NOMSA NKANA, Lusaka
OVER the years, women and other groups have been advocating and lobbying for changes to the electoral system for the country to achieve 50:50 representation of women and men in Parliament.
Currently, Zambia has been using the first-past-the-post electoral system (FPPS) where women, youth and people with disabilities have not been able to fully participate.
The FPPS has disadvantaged women’s participation in decision- making, as evidenced by their low numbers in parliament which stand at a meagre 19 out of a total of 158.
However, the above scenario may just be a thing of the past as an opportunity has presented itself through the tabling of the amendment to article 47.2 in Bill 10 which provides for the mixed- member electoral system (MMS).
The MMS provides for more accurate representation of parties, better representation for political and racial minorities, fewer wasted votes, higher levels of voter turnout and better representation of women.
This is good news to women in the country who have come together to launch Women-Vision 2020, a country-wide campaign to advocate the enactment of Bill 10, which is ultimately expected to change the way politics and the electoral system are designed.
Consultant in women law and gender development Gladys Mutukwa says free, equal and fair participation in elections by candidates and voters is a human right and major tenet of democracy and good governance.
Ms Mutukwa is also of the view that the FPP electoral system does not encourage equal and fair participation of women, youths and people living with disabilities (PWDs).
“The FPP electoral system has reinforced and given legal and structural backing to the social, cultural, political, economic and other constraints to women’s participation. As a result, marginalised groups have been seriously underrepresented in Parliament,” she notes.
Ms Mutukwa explains that the current rate of participation of women stands at 16 percent in Parliament, and a meagre 8 percent in the councils, contrary to what some African countries have adopted to enhance women’s participation.
She says as the world became cognisant of and committed to the gender agenda, many countries have acknowledged that the FPP system prevents women from equitable participation.
Ms Mutukwa cites nations such as Rwanda, South Africa, Namibia, Uganda, Mozambique and Angola as some of those that have adopted various forms of MMS or proportional representation in their electoral systems.
She says due to the move, the level of participation changed almost overnight and these countries are leading in the world in the level of participation of women in decision-making in parliament, government and councils, among others.
It is, therefore, the stance of Women-Vision-2020 to support the enactment of Bill 10 with particular emphasis on the enactment of the new Article 47.2 which provides for MMS.
According to Ms Mutukwa, this is the most transformational system that has ever been proposed to be in the constitution that will ensure no one is left behind.
“Once this provision is in the amended constitution, we can have a proportional number of women in Parliament, instead of the current 19 out of 158. We can also have a proportional number of youths and people with disabilities,” she has observed.
Article 47.2 in Bill 10 is a welcome provision to Disability Rights Association, which states that while the right to participate in politics and public life is well established in human rights law, PWDs are frequently denied their right to political participation in a variety of ways, and for a number of reasons.
Association executive director Catherine Kasekete explains that one of the issues is stereotype regarding disability which often leads to discrimination against PWDs in decision-making processes, voting, running for office, or participation in public outreach initiatives by political parties.
“Despite government’s efforts of ‘Leave no one behind’, PWDs continue to be left behind in political participation and decision-making,” she notes.
According to Ms Kasekete, some countries in Africa have realised the above fact and have now moved to include PWDs in decision making.
For example, the Ugandan constitution requires that five national members of parliament must have personal experience with disability.
Furthermore, the Ugandan Local Government Act of 1997 provides for the election of one woman and one man with a disability in every village, parish, sub-county and district councils.
She says members of parliament with disabilities have even served on a variety of parliamentary committees.
Equally in Kenya, 12 seats in the National Assembly are reportedly reserved for ‘marginalised’ and historically underrepresented groups, including PWDs.
In Zimbabwe, a National Disability Board was established to fulfil the provision of self-representation for people with disabilities following the Disabled Persons Act adopted in 1992.
In Namibia, the policy has resulted in the presidential appointment of representatives with disabilities to Parliament.
It is for this reason that Ms Kasekete believes adopting Article 47.2, which includes MMS, is an entry point to ensure full self-representation by persons with disabilities and other marginalised groups in Zambia.
One of these groups is The Zambia United National Freedom Fighters Association that also supports enactment of Bill 10 for the purpose of Article 47.2.
Association national treasurer Betty Chilunga says enactment of the Bill for the purpose of Article 47.2 will address the issue of low numbers of women in Parliament and councils in Zambia.
Mama Chilunga believes the low numbers clearly underline the fact that there is still more to be done to achieve the target of 50/50 percent gender balance of seats in Parliament.
She says this is the more reason why the association supports improvement of Article 47.2 to give an opportunity to freedom fighters that fought for Zambia’s independence to also have a voice in Parliament.
“We request that you join us to support our efforts for inclusion of the MMS of bill 10 Article 47.2 so that it reads, ‘Marginalised groups like freedom fighters, women, youth, PWDs and minority political parties to be in the National Assembly’,” she says.
Chairperson of Women-Vision-2020 Rose Mumbi says when Parliament resumes sitting, parliamentarians should be considerate enough to vote for Bill 10 as it contains Article 47.2, which provides for equal representation of women and other marginalised groups in decision- making.
Government has made commitments at international, regional and sub-regional levels to promote equal participation of women in Parliament and other governance structures, and it is imperative that all well-meaning stakeholders support amendment to article 47.2 in Bill 10 which provides for MMS to allow for women participation in decision- making.
NOMSA NKANA, Lusaka