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Women Gain Record-Breaking Number of Seats in Zimbabwe’s New Parliament

Women Gain Record-Breaking Number of Seats in Zimbabwe’s New Parliament

Cross-posted from UN Women

At a historic 35 percent, womens representation has more than doubled for the 8th Parliament of Zimbabwe, due to a special Constitutional measure applied during the recent general elections.

Beaming with pride and excitement, Fanny Chirisa was among the 124 women sworn-in on September 3 as new Members of Parliament (MPs) in the 8th Parliament of the Republic of Zimbabwe. A long-time women’s activist, she said she hopes to use her knowledge and experience to familiarize other MPs with the gender equality and women’s rights priorities that will make a difference to women’s lives.

“I know what these issues are and I know where to go to get information and support from the women’s movement,” said Chirisa, a first-time MP for Manicaland Province in the eastern part of the country.

Women MPs in the 8th Parliament of Zimbabwe and members of civil society gathered on 4 September 2013 to honour female candidates who participated in the 2013 elections. Photo: UN Women/Patricia A. Made

Women’s representation in Parliament more than doubled from 17 percent following the 2008 general elections, to 35 percent in the elections on July 31, 2013. Zimbabwe now joins the ranks of the more than 30 countries worldwide that have used a special electoral quota system to increase women’s representation in Parliament to at least 30 percent, which is considered the minimum for collective action.

The quota is included in Zimbabwe’s new Constitution, which was approved by referendum in March and signed into law on May 22, 2013. It was widely celebrated after a decade-long struggle, which UN Women and UNDP supported through a constitutional lobby group. The special measure reserves 60 seats for women to be elected through a system of Proportional Representation, based on the votes cast for political party candidates in the lower house (National Assembly). For the 60 elected Senate seats, women and men candidates are listed alternately, with every list headed by a woman candidate.

As a result, women now comprise 124 of the 350 MPs in Zimbabwe’s new Parliament, including 86 women in the National Assembly – 60 in the reserved seats and 26 elected directly to the 210 constituency seats.

“I want to bring about a change in the livelihoods of the people in my constituency and my focus will be on the three areas of social, community and economic development,” said MP Iris Chiratidzo Mabuwa, who won a constituency seat. Having worked with the International Labour Organization for nearly two decades, she added: “Bringing the global Millennium Development Goals agenda to the constituency-level to empower women, youth and other vulnerable groups… is one of my goals.”

The use of the special measure also led to 37 women candidates being elected to the Senate, and one woman was selected to one of the two Senate seats allocated for people living with disabilities, bringing the total number of women to 38 – an unprecedented 47.5 percent of the 80 Senators.

But women’s activists say the struggle for meaningful political participation is far from secure.

“It was a dog-eat-dog election and … women were pushed towards the 60 seats and told to vacate the competitive seats for men. It was not unusual for women to be told ‘we gave you 60 seats, what more do you want?’” explained Netsai Mushonga, national coordinator of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe.

The temporary measure will be in effect for the first two Parliaments elected after the Constitution came into effect (2013 and 2018). As a result, women activists know that they must work with the new women Parliamentarians to secure the gains made and prepare for 2018.

“These women [in the 60 reserved seats] must now convert these seats into a serious political presence and interventions. Since they do not have constituencies, they must develop initiatives to get a profile over the next five years among women and men, and they must work to become highly competent politicians,” said Julie Stewart, Director of the Southern and Eastern Africa Regional Centre for Women’s Law at the University of Zimbabwe, who is also a member of the UN-Women-supported Group of 20 (G-20) lobbying group, which successfully advocated for the inclusion of the strong gender equality and women’s rights provisions in the new Constitution.

The G-20 and the women’s movement, Stewart said, must strengthen the capacity of the new women MPs to mainstream women’s issues into all the broader issues that will be discussed in the new Parliament and ensure that gender equality and women’s rights in the new Constitution are secured through law reform.

Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje, coordinator of the Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network for Peacebuilding, agrees: “We want the women in the reserved seats to not be just chess pieces being moved by the men in their political parties. We want to enable them, and all women, to become the chess players.”

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Photo Credit: UN Women

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84 comments

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7:35PM PDT on Sep 16, 2013

this is certainly a step in the right direction!

5:46PM PDT on Sep 10, 2013

ty

5:42AM PDT on Sep 10, 2013

I offer these women congratulations but hope the day will come when the best candidate in every country and in every seat of government is elected because of their policies being the best for all concerned.

I can't help but reflect on the Mandelas. Nelson was a fantastic statesman and individual who was concerned for all, but Winnie was only concerned for herself. Certainly we must weigh up the policies before the sex of the candidate.

11:18AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

I do hope you are wrong Colleen.

11:16AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

I hope they work to help women gt better treatment and animals, also. Good to see! Best to them!

10:22AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

First thing for them to do is pass a law denying pathological arrogance and senile dementia anywhere near the Zimbabwean parliament or rule.

5:52AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

Whoa Colleen, dial it back on the unnecessary aggression would you? No need to resort to childish insults. I would appreciate it if you could expand upon your statement though- thanks in advance!

5:44AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

This is a very exciting step forward! Hopefully these women can bring about positive change and their presence will demonstrate how important it is that their voices are heard and how valuable (and necessary) their contributions are!

5:41AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

None of these women won their seats. The whole "election" was a farce. Nothing has changed there. This is ffodder for those foreign idiots who believe everything they read.

12:16AM PDT on Sep 9, 2013

Kudos to this brave women! Good luck to them.
Thank you for the article!:)

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