Gender Gender

An appeal for more women in Cabinet

Gender Focus with JUDITH KONAYUMA
AN APPEAL by the Women’s Lobby has gone out to the President. They are asking him to appoint more women to Cabinet.
After the inauguration on Tuesday, President Lungu is now set to appoint his Cabinet and as citizens, we are eager to see who goes in.
For the Women’s Lobby, they have taken the opportunity to appeal to President Lungu to consider having more women in Cabinet, the highest decision-making body of Government.
During a briefing last week, Zambia National Women’s Lobby executive director Juliet Chibuta urged Government to consider increasing the number of women in Cabinet.
The issue about increasing the number of women in decision-making positions is an agenda that the Lobby champions and it is in line with the SADC Protocol on Gender to which Zambia is a signatory.
The SADC Protocol on Gender is a tool which advocates that member countries enhance the advancement of women empowerment by, among others, lobbying governments to place women in positions of decision making.
Of course, the lobbying is not just a blanket exercise which seeks to have more numbers of women representation, but one which calls for the inclusion of women where decisions are made because they have the ability to deliver, and it is based on the fact that men and women are partners in development.
Although this may be so, the development of women is better driven by the women themselves. They know better what they want to achieve and so they should be considered in that light.
They advocate for the inclusion of women in high positions, therefore, it means that just as men are appointed on merit, so should the women.
The request by the Women’s Lobby is in line with President Lungu’s challenge recently that he was looking for women and youth to work with.
The appointment of members of cabinet also offers an opportunity for women to have a go at serving the nation. While others are already serving in various positions, more are needed so that the country slowly inches towards the 50/50 representation.
We remember how women groups made a similar call during the adoption of candidates for parliamentary and local government elections. They urged political parties to consider adopting more women as candidates.
All the same, there are a number of women who have proved they are capable of delivering because they have the necessary skills and the education ability to do so.
The women lobbyists depend on the SADC gender protocol which calls for affirmative action, provide for the empowerment of women, eliminate discrimination, achieve gender equity and equality through the development and implementation of gender- responsive legislation, policies programmes, and projects.
The SADC Protocol has also been adopted by the United Nations, which uses it now as an advocacy toolkit for women in politics.
Some of the articles used are 12 and 13 which seek to advance governance with specific focus on representation and participation of women.
These two clauses provide for the equal representation of women in all areas of decision-making, both public and private and suggests that this target be achieved through Constitutional and other legislative provisions, including affirmative action.
It further stipulates that Member States should adopt specific legislative measures and other strategies, policies and programmes to ensure that women participate effectively in electoral processes and decision-making by, amongst others, building capacity, providing support and establishing and strengthening structures to enhance gender mainstreaming.
The Women’s Lobby, in its appeal to have more women in Cabinet, is basing its appeal on this toolkit, but of course, knowing fully well that the President has his own choice to make.
There is already a glimmer of hope in this request, as already, President Lungu’s running mate and now Vice-President, is a woman.
Mrs Inonge Wina (left) is the first woman to ascend to that highest level in the country’s history but this does not mean the advocates for women empowerment should sit back. Other eminent women are serving the nation in various portfolios.
However, the need to have more women representation still remains and the advocates are looking at some of the women who were elected in the August 11 elections to move to a higher level of cabinet minister.
A look at those who came out victorious in the elections shows that there are new as well as old cases of women parliamentarians.
The fact that these women won the highly contested elections means they are among the capable leaders that Zambians are looking up to.
There could have been more women but the barriers they face in contests such as elections prevent them from active participation.
Among the challenges the women face is lack of finances to support a long and expensive election campaign. The lack of financial muscle works against some women who want to launch into the political sphere.
In some instances, violence prevents women from fully participating in an election process. The last election campaign saw unprecedented levels of violence.
It is necessary, therefore, to deliberately urge women to actively participate in politics by singling them out and giving them those responsibilities of power.
This, in a way, will also increase the number of women, who by nature are prone to easily giving up if faced some obstacles.
It is in view of these challenges that the advocates use the SADC Protocol on Gender to seek equality and equity for women.
Though Zambia has not yet ratified the SADC Protocol on Gender, it signed the protocol in 2008, a step in the right direction in the empowerment of women.
Apart from having progressive clauses for women empowerment, it also includes 23 set targets, including the target that women will hold 50 percent of decision-making positions in the public and private sectors by 2015.
As a country, we have not been able to meet this target, but not all hope is lost because advocates have confidence in Government in moving in that direction.
Though the referendum, which sought to usher in the Bill of Rights into the Constitution, was not a success, the fact that the Bill of Rights has been enhanced in favour of women gives hope in moving towards the SADC Protocol on Gender.
And the women will continue lobbying because one day, their call will be heard.

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