Women’s Academy for leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) in partnership with Southern African Parliamentary Support Trust (SAPST) has launched a research into the extension of the women’s Parliamentary quota system which is bound to expire in 2023. The research seeks to assess the efficacy of the women’s quota system as a means to empower women to actively and effectively participate in democratic and governance processes. The findings of the research will inform discussions on the future of the system beyond 2023. The women’s proportional representation (PR) system came into being in the advent of the new constitution in 2013.
Section 124 (b) of the Constitution of Zimbabwe provides for the women Quota 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 . . .” Recently there has been animated debate around the 60 PR seats. On one side are the opponents of the PR system calling for its abolition when it expires in 2023. The proponents argue that the seats must be extended beyond 2023 as they provide a crucial window of opportunity for women representation in Parliament without which it, parliament, remains a mens club.
They are seemingly interesting points on both sides which we examine in detail as follows:
Three major arguments raised are:
- The PR system has been hijacked by political parties and is now used to side-line women from contested seats. In this reasoning, it is argued that political parties, mainly dominated by men, now relegate women to PR seats away from contested constituencies making PR useless as it is not producing new leaders as the older women Parliamentarians who have served for many years take ‘retirement’ in the PR ‘safe seats.’
- The PR system is a waste of tax payers’ money as it leads to a bloated Parliament. Given the economic hardships facing Zimbabwe, it is argued that the extra 60 seats on top of 210 are too many for the country and is a huge burden on the fiscus. This is more so given that parliamentarians often receive huge perks and benefits.
- The PR members of Parliament have been ineffective and just ‘seat warmers.’ This argument says the women parliamentarians under the PR system have contributed nothing by means of debate on serious motions affecting the development of the nation nor have they represented the voice of women who are impoverished and oppressed.
Against such background, the opponents are advocating for an end to the PR system.
Four major arguments are raised:
- The proponents argue that gender representation is in retreat and removing the seats leads to fewer women in Parliament. This would mean that only men would be ‘seen’ to be in leadership and thus further entrench patriarchy in the nation’s political culture.
- Affirmative action is also another major reason raised by the proponents of PR extension. In this line of argument, women, because of historical marginalization, are not yet at a social, economic and political level to compete with men equally in a political contest as they are hamstrung by a number of bottlenecks in a system created and shaped by men. As such, the PR seats are a window of opportunity for women to influence decision making in the legislature.
- Majoritarian representation is another key argument raised by the proponents of PR extension. By this they argue that statistically women are the majority (52.3%) of the population yet they are disproportionately represented in Parliament. As such, the PR seats attempt to redress this and removing them would be regressing into total minority rule of men.
- Others argue that the female PR Parliamentarians have contributed alot to policy formulation but their contributions have not been properly documented and they have not received as much attention as those who hold constituencies. They argue that there is a general discrimination of PR MPs both inside and outside Parliament which overshadows their contribution to policy formulation.
As can be seen above, there is no clearly right or wrong argument. It is against this background that this research is launched to give empirical evidence upon which the policy makers, women and women’s organisations and indeed the general public can base an argument either to extend the PR system or not.
Findings of the research will be presented at an All Stakeholders Conference to be attended by all interested stakeholders including current and former PR MPs, Political party leaders, female Legislators, women’s organisations, women, youth, relevant Ministries, CO- Chairs of COPAC, Independent Commissions, aspiring women leaders and experts in women’s quota systems. The conference is necessary to create a platform for a national dialogue on the subject bearing in mind that if the PR system is indeed extended, it cannot be extended in its current form and nature. Discussions for the extension of the PR system are already in motion in Parliament. It is our hope that the conference will provide alternatives to the PR system or come up with benchmarks for the system in the event that it is extended which should be used by political parties in selecting PR legislators. This will help in ensuring that the system is not abused by political parties but actually empowers women to actively and effectively contribute to the development of the country.
Source: Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE)