As part of the constitutional making process between 2009 and 2013, the women’s movement lobbied for a women’s quota in decision-making structures, so they become firmly entrenched over time in the decision making processes i.e. cabinet, commissions and parliament. In parliament they wanted a percentage of the 210 seats in Parliament to be given to women, but what they got was an additional 60 seats reserved for women for a period of 10 years. As section 124(1)(b) of the Constitution reads:
The National Assembly… for the life of the first two Parliaments after the effective date, an additional sixty women members, six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected under a party list system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces.
This was not a win but it was not an outright loss either, more women are in parliament. The eighth Parliament now has 33% women, which, on the face of it, appears as an increase in the number of women, BUT if you take away the additional 60 there are actually less women in parliament than the seventh parliament which had 25%. This is because women were discouraged from running as constituent MPs and were told that there was room for them with the additional 60. The aim of Section 124(1)(b) was not to limit women only to these seats, but to bring in more women. In my understanding this was to ensure that women are more visible in Parliament, raise issues that are pertinent to women and have their male counterparts and the general public used to seeing women in decision making roles making a difference.
Why is this an issue today you may ask? The 60 MPs have been in office since 2013 and it is important to take stock: has it worked, what needs to be done, and by whom, for it to be considered a success? If there is need to lobby to extend it by an additional 10 years by asking for an constitutional amendment, the work needs to start now to ensure that women’s participation is firmly cemented.
The women’s movement will need empirical evidence to support their advocacy, and, therefore, RAU is in the process of conducting research on section 124. This is one constitutional section that has been followed to the letter when we are constantly bemoaning the government for not adhering to the Constitution or doing so halfheartedly.
Why this one? What have been the experiences of these 60 women, how have they been received in parliament by their fellow MPs both male and female, parliament staff, their political parties and by the general public? How were they chosen to represent their political parties? What does section 124 mean to the gains for women’s rights in Zimbabwe? What will happen after the 10 years, when the section falls away?
It is important to interrogate this because women in positions that are not traditionally theirs are often held to a higher standard and are expected to perform much better than men. It is common knowledge that the some of the women who are the beneficiaries of the PR and quota initiative are undermined through negative terms such as ‘Barcossi’ a euphemism for cheap because they are not elected by the people and therefore do not hold any political power and not seen to be of any value.
However, it should be noted that women in both the Seventh and Eighth Parliaments have been consistently better attendees than their male counterparts, whether directly elected or appointed under the proportional representation device.
One of the key questions we will raise in our research is, was there real intention to increase women’s participation in parliament or was section 124 just a pacifier?
Kuda Chitsike 3.06.16