By Aleck Murimigwa
Section 17 of the Zimbabwe Constitution that was adopted in 2013 reads that “The state must promote full gender balance in Zimbabwean society, and in particular-(a) the state must promote the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men.”
This is one of the Sections that have earned the constitution some applause both in the region and internationally as being a progressive piece of document.
In simple terms, Sections 17, 56, and 80 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe, read together, spell out the 50/50 gender representation in leadership positions in Zimbabwe.
It is for this reason that a revisit to these provisions is of greater importance as we seek to highlight how women have fared using the advantages brought by the provisions, especially the Proportional Representation (PR) clause.
There are two questions, that need to be addressed. What are the achievements of the women’s quota system (Proportional Representation) from the past 8 years and why do we still have some female legislators who have failed to say anything in Parliament?
There are many reasons that have pushed some female legislators into bench-warming in the August House. However, bench-warming goes against the spirit of equal representation in Parliament.
The Proportional Representation (PR) system while it seemingly promotes gender equality, it does so at the expense of quality representation.
Most female legislators who benefitted from the PR system were just hand-picked from their political parties.
Some were picked because they have served their political parties with loyalty while others due to their closeness to the appointing authority in the party. They were not chosen on merit and ability to articulate issues which is a prerequisite if one is to be a successful legislator.
At times it is difficult to draw a distinction between loyalty to the party and loyalty to a certain individual who might happen to wield power in the political parties.
There is really nothing that stops political party leaders from picking their close friends and family members to fill the 60 PR seats so that they can just benefit from the hefty pecks that come with it.
When people are hand-picked or appear to benefit from the benevolence of the party leader, it then makes it difficult for them to go against the aspirations of the leader in Parliamentary debates. This is one of the reasons that have affected quality debates in Parliament.
There is no political party that can claim righteousness to this menace. It applies to both Zanu PF and the two MDCs in Parliament.
There is no incentive for a hand-picked Parliamentarian to exhaust herself in Parliamentary business because what is important for her is the hand that picked them. There is no obligation to trade goods for the seat.
The Whipping System
Zimbabwe Parliament uses the party whipping system. This is a situation whereby the political party that seconds the legislators determines what the legislators will support or oppose during debates.
However, this system has only worked to weaken the role of Parliament. Some female MPs are afraid to participate in Parliament because they dread to offend their political parties or the people who hand-picked them.
A recent example emanates from the Chilonga Villagers eviction issue when it found its way into the National Assembly. Only legislators from the opposition questioned the government’s move of wanting to displace people in favor of grass farming. Those from the ruling party remained silent on the matter.
For Zanu PF legislators, questioning the government will be equal to questioning their party leader who happens to be the President of the country.
There is hardly any need to guess the price one would pay if she or he dares engage in such antics and a good example is that of Killer Zivhu.
Zivhu who was a Zanu PF legislator in the National Assembly was ousted for suggesting that people in his constituency are calling for President Emmerson Mnangagwa and MDC Alliance leader Nelson Chamisa should talk for the better of the country.
The same goes for MDC Alliance when it disengaged its legislators from Parliament to protest and stopped its members from debating the President’s State of the Nation Address (SONA).
The SONA usually helps legislators in making their maiden speech in the National Assembly, hence the female legislators suffered too from that.
Bullying in Parliament
Female legislators have consistently complained of bullying from their male counterparts in the August House. This bullying has also worked as a stumbling block for women to make their contributions in Parliament.
Some women are naturally and generally timid. They cannot withstand fights with men let alone bullying, some of which gets too personal.
Cases in point are Harare West legislator Joana Mamombe and former legislator Lynette Karenyi who complained twice of sexual abuse by male legislators such as Honourable Tafanana Zhou (Mberengwa North).
MDC-T deputy president Thokozani Khupe is also a victim of derogatory name-calling on several occasions. She has been labeled a prostitute, sell-out, and CIO agent.
However, their courage to remain standing and continue participating in Parliament should be commended and other female legislators can take lessons from them.
Zimbabwe’s political history is marred with violence, torture, and killings. This historical stint promotes apathy amongst the female legislators who then back off from executing their participatory responsibilities in Parliament.