The state Newspaper, the Herald in its headlines yesterday the 27th of April 2012, proudly announced the possibility of the creation of 100 more Parliamentary seats in Zimbabwe, all reserved for women. The Co-Chairperson of the Constitutional Parliamentary Select Committee (COPAC) and Member of Parliament for the MDC-T Douglas Mwonzora proudly announced that this creation is a legislative response to the new constitutional provision for gender ‘equality’ and is in compliance with the SADC Gender and Development Protocol.
I found this announcement not only condescending of women but also reflective of the highly paternalistic character of the current parliament that we have in Zimbabwe. Women in Zimbabwe have been asking for equal representation in politics and other key decision-making positions for a long time and this is their answer? Seriously?
For one the factors that impeded women’s participation in politics can not be addressed by creating new posts.
The prevalence of political violence and the impunity granted to perpetrators of state-sponsored violence against women exacerbates the prevalence of violence which deters most women from wanting to participate in politics. Worse still for women to field their names as candidates for election exposes them to greater risks of violent attacks hence until it is addressed they will fear participating.
The economic barriers that exist for women to participate in public office generally and as candidates in the electoral process in particular are still there. The levels of poverty in Zimbabwe have been on the increase worse with a large part of the population living below the poverty datum line. The continued economic marginalisation of women with access to and control of land and other resources crucial to their economic development is still there. There is no commitment to increase financing for women’s electoral campaigns.
There is hardly enough civic education and heightened campaigns encouraging women to participate in the electoral process or to address the cultural perceptions that limit women’s participation in politics. I mean the majority of people in Zimbabwe still believe gender equality is a foreign concept that seeks to drive the acculturation of our society and make women superior to men so what chances do we have of convincing that same society that women can be as good leaders as men or even better?
And here is our government thinking the answer to all these problems is to create a 100 more seats. This announcement coming right after Zimbabwe’s review by the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women shows just how much they do not understand the concept of substantive equality.
I can even visualise right now the members of parliament proudly thinking they have done us a favour in thinking; “Öh you poor women of Zimbabwe. You have been marginalised in politics for so long but come now-cry no more (wiping tears like a benevolent father to his 2 year old’s cheek). We have heard your cries and we will set up special seats for you. Just for you.”
This whole incident stinks of self-aggrandisement, with current male members of parliament merely protecting their seats and creating new ones for women. That is not substantive equality. Substantive equality would be achieved by creating an enabling environment for would be female candidates to contest the existing seats on an equal footing with the male candidates. Besides; we do not need more parliamentarians when the existing ones are hardly delivering and the state resources are overstretched in meeting their demands for allowances and such other nonsense.