Zambia: no easy walk for women politicians

Worse still, Zambia’s failure to reach the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) target of 30 percent representation of women in politics and decision-making positions by the end of 2005 is a sad development.

The SADC declaration on gender and development was signed way back in 1997 and eight years later Zambia still falls far short.

On 30 December, 97 Tanzanian women were sworn in as members of parliament bringing representation to 30.4 percent, to become the third country after Mozambique and South Africa to have achieved this goal.

With only 18 women MPs, the highest number in 41 years of its independence, Zambia is a long way from having a reasonable number of women holding key political positions in parliament and government.

At cabinet level, Zambia has only four female ministers and a handful number of deputy minister. The picture is very much the same at local government level.

Women’s occupation of parastatal and civil service sectors is slightly better, though a lot still remains to be done.

Lack of political will among political parties towards the implementation of the Southern SADC declaration on gender and development, coupled with cultural, social and economic factors, continues to disadvantage women politicians when it comes to securing public offices.

There are many credible women in Zambia who can serve as Members of Parliament better than most male politicians.

Unfortunately, just a few months before this year’s general elections, these political parties are giving seats to men with resources to foot the bill for their own campaigns.

The blatant commercialisation of Zambian politics and illicit usage of money has robbed women leaders of the opportunity to engage in the process because of lack of funds.

This poor showing of women in politics is the major cause of numerous setbacks in addressing gender issues. One could only hope that the decision by Women in Politics (WIP) to compel all political parties to implement the 30 percent SADC target will be put into action.

This will definitely enhance democracy and good governance in Zambia that has been lacking for the past decade.

In the quest to ensure that a conducive environment is created for women ahead of the 2006 tripartite elections, WIP has started conducting non-partisan civic voter registration education to promote female emancipation countrywide.

It is sad to note that even the incumbent Republican President, Levy Mwanawasa is very insensitive to gender issues. It is very unfortunate that all eight nominated MPs by Mwanawasa are male.

This shows the gravity of lack of political will in having more women in decision-making positions.

It is unacceptable to continue seeing women being on the fringes of decision-making, even on issues that affect them directly. Power should be shared.

Despite expressing interest in contesting for Republican presidency, FDD leader Edith Nawakwi has no blessings of women organisations such as the Non-Governmental Oraganisation Coordinating Committee (NGOCC), a mother body of women’s organisations. Controversy over her personal life has resulted in lack of support from the women’s movement, though individual organisations like the Young Women’s Christian Association are supporting her.

Retired veteran politician, Gwendoline Konie and former First Lady Vera Chiluba, who is also the Women’s Chairperson in the ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), added salt on Nawakwi’s wounds stating that Zambia was not yet ready for a female republican president.

Ms. Konie who previously led the Social Democratic Party (SDP) to the 2001 presidential elections, in which she emerged last of the 11 candidates that contested the top position, said Zambia’s political pace and environment was not conducive enough to permit female presidential aspirants to excel.

She added access to the media as another area that tends to eclipse female politicians as the press will chase after male politicians even when female politicians were better placed to respond to specific press questions.

But Nawakwi has vowed to continue pursuing her dream of ruling Zambia after the election.

As the 2006 general elections draws near, one could only hope that Zambia’s political pace could match with the needs of the poor and that more women could participate in the polls as history has it that women are least corrupt and more responsible than men folk. It remains to be seen what will come out of 2006 general elections.

l Hone Liwanga is a member of the Gender and Media Southern Africa (GEMSA) Network in Zambia. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service.

July 2006
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