Gender Gender

Hill still slippery for women in politics

Zambia's Parliament building.

Gender Focus with JUDITH KONAYUMA
A LOT of effort has gone into encouraging women to decision-making positions, but little has been achieved.
So far, out of a total of 1,624 councillors, only 127 are female. Out of this meagre number, only 10 make up female council chairpersons or executive mayors, compared with that of men, which stands at 109.
At parliamentary level, the number of female representatives stands at 29, out of 164 males.
Though the position of republican vice-president is occupied by a woman, there are only 11 female Cabinet ministers, against 33 men in the same position.
According to the Gender Statistics On Women’s Representation In Local Government: The Case Of Zambia (2018), although Zambia has signed a number of regional and international conventions, the number of women representatives still remains low at local government level.
However, the same can be said of the other two levels, parliamentary and Cabinet positions.
We see a similar picture in all political parties (even if they do not have government positions) where the number of women is, in all cases, less than that of men.
This is despite the fact that the number of female party members in any political party in Zambia far outweighs that of men.
Yet, the vast majority of them are only the rank and file members who are not anywhere near the reins of power.
The need to find out what has led to the low participation of women in politics is, therefore, paramount at a time when the country should be seeing a considerable increase in the numbers.
While investigating the causes of women’s law participation in politics is one thing, it will help matters if solutions to the hurdles women face in ascending to higher positions are also found and implemented so that the numbers of female representatives increase to acceptable levels.
Though the republican Constitution promotes equal participation of both men and women, there is an apparent unawareness of this provision on the part of the women.
But even if the women were aware, they do not have the drive to venture into politics because they think the arena is not for the faint-hearted.
One of the contributing factors that has apparently become common in most political parties is the prevalence of violence, which is surely likely to discourage women from venturing into politics.
When she opened the 63rd United Nations Commission on the Status of Women side event in March this year, Minister of Gender Elizabeth Phiri told the gathering that educated women in developing countries, in Zambia, in particular, shun politics.
In her speech, the minister said the male-dominated landscape of the political arena in Zambia is hostile and unpleasant for women.
And this can be said to be the point at which violence, which makes the women shun politics, prevails.
There has been a lot of talk about ending violence in political parties and some steps have been taken but the vice remains prevalent.
This exclusion of women contributes to failure to narrow the gender gap in politics, as can be seen from the figures we have, leaving them as foot soldiers and mobilisers at the grassroots level.
Political parties have a greater role to play to attract women to politics, and one of the strategies they can employ is to practise clean politics.
While this is only a suggestion, it can do much to attract women who want to operate in a peaceful atmosphere.
The lack of economic muscle is another factor that deters women from entering into politics.
Politics, like many other ventures, is an expensive undertaking and most candidates have to put in a better part of their finances to win the favour of the electorate.
A number of political parties face financial challenges to sponsor women as candidates, even when this has been identified as one of the inhibiting factors.
In view of this factor, political parties can work with women’s groups to see how best they can encourage women participation and their adoption as candidates for political office.
The shared support between the political party and women’s group can give a female candidate the confidence as well as the muscle to stand for political office.
It is a strategy which has been tried in the past, but its continued adoption can certainly lead to more female candidates who will be made representatives at the levels where it matters the most.
The development of any nation depends on the participation of women, so that they are given an opportunity to speak for themselves and articulate better issues that affect them.
We all know that a person who is directly affected by something speaks with a better experience and a deeper understanding than a ‘bystander’.
So the more women ascend to higher positions, the better, because a number of issues that affect them will come to the fore and solutions for them will be found.
But the rise to higher levels of authority should not just be for the sake of it and in an effort to achieve some milestones.
The quality of women who should be appointed to the positions or urged to aspire for such positions matters. They have to be women who understand issues that affect them and are able to articulate them better for the benefit of the majority of women.
This is one strategy that will make sense and benefit the country as a whole.
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