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Inclusive government - Index of articles
through parliament in high heels
March 19, 2009
This is the
fifth article in the Chii
Chirikuita (What-s Up?) series
In an unprecedented move
in Harare last week, women cabinet ministers, deputy ministers and
MPs from across party lines gathered over lunch. They gathered to
celebrate the women who contested the March 2008 elections and to
continue the process of building and strengthening a cross-party
women-s alliance in parliament in order to push forward a
First to arrive was Lucia
Matabenga MP (MDC-T (Movement for Democratic Change - Tsvangirai));
she was followed by Margret Zinyemba (MDC-T). Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga,
minister of regional integration and international cooperation (MDC-M
(Movement for Democratic Change - Mutambara)), and the new
Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Paurine Mpariwa (MDC-T) were
joined by Flora Bhuka, head of Zanu PF (Zimbabwe African National
Union - Patriotic Front) women-s league. Next came Deputy
Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs Jessie Majome (MDC-T), Sekai
Holland MP (MDC-T), Fay Chung and Rudo Gaidzanwa - who stood
as independents (linked to Muvambo) - and Mai Dandajena (MDC-T),
a long-time community activist and now a senator. Former Minister
of Women-s Affairs Oppah Muchinguri (Zanu PF) called in an
apology, along with Olivia Muchena (Zanu PF), current minister of
women affairs, gender and community development, and former Minister
Shuvai Mahofa (Zanu PF). Still they continued arriving.
Despite the creation
of the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on
Gender and Development, which stipulates that women should hold
equal positions to men in both public and private sectors by 2015,
there are no provisions for quotas as a way of advancing the representation
of women in publicly elected bodies in the current Constitution
of Zimbabwe (1980) or the electoral laws.
Political parties are
left to their own devices on this score and the effective participation
of women has been dramatically limited by the closed political environment
and the 'political competition and contestation- that
has characterised opposition politics in Zimbabwe in the last 12
Women were caught and
sacrificed in the party politics that characterised the last elections,
both literally and figuratively. Consequently, there is a low representation
of women politicians in the inclusive government, in fact the lowest
in 15 years: only four women are part of the 35-member cabinet.
Women make up 14 per cent of the House of Assembly and 33 per cent
of the Senate.
But getting bogged down
in the math is tiring.
Quotas are a step forward,
but numbers are not enough. Quotas arose out of a feminist strategy
to get women into parliament as a means of representing, fighting
for and being accountable to the needs and issues of women as a
constituency. It was ultimately one of a number of strategies to
ensure transformation and subsequently true and meaningful freedom
for women. But as we-ve discovered, just because you are in
a women-s body doesn-t necessarily mean you embody a
transformatory politics. As we-ve also discovered, a depoliticized
uptake of quotas prevents the adoption of a political culture whereby
women, however they may be positioned, are integrated into the political
system. Quotas can circumvent meaningful structural change.
Listening to the conversations
around the table that day, I realised that once in, women face different
challenges. Quotas do not ensure real political participation or
leadership by women, and women-s activities in parliament
often remain marginal. 'Women-s issues-, for their
part, become ghettoised and reduced to the implementation of 'gender
policies-, often with a lack of financial resources to support
The dominant model of
political leadership remains competitive, masculine, territorial,
violent and dehumanising. This limits not only women but men with
'non-traditional- approaches too. Now more than ever
we need not only alternatives, but people who are willing to break
rank in order to make them a reality.
The status quo is not
going to do it for women in Zimbabwe, and the women sitting around
the table know this. They know it for they have been in the patriarchal
party political trenches.
There are no 'women-s
issues-. Every issue facing Zimbabwe right now involves and
impacts on Zimbabwean women. Ask them, they will tell you.
So. Where does that leave
While I will always have
a healthy scepticism about the extent of parliament as a radical
site for change, my hope lies in the energetic and vital link that
some of these women parliamentarians have with their constituencies
through Constituency Consultative Forums, more commonly known as
Facilitated by a cutting
edge women-s political support organisation, these structures
have since 2005 been systematically established in constituencies
where women MPs committed to women have served a term of office
and/or were contesting elections, on both a Zanu PF or MDC ticket.
The CCFs are comprised
of a minimum of 70 women drawn from the various wards in the constituency.
Members participate in political education programmes and exchange
visits to other, rural or urban, constituency forums. The CCFs provide
a support base for women MPs during elections, and their vibrancy
and dynamism means that they also provide necessary checks and balances
in terms of accountability after the elections.
As a key organiser within
the facilitation team commented, 'In areas with CCFs women
contested elections and won. In the two areas where women lost,
the tide of internal party politics was too strong. The CCFs are
powerful structures and the women members know what they want.-
In the chain of public
participation in governance, we move from the CCFs to another interesting
women-only space, the women-s parliamentary caucus. Many of
the women who broke bread together that day were members of this
body. From here, women MPs share, learn, support and strategise.
Women can and have caucused on issues, put forward positions and
have even creatively blocked things detrimental to women at large
from passing through parliament. It-s certainly 'safer-
for women MPs to come together under the banner of the women-s
parliamentary caucus in order challenge the status quo than for
individual women to do so!
The party whip is never
far away. It-s a fragile space.
In this period of 'transition-,
I guess my hope lies in the potential and possibilities of the space
to contribute to a radical politics, a politics that centres on
the needs and demands of ordinary Zimbabwean women wherever they
may be found, and a politics committed to real and sustainable change,
and not simply the transfer of power from one elite patriarchal
group to the next. I hope for a politics that interrogates our current
political culture and that refuses a paternalism that 'allows-
women to have their quotas, thereby fulfilling regional and international
obligations around governance, with very little else.
No, this is not enough.
In this period of transition,
whether the women-s parliamentary caucus and the CCFs will
haemorrhage from the wounds of partisan politics, be suffocated
by the quest for individual power or be nurtured so that they can
grow and form the beginnings of this new politics, remains to be
I for one will be listening,
following the click-click of those heels as they walk from
the far-flung districts through to the corridors of parliament.
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