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LUSAKA , Jul 22 2010 (IPS) - With women having achieved little in terms of representation in decision-making positions in Zambia, a national women’s lobby group is hoping to change this in the 2011 general elections.
The lobby group is hoping to compel political parties to adopt 50 percent of women as candidates in the 2011 Parliamentary and local government elections.
The country ranks third last in the 14-member Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries in terms of women’s representation with only 14 percent or 22 of out of 150 Parliamentary members being female. At local government level, women councillors are a paltry seven percent.
Zambia failed to attain the SADC Declaration on Gender to have 30 percent women representation in Parliament by 2005. It remains to be seen whether the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development committing countries to work towards having 50 percent women in political and decision-making positions by 2015 will be met, as there is currently no law compelling parties to do so.
But Sharon Chileshe, the capacity building and leadership development officer at ZNWL, is optimistic and says they have received very good feedback from the 14 political parties that they have engaged in through sensitisation workshops.
The training involves equipping women aspirants with leadership skills for the presidency, parliament and local government portfolios with researched information to help them enhance their decision-making.
But this may not be enough. A report released in 2008 by the Women in Law and Development in Africa (WiLDAF) on the 2006 general elections showing the low representation of women, suggests that Zambia’s electoral regime has built-in obstacles that hinder the meaningful participation of women as candidates. Hence the need to adopt affirmative action, says Joyce Macmillan, WiLDAF chairperson. She says there are three main challenges facing women including limited resources to run campaigns, traditional stereotypes resulting in fewer educational qualifications, and the socialised perception that a woman’s role should not be in the public domain.
And as the 50-50 campaign is doing now, WiLDAF had conducted capacity-building initiatives of empowering women to effectively contest the 2006 local government elections but still found women’s participation unsatisfactory.
“Out of a total of 438 women trained to participate in the local government elections, 97 or 22 percent actually applied to be adopted as candidates by various political parties and only 57 women candidates, representing 13 percent, were adopted by various political parties,” Macmillan points out. “There is need for constitutional provisions that will give women their due representation in decision-making positions.”
The distribution of candidates by gender shows that only 106 out of the 709 parliamentary candidates were women. Further, only 27 of the 130 independent parliamentary candidates were women. At local government level, out of the 4,095 candidates, only 387 won seats.
But Mirriam Munyinda of the Non-Governmental Organisation Co-ordinating Council (NGOCC), a grouping of women organisations, says government should put in place a legal framework and promote affirmative action to level the playing field.
In the last general elections, efforts to get more women in decision-making positions achieved very little as not only were the number of women candidates low, but also in certain cases, they were made to stand against each other at Parliamentary level.
But Charles Kakoma, opposition United Party for National Development (UPND) spokesperson says, without committing his party to having 50 percent women candidates, his party are in support of the women’s lobby as long as the quality and ability to deliver are not compromised.
“We would like to have more women contesting the forthcoming elections. Selection will be very competitive and our women must have quality – they must meet the minimum education requirements, work experience, and by and large, organisational skills so they get to know how to mobilise people,” Kakoma says.
He added that the prerogative of choosing candidates for the UPND remains with the party’s national management committee.
During the International Women’s Day commemorations in March, George Kunda, the country’s vice president called on all political parties in the country to ensure that women are given more opportunities to participate as candidates in next year’s general elections.
Kunda, who is also justice minister, says the National Constitutional Conference (NCC), which has been tasked to come-up with a new constitution that may possibly be used in next year’s elections, is looking at submissions concerning equity and equality between men and women.
“It is my firm belief that through the NCC, we’re laying a better foundation for enhancement of equal rights and opportunities for women and men,” he says.
Still, in the absence of constitutional requirements, it is difficult to see how women will be able to reach the 50 percent representation in decision-making positions through next year’s elections, even with the campaign by the women’s lobby group.
After all, most political parties, in their manifestoes, have re-affirmed their commitment to gender equality, yet have all failed to reach the 30 percent SADC protocol on gender.
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