Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
THE Chilubi parliamentary seat previously held by Rosario Fundanga, who died on November 20, 2019, is obviously going to a man either of the Patriotic Front (PF) or the United Party for National Development (UPND).
Of the five candidates – all men – contesting the Chilubi seat, these parties are the likely front-runners.
One would expect that in the spirit of giving chance to women to have an equal stake in the legislative assembly, participating political parties would have considered adopting women to fill the void left by Mrs Fundanga.
However, none of the five political parties contesting today’s parliamentary by-election in Chilubi adopted a woman.
A similar situation happened in Katuba constituency last year when the late Patricia Mwashingwele, who held the seat on the UPND ticket, was replaced by a man, Aubrey Kapalasa.
Given the low representation of women in Parliament, one would expect that political parties would have deliberate policies to encourage women to contest elections.
Political parties ought to be key players in the campaign for gender parity in decision-making positions because happenings in the political environment tend to influence many things in society.
For instance, if women are seen to be holding decision-making positions in the political arena – be it in the party structures, at Parliament and local government level – the corporate world would follow suit too.
In society at large, there would be an affirmation of women as equal partners to their male counterparts because they would be tried and tested as leaders.
So wanting to see more women lawmakers is not too much to ask.
As for Chilubi and Katuba, the fact that the immediate former MPs were female should have made it easy for the electorate to give chance to other women.
If political parties cared about the campaign for gender parity in positions of influence, they would be grooming women to take up leadership positions, including contesting parliamentary and council elections.
But as things stand, winning elections is more important to them than identifying women that they could mentor to ascend to high political offices.
Political parties should make it their business to help women develop confidence in their ability to compete for elective office.
Actually one of the sticky points in party politics is getting women to come out of their cocoons and openly declare their intentions to contest elections.
Most often than not, the majority of women in politics will not declare their candidature in intra-party polls and worse if it is at parliamentary or council levels.
The number of female Members of Parliament at 28 (17.7 percent) compared to 137 (82.9 percent) men can attest to the serious gender inequality in the National Assembly.
Apparently women have no problem joining political parties or campaigning for men in an election, but they grow cold feet when it comes to contesting elections.
When election applications are being considered, women are in most cases not available to be counted among the aspirants.
So we can’t entirely blame political parties, neither can we hold them blameless for somehow perpetuating this gender imbalance in their spheres of influence.
So why is it difficult for women to join the race to Manda Hill?
First of all, ours is a patriarchal society where men are seen as natural born leaders while women have to explain themselves as to why they think they can manage the reins of power even when they have all it takes to lead.
Although we have a few women who are doing very well in political office, women leaders still face a lot of resistance merely on account of their gender.
To reinforce that challenge are the socially constructed gender-based stereotypes which make certain people believe that gender roles are not interchangeable.
Some people believe that women can only do this, but can’t do that because only men are good at doing it.
Women, though, have done a lot to demonstrate that gender roles are not cast in stone; what a man can do, a woman can do as well and vice versa.
Despite having blazers of the trail as well as movers and shakers born female, we have a long way to go in changing people’s attitudes towards women leaders and making them believe in their already demonstrated abilities.
The other thing is that society tends to use unfair benchmarks for women and men aspiring for elections. For example, women are subjected to a ‘morality test’ that does not apply to men.
When a woman is running for elections, there is a lot of mudslinging on account of her private life and many other non-issues that are not considered against a man.
Not many women could stomach the smear campaign and character assassination that goes with contesting elections, for instance if one is a single parent.
But if it is a male candidate involved, no one talks about his private life and that will never be used as a qualifying factor during campaigns.
This is the reason why many women in politics are content with staying in the background and rallying behind men.
What is worse is that political parties tend to be influenced by public perceptions of women when it comes to choosing candidates.
They may even shun good female candidates on account of gender and other petty issues that society is likely to raise.
In other words, adopting a woman to contest elections at a high level is seen as a big risk by many political parties.
In actual fact, political parties need to take a leading role in making the 50-50 representation of women and men in decision-making positions a reality. Parties cannot deny that they benefit a lot from women in politics both as voters and party cadres.
They need to reciprocate the support they get from women by grooming them to become leaders, not just at party level, but at parliamentary and council levels too.
All that some women need are tips on building their self-confidence or how to deal with unfair criticism.
Parties could use women who are already established in politics to inspire upcoming women leaders.
Learning from the good and nasty experiences of women politicians could do a lot in getting potential women leaders come out of their cocoons.
Next year we have a much bigger election and hopefully political parties are already grooming the women to contest the general elections.
The general elections will show which political parties are committed to promoting gender equality because there will be an opportunity for women to compete at presidential, parliamentary, council and mayoral or council chairperson levels.
Political parties also need to encourage their female members to embrace adult education, which has now been introduced in government schools.
Some of our women who are active in politics cannot contest elections because they lack Grade 12 certificates, which is a prerequisite for parliamentary and council elections.
This has disqualified many women as well as men from contesting elections, especially at council level.
At individual level, women should also take advantage of the adult education programme to position themselves for parliamentary and local government office.
It’s no longer a matter of debate that women have a special place in community and national development.
To borrow from the phrase that says ‘nothing for us without us’, let me state that issues that affect women and children cannot be adequately dealt with if women are not involved in the decision-making process.
That’s why we cannot afford to continue with the current gender inequality in Parliament.
Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA