Putting women in charge

Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
THE latest survey by the World Economic Forum indicates that it will take about 217 years for the global community to attain gender parity in all spheres of human endeavour.
According to the Global Gender Gap Report 2017, significant gender inequality persists in politics and workplaces, although women are closing the gender gaps in other important areas such as education and health.
In simple terms, it will take about 217 years for us to achieve 50-50 representation of women and men in decision-making positions – be it in elective office, workplaces or in terms of access to economic opportunities.
The survey also implies that the world is far from providing universal access to education (primary, secondary and tertiary levels) for girls, boys, men and women, although notable progress has been made in the last decade.
The report, which measures, 144 countries, focuses on four thematic areas – political empowerment, economic participation and opportunity, educational attainment as well as health and survival.
The report also implies that we have very few women in decision-making positions such as Members of Parliament (MPs), councillors, ministers and political party officials.
For instance, in Zambia, women only make up 18.7 percent of parliamentarians.
Perhaps this is the reason why Government is considering adopting the quota system in Parliament whereby 30 percent of the seats would be reserved for women, while the rest of the seats would be competed for by both men and women.
This is what Minister of Gender Victoria Kalima said in Addis Abba, Ethiopia, where she was attending the 3rd Specialised Technical Committee Meeting on Gender and Women Empowerment recently.
The Global Gender Gap Report tells us that what is happening in Zambia is a worldwide trend – the numbers of women in positions of influence in politics and their participation in the labour force leave much to be desired.
Using LindedIn in its workforce gender gap analysis, the World Economic Forum found that the pay gap between men and women was widening as the former’s pays were increasing rapidly.
In the 12 industries that were surveyed, there were less than 50 percent women leaders. And in the past decade, the ratio of women leaders only increased by over 2 percent.
There has been a similar slow growth rate of women leaders in the political arena, with some countries recording a reduction of female political leaders in the last 10 years.
Obviously, the question is, why are the gender gaps widening in politics and workplaces, or rather economic sphere, including access to opportunities thereof?
From my observation, women rarely come out to compete for positions of influence such as MP, councillor or as officials in their political parties. Perhaps, it’s the political parties that are not grooming female leaders and building their capacities to compete for elective office.
This is despite political parties having a significant number of women as members.
At political party gatherings, we normally see more women than men, but when it comes to contesting elections, the womenfolk tend to rally behind men as cheerleaders.
In my view, the stereotyping of women as praise singers of men and as home-makers is largely responsible for the persistent forces of gender discrimination in decision-making positions.
The poor performance of women in political elections is not because they are incapable candidates, but rather due to the fact that ours is a patriarchal system where men are perceived as leaders by birth and women as cheerleaders.
This is the reason why during elections, political parties tend to shun women candidates because the cultural atmosphere is hostile to female leaders even when they have what it takes to provide leadership.
And because female representation at the highest level of politics is low, the gender gap in positions of influence in politics keeps on widening.
Well, for a change we have two women as front-runners in the Chilanga parliamentary by-election in the name of Maria Langa of the Patriotic Front (PF) and Charmaine Musonda of the United Party for National Development (UPND).
It’s good to see the ruling party and major opposition political party rallying with women as parliamentary candidates for the June 5 Chilanga parliamentary seat.
I hope all political parties will take deliberate efforts to build the capacity of women leaders in their rank and file and encourage them to aspire for challenging leadership positions.
The best way to debunk sex-role stereotypes that reinforce gender discrimination against women in politics is to increase women’s representation in decision-making positions.
The more women we have at the top, the more other women will be encouraged to step out and compete for positions of influence in politics; and the more women we will have in the world of work, even as managers and chief executive officers.
It is also a proven fact by research that when women assume senior leadership positions, they make decisions that are in the best interest of women and children.
Women leaders in workplaces are also likely to influence the appointment of other women and their promotion in senior positions.
Similarly, if we increase the proportion of women in Parliament, other women will be inspired to come out of their shells and contest parliamentary elections.
It will take women leaders to inspire other women to develop thick skin to fend off unwarranted criticism against women.
Gender parity is an important yardstick for socio-economic development because there can be no sustainable development if the female gender, which makes up about half of Zambia’s population, is left behind.
It is good that Government is considering a quota system in Parliament to encourage women to assume decision-making positions in the political arena.
If implemented as planned, this could help us to close the gender gaps in decision-making positions and put more women in charge of the political as well as economic spheres.
Kudos to the PF and UPND for the bold attempt to put a woman in charge of the Chilanga parliamentary seat.
As the World Economic Forum suggests, one of the ways of closing the gender gaps in politics and workplaces is by putting more women in charge.
Email: Phone: 0211-221364/227794

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