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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles


  • One step forward – one step back? Gender quotas and the 2013 Harmonised polls in Zimbabwe
    Election Resource Centre
    October 07, 2013

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    Introduction

    Women’s groups and activists campaigned for and celebrated the introduction of a series of gender quotas in Zimbabwe’s new constitution particularly in anticipation of the July 31 polls. The hope was that the quotas would lead to an increased representation of women in parliament and by extension into other political decision making positions. However, soon after the election, women’s groups pronounced themselves disappointed at the showing of women in the July 31 poll even though women’s representation in the legislature had effectively doubled. The new cabinet announced by the President Mugabe on 10 September shows a lower level of representation for women in comparison to the previous cabinet. This begs the question: Have the quotas failed?

    This paper is an analysis of the quota system applied in Zimbabwe. The paper examines its proposed and actual impact. It examines the notion of quotas in general and looks at the purposes and the intents of the quotas which were applied and measures them to see how they compare with the implementation of quotas elsewhere. The current and future implications for the political representation of women in Zimbabwe is analysed and recommendations are made for the way forward.

    Limited women’s participation in the public sphere

    Elections are the cornerstone of representative democracy. In a representative democracy, the majority of interests are represented in political decision making in an equitable manner. Thus elections will allow people to elect representatives that reflect their ideals and defend their interests. However, since gaining formal political rights through the right to vote at the beginning of the 20th century, women have failed to fully break through to the next level, by gaining seats at the political decision making table especially in parliament and in the executive. The countries which are regarded as world leaders in democracy where women first got the vote such as the United States, the United Kingdom and France have not yet reached gender parity in their own parliaments. Women make up on average only 20, 9% per cent of parliaments worldwide.

    The reasons for women’s low representation include culture and tradition which do not allow women to enter politics either because they are perceived as being incapable of political leadership and more suited to the domestic or private sphere. Also political campaigning requires time and money. In many instances women’s lower economic status may militate against women’s full participation in campaigning as will their time commitments within the realms of their “defined” gender roles in the domestic sphere. The political environment, attitude of political parties, biases of electorate, family expectations, and openness of political leaders plays a big role in hampering, or aiding women’s crusade for political participation.

    Often the greatest biases against women are those held by voters and not by parties. Research has shown that women’s political representation improves the lives of women because it creates situations where laws are promulgated that promote the interests of women. Many political ideologies also recognise that the empowerment of women is directly linked to the improvement of the general well-being of men, women and children across the board and therefore the increase representation of women should be encouraged as much as possible.

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