Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) notes with serious concern the recent gazetting of far reaching constitutional amendments by the Government of Zimbabwe through the Clerk of Parliament. Of grave disquiet to WALPE is the envisaged extension of the women’s Parliamentary proportional representation quota system which gives 60 seats to women based on the House of Assembly votes garnered by a political party in each of the 10 provinces. In the gazette, the Government proposes to extend the women’s parliamentary quota system by amending Section 124b of the Constitution which provided that the system would run for the first two Parliaments from 2013 and thus was scheduled to expire in 2023.
This proposed amendment means that the system will continue for a further 10 years in its current format. According to our research published in October 2019 titled ‘The Efficacy of the Women’s Parliamentary Proportional Representation Quota System’, 64% of the participants preferred that the gender balance provided for in Sections 17, 56 and 80 of the constitution be fulfilled. To note is that research participants were drawn from ZANU PF, MDC, MDC T, independent candidates, women’s rights activists, civil society leaders, Parliament, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, youth representatives, disability rights organizations, aspiring women leaders, women and councillors etc).
Furthermore, participants indicated that in the event that the proportional representation quota system is continued, there is need to change its structure and format so that it becomes meaningful to women. The current structure and format opens it up for abuse and manipulation by political parties whose top decision making bodies are dominated by men. In addition, the system has not resulted in the envisaged increase in the number of elected women with the 2018 parliament realizing a drop in directly elected women from 26 in 2013 to 25 in 2018. It is thus self-evident that the system is not yielding the desired results hence the need to change approach. Women also felt that the extra 60 seats were a burden to the fiscus and in the event of an extension, the 60 seats should be taken from the existing 210 constituency seats so that resources are directed to social service delivery in areas such as education, water, sanitation and health.
The proposed changes also fly in the face of the progressive realization of the rights of women set out in Sections 17, 56 and 80 of the Constitution. By seeking to amend the Constitution instead of fulfilling its current provisions on gender equality at all levels, the State seeks to reward itself for dereliction of duty. It is the duty of the State and all its organs to adhere to the supreme law of the land and by amending the Constitution without just cause, the Government has clearly failed in this regard. In any event, there was need to have allowed the Zimbabwe Gender Commission to evaluate the success of the system and propose solutions that could be implemented in order to fulfill Sections 17, 56 and 80. Thus the act of pushing for a constitutional amendment without allowing the institution responsible for ensuring gender equality an opportunity to do its work is disingenuous on the part of Government.
As WALPE, we therefore reject in totality the proposed amendments and we are in the process of finalizing a court challenge to seek the intervention of the Constitutional court to order the Government to implement the 2013 constitution in letter and spirit especially gender parity provisions. We will also mobilize women across Zimbabwe to reject the proposed amendments during Parliamentary public hearings. WALPE will also petition Government to reconsider the piecemeal gender equality amendment. Democracy demands that the voice of the people should be heard on all important matters and gender equality is a critical issue to national development and thus cannot be left to be decided only by a few representatives who can easily be compromised by the whipping system. Therefore, the State can do justice to the issue of extending the quota system by calling for a referendum if it considers its proposal to be in the best interest of the nation.
As an organization, we underscore our commitment to promote gender equality in leadership and appeals to the Government to fully implement the constitution which is of paramount importance to national development. We also stand ready to defend the Constitution which has given women extensive rights and was overwhelmingly endorsed by 96% of the voters in the 2013 referendum.
Source: Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE)