Dreaming of equality: Time to fulfil the GPA’s promises to women
By Luta Shaba
It comes as no surprise that women have been grossly short-changed in the years since the Global Political Agreement (GPA). Women have always been short-changed in Zimbabwe, despite their critical contributions during both the first and second Chimurengas – the struggles against colonial rule. Some women did voice optimism back in 2008 but despite committing the three parties to take steps to promote equality and to ensure that women would wield more political power, very little has changed since the GPA was signed.
Obviously, the GPA was never going to transform society and women’s lives overnight but the coalition government has made no real attempt to address the numerous issues that continue to limit women’s participation in politics and in the decision-making process.
For example, Zimbabwe has acceded to international conventions and ratified protocols that address the concerns of women but these instruments have not been domesticated, so they have no force within domestic law – leaving the operational arms of government at liberty to ignore these standards and continue to discriminate against women with impunity.
Women still find themselves at a massive disadvantage when trying to participate in politics or run for public office. Traditionally, they own and control less resources. They also have to contend with political parties that remain largely male enclaves, where women are viewed as supporters not leaders, are excluded from senior decision-making positions and are allowed to exercise leadership mainly in the women’s wings. When they run for office, they regularly face hostility and smear campaigns.
Political parties are under no legal obligation to ensure gender equality or representation in their parties. The manifestos and constitutions of Zimbabwe’s two major political parties mention gender and generally demonstrate good gender analysis in relation to development issues, but the parties fail to develop or consistently implement firm measures to reflect commitment to gender equality and a systematic approach to women’s political involvement and participation. (SADC Parliamentary Forum, 2008)
The political system also conspires against women. Zimbabwe uses the first-past-the-post-electoral system, which does not facilitate women’s participation. It provides for elections based on constituency representation and winner-takes-all, which encourages parties to opt for male candidates. Under proportional representation, parties draw up party lists, which are not voted on directly and make it easier to include more women. In addition, the nominated parliamentary seats that were part of the pre-GPA constitution could be used to increase the number of women but all seats are now contested. And finally, there are no quotas in place.
Meanwhile, civil society in Zimbabwe does not speak with a unified voice on women’s issues – or indeed on women’s issues very often. For some ‘mainstream’ human rights organisations, gender is peripheral to the democratisation and governance debate. Many organisations are only dimly aware of instruments such as the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development. ‘Malestream’ organisations hardly ever mention them at all. And it is difficult for women’s organisations to focus attention on broader issues of women’s rights and empowerment when there are so many bread-and-butter issues for civil society and citizens to address – a fact that partially explains why Zimbabwean women are generally not adequately mobilised politically.
So what can be done? The following would all help to enhance equality and the participation of women in politics – and go some way to fulfilling the hopes of those women who optimistically thought the GPA would usher in a more equal era for all.
Recognition of women’s rights in the democratisation agenda: Women’s organisations should take the lead in articulating a clear position regarding women’s rights and embark on mass mobilization, conscientisation and advocacy work to ensure that women’s rights are high on the national institutional agenda. Donors supporting human rights and democracy work should ensure that a percentage of their funds are allocated to these women’s organisations.
Equality and Electoral Provisions in the New Constitution: There is a need for clear commitments in the new Constitution to equal representation for women in decision-making positions. The Constitution should incorporate key provisions of the SADC Protocol and other regional and international instruments that Zimbabwe has already ratified. The Constitution must provide for a new electoral system based on proportional representation.
Regulation of political Parties: The electoral laws should be amended to regulate the operation of po- litical parties to end intra- and inter-party violence and enforce internal quotas. There is need for the gender awareness training for the leaders of political parties. Given the scorn with which older party men treat women, it may be useful to have SADC institutions conduct round tables to increase gender responsiveness in political parties.
Election Violence: The justice system must ensure that perpetrators of election violence are brought to book. There must be monitoring of the prosecution of offenders and tracking of cases that enter the justice system. There should be penalties for political parties that use or sanction violence during elections, and these should include the loss of seats for convicted perpetrators. The Organ on National Healing and Reconciliation must be made effective.
Mass mobilisation of women: Civil society organisations must engage in aggressive outreach programmes to mobilise and inform women. Information must be disseminated widely. Critically, the Constitution must be demystified and human rights must be more carefully explained so that they have relevance to people’s lived realities.