not the selected ones and as women, we should come together and bolster common interest by rejecting the amendment bill as well as advocate for the full implementation of section 17 of the constitution,” said Melissa Nomakhosi Ndlovu, a member of Emthonjeni Women’s Forum.

Ndlovu said women who have come to power since the inception of the quota system have not been productive hence the need to have election restructuring so as to end a ceremonial continuation of silencing the empowerment and active participation of women.

Ndlovu added: “It is saddening to note that there is nothing tangible that these women, who were elected under the quota system, did for us women in the country. They are just there in parliament as puppets. We need to see them working and being allowed to make major decisions in Parliament, then we can say indeed the quota system is good for women participation in politics and in facilitating gender equality.”

Section 17 of the constitution notes that the state must promote full gender balance and full participation of women in all spheres while part of section 56 states that women have right to equal treatment, including right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres, whereas section 80 of the constitution states that women have full and equal dignity of the person with men and this includes equal opportunities in politics.

“In the run up to the 2018 elections, the political environment was toxic and misogynistic, making it very difficult for female candidates and female commissioners to participate without being called derogatory names; suffering a lot of abuse and name calling especially on social media,” reads page 53 of Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) report on the 30 July 2018 harmonised elections.

According to Organizing 4 Zimbabwe Trust, a youth led civic organization, structures and organisations of most “political parties” in Zimbabwe do not view women as critical stakeholders or leaders, but female members are used primarily to secure the female vote.

During election time males are highly favored at the expense of female candidates.

The Government’s Amendment Bill which seeks to extend the quota system for another ten years with the addition of 60 seats in the national assembly among others prompted the revolt from the women’s organisations and other interested stakeholders.

“Selection will just benefit the few women who are already in the system. There is also the “party-nist” system which hinders those who are not part of political parties and it also excludes young women as parties recommend people who have been in the party for a particular period,” said Thando Gwinji from Youth for Innovation Trust in an interview.

After the introduction of the proportional representation quota system, most women are not politically motivated like they were before it was brought to the fore.

Gwinji added: “There has been a drop in the number of women directly elected from 26 in 2013 to 25 in the 2018 elections. It shows that this system is failing to encourage more women to participate in politics.”

The ZESN report further suggests that Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and political parties should put in place measures to facilitate the increase in the participation of women in elections coupled with legally binding quotas and enforcement mechanisms which should be enacted by parliament and political parties to devote resources to women candidates to encourage their participation in line with the SADC protocol on Gender and Development.

Sindiso Dlamini, Information and Advocacy officer at YIELD Trust stated that the quota system is a token given to both youth and women and does not translate to participation in decision making because the platform is not readily available for the youth and women to use freely to represent the people.

“They are not allowed to vote when there is a need to vote in Parliament; only the 210 elected MP’s can vote and make change. We have not seen any changes in the past and l doubt there will be any in future,” said Dlamini.

“As young people we do not need this quota system and as the majority in terms of population, we are only given 10 seats. We need new electoral reforms not a quota system. We do not need to amend anything in the constitution. The consultations are not even thorough as we are in a crisis, will the responsible people consider what is raised by people?” she questioned.

Dlamini added: “Political parties have used the proportional representation quota system to further suppress young women’s voices as they deny them opportunities to compete for seats in their various constituencies.”

Bulawayo Ward 17 Councilor Sikhululekile Moyo concurred saying the extension of a quota system would be a result of a failing government system and an unnecessary expense to an already crippling country.

“The addition of 60 more seats is an expense to the government as it will use more of the taxpayers’ money to make sure the 60 women also have what the other 210 MPS have. It is an expense that can be evaded if the government comes up with electoral reforms enable women to participate in politics freely,” she said.

She added that the bill is a violation of section 17, 56 and 80 of the constitution which guarantees gender equality.

“We don’t have any option but to agree with the amendment because if we go against it, we will remain with nothing because our government doesn’t care. It does not consult before putting their bills forward. They consider things that will benefit them only,” she said.

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