Why the Women’s Parliamentary Quota System Must be Extended

Section 124 (b) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for the women Qouta system of 60 seats in Parliament which are given to each political party based on their tally of votes in the House of Assembly elections for each province:“. . . For the life of the first two Parliaments after the effective date, an additional sixty women members, six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected through a system of proportional representation based on the votes cast for candidates representing political parties in a general election for constituency members in the provinces . . .”

This quota system was secured after many advocacy initiatives by civil society women’s organisations and women’s leagues and assemblies of political parties during the Constitution making process. One of the key objective was to use the system to empower first time women politicians who lack the resources and experience to run a gruelling campaign. 

Why it should be extended?

• World over, Quotas help rectify women’s under-representation in prominent leadership positions.

• Zimbabwe has not reached the United Nations 50/50 gender parity for women in all positions of influence.

• Instead of the numbers of women occupying Parliamentary positions increasing, it is actually decreasing. According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) statistics in 2013, 29 women out of the 210 seats directly won parliamentary constituencies, and in the 2018 elections, the numbers dwindled to 26.

• It is a fact women constitute 52 percent of the Zimbabwean population yet less than 15% of them occupy leadership positions. Women’s Quotas ensure that Parliament truly reflects the population it represents. When a Parliament consists only or mainly of men, it becomes very hard to gain broad support for political decisions, and to demonstrate that every citizen can be elected.

• More than half of the countries in the world have a women’s quota provision. In 2012, electoral quotas were used in 22 countries holding elections and with legislated quotas, women took 24% of seats and with voluntary quotas they gained 22%. When no quotas were used, women took 12% of seats.

• Women overall representation in the Parliament of Zimbabwe has improved to 35 percent, the highest since 1980. This was mainly achieved through the constitutional provision that 60 seats must be given to women through the proportional representation (PR) quota.

• Without the quota system in 2023, gender representation in politics will be taken 15 years back, where it stood at 10 percent.

• The cultural, social, economic, historic inequalities that disadvantages women are still intact. Challenges such as meagre campaign resources, political violence, skewed political structures that are in favour of men and patriarchal practices that regard women as inferior and weak political partners are still prevalent. There is need for extra efforts to ensure the appointment of women in leadership positions.

• It has been proved worldwide that the Quota system is one of the most effective strategies for increasing the number of women in Parliament by promoting a level playing field between men and women in political life.

• Naturally women have demonstrated inclinations for fostering accountability, transparency and responsiveness, women in their nature possess these skills in abundance.

• Women leaders have a different understanding on socio-economic needs and place priority on policy issues that are related to food security, quality education, healthcare, infrastructure, housing, water and sanitation, enterprise development and employment.

In the event that the quota system is extended, WALPE appeals to political parties to appoint first timers as proportional representation (PR) MPs, as this creates opportunities for other deserving, inexperienced female politicians to gain experience and exposure to later on contest for constituencies. Those who have been on the PR list must now move to constituencies. It is sad to note that during the 2018 elections some influential, senior women political leaders moved from Constituencies to PR positions defying the whole purpose of the system.

WALPE and other organizations will work tirelessly to capacitate women politicians so as to increase their political acumen to meaningfully and effectively fulfil their duties and responsibilities. There is need for a holistic approach to balance both the quantitative and qualitative nature of women elected and appointed in leadership positions. The organisation is in the process of building the capacity of those who want to run for public elected office in 2023 and beyond through long term, intense trainings, mentorship and coaching exercises. Efforts which improves the quality of women leaders elected in leadership positions.

It will take another 50 years to achieve gender equality in the political sphere at the current rate of change. Patiently waiting for that to happen is not an option. Tough measures are needed, and quotas for women in parliamentary meetings is the most important one– Phumzile Mlambo- Ngcuka, Executive Director of UN Women.