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Prospects of increasing women's representation through Zimbabwe Senate
Womens Coalition
Extracted from E-Coalition Issue 3
September 2005

Women's representation in Parliament is currently marginal. The March 2005 Parliamentary elections saw only 20 women being elected in the 120 constituencies and five appointed by the President, bringing the total to 25 women out of 150. At 16%, this is far short of the 30% minimum to be achieved by 2005, provided for by the 1997 SADC Gender and Development Declaration.

Constitutional Amendment No. 17, which provides for the re-introduction of a bi-cameral Parliament, composed of the House of Assembly and a Senate has sailed through Parliament and been assented to by President Mugabe.

Already women have not made significant strides in terms of increasing their representation in the existing Parliament. What are the chances for women in the Senate? Are there any mechanisms in place that will facilitate their entry into the Senate

on an equal footing with men? What strategies can be adopted to increase women's representation? And perhaps more importantly, is women's representation in the Senate necessary?

The concept of a bi-cameral Parliament is not a new phenomenon in post Independent Zimbabwe. The 1979 Lancaster House Constitution provided for legislative powers to rest in a Parliament with two chambers: the Senate and the House of Assembly. The bi-cameral Parliament was only abolished in 1989 through Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment No. 9. In fact there are arguments that it was not an abolition of the Senate but rather a combination of the Senate and House of Assembly into one House. Thus, for example, chiefs who were previously accommodated in the Senate found their way into the new Parliament. During the 1999 Constitutional Reform process, the concept of a bi-cameral Parliament re-surfaced. Proposals by

different stakeholders and players acknowledged the need for a Senate as a means of implementing checks and balances in the governance process.

The Constitutional Amendment No. 17 provides for a Senate composed of 66 members. Fifty of them are elected from the 10 Provinces with five elected from each Province. The President and Vice President of the Chief's Council and eight chiefs elected by the Chiefs' Council to represent the eight non-metropolitan provinces brings the number of chiefs to 10. The President appoints the other six.

WiPSU concludes that the proposed composition of the Senate and the method of their election do not facilitate women's increased representation. The 50 members who are elected at the constituency level are elected on the first past the post system where the electorate votes for candidates. Women are forced to contest at the same level with their male counterparts who are not facing the constraints that women are as articulated above.

Moreover, our elections have become spaces where candidates can literally get away with vote buying. Food, T-shirts, computers, classroom blocks and promises of heaven on earth find their way to the constituency. Women, who are not so economically empowered, find it difficult to compete at this level and can lose because they do not have resources to sustain the campaign.

Countries, such as the Scandinavians, Mozambique, South Africa and Namibia, have a high women representation in their national legislature because they use the proportional representation system coupled with a political party quota for women. In general, proportional representation electoral systems are more favorable towards women than plurality-majority systems. The battle with the proportional representation system is ensuring that women are on the party lists. The Namibian women's movement is advocating for a zebra listing system where men and women

alternate equally on the party lists. This is important for achieving equal representation.

Women's entry into the Senate is largely left to political parties and their candidate selection criteria and process. If political parties were really keen to meet the 30% SADC minimum in this election, the assumption is that they should have fielded more women candidates. Would it have been realistic that 40 women would win in the 51 constituencies? What would have been appropriate was to have at least 100 women contesting so that there is an increased chance of their collective success.

It becomes necessary to analyze the candidate selection processes of political parties. In this case emphasis will be placed on ZANU PF and MDC as the political contest is really between these two parties. In the last election, ZANU PF adopted the much-acclaimed 30% provincial quota for women candidates. If they had implemented the policy to the dot, ZANU PF would have fielded at least 40 women candidates instead of 30 they in fact fielded.

MDC, which, to a substantial number of Zimbabweans, is viewed as the alternative, did not put in place any tangible mechanisms that would have meaningfully promoted women's candidature. The one clear reference to women in their selection criteria was an "encouragement" to the district structures to retain sitting women MPs as candidates. All the seven sitting women MPs were retained as candidates, but not without struggles. The party fielded only 18 women.

Political parties are still male dominated spaces and women seem to come on board as an afterthought. Even with the 30% quota adopted to increase women's candidature, women within ZANU PF faced enormous resistance from the men, who in some cases put other women in the front to protest to what they called "candidate imposition". Political parties ought to have put in place tighter mechanisms to enhance women's candidature.

Even if a political party adopts a mechanism, making it operational needs to be thought through as well. At the SWAPO Congress in 2002, after initially failing to observe women's right to participate in the top three positions of the party, Nujoma then suggested that 21 out of the 57 members to be elected at the Congress be women. He was roundly defeated amid accusations of dictatorship and being ultra vires the party Constitution. The Namibian scenario, different but having similarities with the Zimbabwean experience, clearly demonstrates that political party quotas are not always easy to implement. How a quota originates within a political party affects the success level at implementation stage.

WiPSU calls upon political parties to put in place quotas that will facilitate women's increased representation in the Senate. As a long term strategy there is need to continue to push for a Constitution that provides for equal representation of women in decision making. Already at the SADC level, the Heads of State and Government have adopted the proposal to raise the minimum target from 30% in 2005 to 50% in 2020. Zimbabwe, as a member of SADC must live up to its commitments.

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