At a recent meeting in Bulawayo, convened by the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) and Women Politicians’ Incubator Zimbabwe (WOPIZ), there was consensus amongst all the women present – MPs, Councillors, heads of CSOs and NGOs – that the best way forward to ensure that women’s rights were respected was to ensure that half (105) of the seats in the National Assembly were occupied by women. The suggestion came out of the understanding that proportional representation as it currently is does not come close to fulfilling the objectives laid out in Section 17 of the Constitution:
- The State must promote full gender balance in Zimbabwean society;
- the State must promote the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men;
- the State must take all measures, including legislative measures, needed to ensure that—
- both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level; and
- women constitute at least half the membership of all Commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies established by or under this Constitution or any Act of Parliament.
The intent behind this section is wholly unambiguous: half means half, and equal representation means half too. What’s to think about when trying to implement this section? You just ensure that half of the House of Assembly is populated by female members of parliament.
But we have done the experiment of trying to increase the number of women through a proportional representation system, and, on face value, have actually increased the number of women in parliament. But this also comes on the back of the fact that fewer women were directly elected in the current parliament than the previous one: the political parties took advantage of the system to relegate women to the proportional process and selected men to challenge for the 210 constituency seats.
Well, the women in Bulawayo, and female representatives of all the major political parties, said this is just not good enough, and certainly not what was intended by Section 17. They want half as their due and as the Constitution requires.
So how do we do this?
Actually it may not be as hard as it appears, but will require a rather profound change to the electoral laws. It will need a change from First-Past-The-Post (FPTP) to genuine Proportional Representation (PR), a system in place many countries. Parties compete for the vote and are allocated seats according to their proportion of the vote, and, in the case of Zimbabwe and the demands of women, 50% of the list of candidates put forward by political parties must be women. With the radical demand that 50% (105 seats) must be occupied by women, and the requirement that political parties will have to offer 50% of their party list as women, the only issue to be confronted is the wish of the voter.
Are we forcing citizens to vote for women? Not at all, unless we remain wedded to FPTP and our current system where candidates vie for a constituency. A PR system merely requires that each party provides a list of candidates, as many as they wish against the seats available in parliament, and then the party gets as many seats as their proportion of the overall vote. This is a system that many Zimbabweans have asked for in the past as it does resolve many of the problems associated with rigging.
And thus it turns out that this “radical” suggestion is not only good for women, but good for the nation as a whole. And perhaps this is the reason why, in so many areas of life, creating equal opportunities for women turns out to be good for everyone.
Tony Reeler 09/02/2017