DESPITE being viewed by some citizens and civil society organisations as mere tokenism, the women’s quota system has been hailed by debutante proportional representation MPs as a step in the right direction towards women’s political emancipation in Zimbabwe.
The quota system, which was adopted in the 2013 new constitution and was set to expire this year, was renewed for another 10 years through Constitutional Amendment No. 2 of 2021.
Part of the provisions of the amendment is on thr women’s quota for local authorities. It provides that a political party contesting in local authority elections may submit a nomination paper with names of women as party list candidates.
According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec), the party list for local authorities must have at least 30% of the total members of the local council, and each candidate must be a woman who is eligible in terms of section 119(2) the Electoral Act Chapter 2:13.
Joyce Chigwida from Mazowe in Mashonaland Central province, who made her debut into politics as a proportional representation (PR) local authority candidate for the Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC), was elected in the just-ended 23 to 24 August 2023 elections.
“I feel that as a woman I got a chance to sit where decisions are made and this is a step in the right direction as I will also get to stand up for other women in my community as well at council meetings,” said Chigwida.
While Chigwida made it to the decision-making table, she was not spared the socio-economic barriers facing women in politics.
Chigwida says she faced financial challenges in running her campaign and filing for nomination.
This comes at a time when most women, from presidential level to local authority, failed to make it past the nomination stage because of the exorbitant fees.
Zec increased nomination fees by a sharp 1 900%, and this further disadvantaged women, who are already poorly represented in Parliament and in local authorities.
The presidential nomination fee rose to US$20 000 from US$1 000, while the fee for members of Parliament went up from US$50 to US$1 000. Party list nomination doubled from US$100 to US$200.
“During my campaign I experienced financial challenges because of the demands of the process, filing my nomination documents as well as the door-to-door campaigns. I hit hard times and had no one to help me out financially. I had to borrow money, which landed me in debt. I even used my child’s examination registration money. I almost dropped out of the contest,” said Chigwida.
Women like presidential candidate Linda Masarira of the Labour Economists and Afrikan Democrats (Lead) party also failed to file their nomination papers because of political economy factors.
Only one female presidential candidate, Elisabeth Valerio of the United Zimbabwe Alliance (Uza), finally made it to the race, after she had to fight her way through the courts.
In 2023, women’s participation decreased in Parliament and local authorities in 2023 compared to 2018.
Zimbabwe has not had a female vice-president since the dismissal of Joyce Mujuru during the Robert Mugabe era, and hopes for a female VP during the 2023 to 2028 term have been shattered as President Emmerson Mnangagwa has reinstated retired General Constantino Chiwenga and retired Colonel Kembo Mohadi.
Despite all these socio-economic and structural barriers, Chigwida says she will work hard to ensure that women’s grievances get the attention they deserve.
“Women lack access to socio-economic opportunities. As such, I will make it my mandate to lobby for progressive policies that promote women’s inclusion. I will also advocate for gender-responsive service delivery,” she said.
Women in politics need mentorship and capacity strengthening so that they are better equipped to navigate the political terrain, she added.
“Institute for Young Women’s Development capacitated me with leadership skills and motivated me to engage into politics so that I have a say as a woman so as to uplift other women in my community. This gave me confidence to soldier on even though the journey was tough,” said Chigwida.
The debate around the efficiency and efficacy of the women’s quota system has been controversial.
When Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2 was proposed, 1 000 aspiring female leaders rejected it through letters that were sent to Parliament on 20 February 2020, saying it is being used by political parties to deny women an opportunity to contest for actual constituencies and council seats.
The Bill was passed in 2021 and, according to the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE), the PR system has overally increased women’s participation in elections, democracy and governance although there is a need for improved political will within institutions to improve women’s representation not only on paper but also in practice.