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Proposals for amendments to legislation on local government
Zimbabwe United Residents Association (ZURA) & Combined Harare Residents' Association (CHRA)
March 2003

An audit of the Urban Councils from the gender perspective

Introduction
The Urban Councils Act governs the administration on urban authorities in Zimbabwe. It purports to be gender-neutral instrument by its silence on gender issues. It does not refer, in any of its provisions to men and women as groups requiring different treatment in order to achieve equality between them. It presupposes that men and women are equals and therefore the provisions of the Act will apply to them as a homogenous group. This is the position with the majority of Acts and other legal instruments in Zimbabwe. They are gender blind in that they refuse to take into account the differences between men and women, which may result in unfair or unequal application of the law.

This brief seeks to outline some of the gender issues arising from the provisions of he Act and their impact on women, who are a marginalized group. The issues arose mainly from the consultative meetings held by CHRA with different stakeholders, i.e. its members, the executive NGOs working in the area of local government.

Issues on Women’s Participation in Urban Councils

  1. The language of the Act is not friendly in the sense that the ordinary person cannot readily understand it. This is the case with all legislation. It was recommended that CHRA should simply and translates the Act in to local languages so that it is more accessible to the public. This would be a big advantage to women, the majority of whom do not have a high literacy level. In Zimbabwe two out every three illiterate persons are women.
  2. The language of the Act was viewed as not being gender sensitive because it refers to both men and women as "he".
  3. Whilst the Act states that any person can be voted in as a councillor or Mayor, (as long as they meet the other general requirements), the situation on the ground was not conducive for women to effectively participate. In recent years there has been increased political violence making it difficult for women to participate. Women are also disadvantaged in that they do not have the resources to finance a campaign and therefore lose out because of this. Mechanisms must be put in place to ensure that women also participate in election processes as candidates. There were suggestions of a quota system so that a certain percentage of council seats are reserved for women. This can be between 30 and 50%. According to the SADC Declaration on gender governments must ensure that 30% of Parliamentary seats are reserved for women. The same could be recommended for councils.
  4. A quota will ensure that their voices and issues are expressed to council and council acts on them. The Harare Council has only 6 women, whilst they are 46 women councillors out of the 333 Urban Councillors.
  5. Due to their low numbers in urban councils it becomes difficult for women to effectively participate in council matters. This refers to the committees and other business of council. The concerns of women may fail to be articulated and defended in council.
  6. The budgetary process is not gender sensitive in that there is no effort made to ensure that women input into the process. Further, in terms of allocations it is not mandatory to make specific allocations for "women things" or to ensure that the services that are used more by women are given priority. These include issues of health services; sewer services, education and provisions of child care facilities. If the council does not make provision for this it impacts more on women than men because women will then be burdened with caring for the sick, looking after the children, ensuring that the refuse from the burst sewer does not get into the house, e.t.c. This takes them off more productive work like selling the wares and vegetables to supplement the family income. There is need for council to ensure that the budget allocations take into account the different needs of men and women in the community.
  7. In light of the AIDS pandemic a lot of women are burdened with home based care because Councils and central government do not make meaningful allocations to this area. In countries such as the Philippines Councils are mandated to make a certain percentage of its allocations to "women things" the councils determine in consultation with the women what areas should be granted the resources.
  8. The provision of the Act fails to provide for the general participation of citizens in council matters and decision-making. These matters include the making of bylaws, budgeting and appointment of commissioners. The fact that these processes are not participatory worsens the situations for women who are traditionally not perceived as people who should participate in the public sphere, such that where the consultation does take place women are generally excluded. The recommendation was that the Act should make consultations a must and make specific provisions for the consultation of disadvantaged groups including women. There is need for the Act to provide for citizen participation and ensure the participation of women as a constituency.
  9. The appointment of Commissioners as provided for by the Act does not talk about a gender balanced Commission. Women can be excluded and there is no resource to the Act to ensure that women too participate.
  10. There were other problematic areas such as the Ministerial powers, which the stakeholders were of the view that they were excessive.

Conclusion
Local government is the first port of entry into the public arena of politics and decision-making. It is crucial that women are included at this stage so that they are groomed to participate in national decision-making.

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