Why Young Women are Rejecting Constitutional Amendment Bill No. 2

After years of colonisation and operating under the Lanchester House Constitution, the year 2013 will remain memorable in Zimbabwe as it was the advent of the new Zimbabwean Constitution. It was adopted through a national referendum held on the 12th of March 2013, with an overwhelming 95% of voters voting in favour of the adoption of the supreme law of the land. With this background in mind, exactly seven years later we have the Constitutional Bill Amendment no 2. The questions that should exercise every citizen’s mind is after such a rigorous consultative process that came at the tax payers’ expense, why and who called for the Constitutional Bill Amendment no2. What existing problem if any is meant to be addressed by this piece of legislation? That cannot be addressed by simply implementing the Constitution? In this piece we make reference to clause number 11 of Constitutional Bill Amendment number 2 and make our case of why we are rejecting the Bill.

As young women we celebrate the introduction of quota systems as affirmative action that seek to address the gender and age discrimination injustices of our national and global history. Quota systems ensure that women, youth and historically marginalised groups of society are adequately represented in decision making positions. In Zimbabwe. The advent of the 2013 Constitution gave birth to a new and more rigorous quest for gender parity, youth and disability inclusion in Zimbabwe. Section 17 refers to gender balance and calls on the state to put in place legislative measures to ensure women constitute at least half the membership of all commissions and other governmental bodies, section 20 implores the state to take reasonable measures to ensure youth representation in all spheres of political, economic and social life, section 56 guarantees women the right to equality and non-discrimination and section 80 is the cherry on top that gives women the right to equal opportunities in political, economic and social atmosphere. Section 124 (1) reads as follows:

The state must take all measures, including legislative measures, needed to ensure that:

(i) Both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level; and

(ii) Women constitute at least half the membership of all commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies established by or under this Constitution or any Act of Parliament

Currently there is a transitional mechanism provided for in section 124 of the Constitution that stipulates that for the 2013 and 2018 parliaments an additional 60 seats were added to the original 210 seats. The purpose of the additional 60 seats was to provide a mechanism to increase women’s representation, while the country worked on creating a conducive socio-economic, political and legal environment for the election of women across all spheres of governance. Clearly, socially, economically and politically the environment does not yet provide a level-playing field for the election of women and young people. This makes the issue of quotas imperative through a legal framework. The world is moving from quotas that are about tokenism and far below adequate representation. It is moving towards robust quotas that are representative, reflective of societal demography where historically marginalised groups occupy centre positions of power. It is common cause that women constitute 52% of the population and according to the UNFPA 62% of the general population is below the age of 25 years in this country and thus our political regime ought to reflect as such. Hence our rejection of the additional 60 and 10 seats for women and youth. Instead we demand the implementation of the constitution through the a legislative framework (quota) that guarantees more seats for women and youth, from the existing elective constituencies at local government and parliamentary levels. Practically, this can be achieved the enactment of specific legislation namely the Gender Equality Act which will have peremptory provisions of ensuring that women will occupy 50% of the elected positions in parliament. Of that 50%, 25% will be reserved for young women who are under the age of 35 years. Section 124 should be strictly interpreted and understood as an interim measure and kept as such. We are cognisant that the Parliament of Zimbabwe has the power to ensure that the provisions of the Constitution of Zimbabwe are upheld and that all institutions and agencies of government at every level act constitutionally and in the national interest as provided by section 119(2) of the Constitution. We expect them to stick to their oath of office.

Local Government Matters Too!

Historical experience from our elections without quotas at local government reveal the need for legislative quotas to increase women’s representation at that level. Women’s representation in the urban and rural council decreased from 19 percent to 16 percent in 2013. In the July 2018 elections, only 13 percent of local government seats went to women, a drop of three percentage points from 2013. These exceptionally low figures send a chill to one’s spine. We cannot even start to think of young women’s representation in these low figures, because there is none. Yet young women constitute a significant population, being part of youth and women both groups which represent the country’s largest populations.

It is important to understand that our Constitution in it’s current form offers women and youth more rights and responsibilities and more space to influence. With the lapse of the interim additional 60 seats reserved for women, the state ought to enact the Gender Equality Act as discussed above.

Our Call to Action

We therefore reiterate our rejection of Constitutional Bill Amendment no 2 in it’s entirety. We instead demand for the urgent implementation of our 2013 Constitution and:

  1. Call upon the Parliament of Zimbabwe to fully implement the supreme law of the land and demand the enactment of a specific piece of legislation namely the Gender Equality Act. The Act must make it mandatory for the original 210 members of parliamentary seats and 1 958 local government seats to consist of at least 50% reserved for women and of that 50%, 25% to be reserved for young women. Young women refer to women under the age of 35 years. Each member of parliament and local government will thus be allocated a specific constituency.
  2. Implore the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission to bring life to section 5 (di) of the Electoral Act Chapter 9:23 that mandates it to ensure that gender is mainstreamed into electoral processes through amending s46 of the Electoral Act Chapter 2:13. For each party to be eligible to participate for seats at Local Government and the National Assembly it must have satisfied the prerequisite of the total party candidacy to be 50% women and of that 50%, 25% must be young women under the age of 35 years. This law needs to be reflected in the Electoral law and as well clearly articulates punitive measures that have institutional, operational and budgetary implications to actors who fail to comply with it.
  3. That the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must reserve 50% of the seats at Local Government and National Assembly for the election of female candidates for two terms of elections in a row with a rotation of the chosen constituencies every third round of elections in Zimbabwe.
  4. Seek an immediate amendment of section 3 of the Political Parties (Finance) Act Chapter 2:11 section 3 which talks of financing of political parties. There must be a mandatory monetary incentive from the state’s purse, awarded to political parties who are compliant with equal women representation in Local Government and the National Assembly. Upon disbursement of such funds the beneficiaries of the funds must use the funds to further the agenda of women in politics and will be called upon to account how this was done. Failure to do so will result in a refund of the state funds.
  5. In light of funding being a barrier to women flourishing in politics and in an attempt to level the playing field, we recommend that the Political Parties (Finance) Act Chapter 2:11 contain a clause that limits the amount of money to be utilised specifically for the election of a particular candidate.

Source: Institute for Young Women’s Development (IYWD)