The Struggle for Equality

Windhoek – On several occasions, leaders from Southern Africa have been very vocal about the need to empower women and ensure equality between the sexes in all spheres of life.
Their calls – year-in year-out – have been predicated on the logic that if the region is to progress in addressing matters of gender equality in leadership and decision-making, men have to be at the forefront of creating room for women to thrive.
These efforts have yielded a modicum of success as seen by the swearing into office of a female President in Malawi in the name of Joyce Banda, the elevation of a female Vice President in Zimbabwe in the person of Joice Mujuru, and the groundbreaking election of South Africa’s Dr Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma to the position of Chairperson of the African Union.
And before any of these ladies had risen to where they are today, Namibia led the way with the appointment of Dr Libertina Amadhila as Deputy Prime Minister.
Mozambique too got into the act early when Luisa Diogo became Prime Minister of that country.
Presently, Zimbabwe also has a female Deputy Prime Minister, Thokozani Khupe.
But despite these shining examples, women still remain largely absent in top political leadership positions in Southern Africa.
SADC has ratified a motion that seeks to have 50-50 male-female representation in all its member countries’ parliaments by 2015.
This is, unfortunately, unlikely to happen as there is little progress towards this on the ground.
Zimbabwe has tried to go some way to rectify this by setting aside reserved seats for female contestants in the upcoming Parliamentary elections.
However, none of SADC’s 15 members have surpassed the 35 percent female representation threshold in their parliaments.
The Institute for Public Policy Research (IPPR), in its latest paper on the issue of women representation in leadership, argues that major political parties have not been forthcoming or taking the lead in creating room for women to play a more active role in the largely patriarchal political set up.
According to IPPR, in the case of Namibia, SWAPO as a dominant political establishment should have taken the lead to improve female representation in Parliament and eventually achieve 50-50 representation by 2015 as envisaged by SADC.
Namibia’s Parliament has 24 percent of its legislators as women.
Minister of Gender and Equality in Namibia Rosalia Nghidinwa, a veteran political figure admits, that there is more to be done to avert the lack of growth of women in politics in the country.
Speaking at a recent public debate and launch of the IPPR paper, which was done by Nangula Shejavali, Minister Nghidinwa said: “Although an enabling environment has been created for the country to emprove a lot still needs to be done to improve women’s participation in politics.”
Her statement is reflective of not just the situation in Namibia, but of what is prevailing across the entire SADC region.
Mozambique has made some headway in meeting the SADC 2015 target, but it is telling that it is the leader in gender equality when only 34 percent of its MPs are women.
In countries like Zambia and Zimbabwe, it has been common for male politicians to jostle for safer constituency seats where they are more likely to win elections, while women are fobbed off to riskier electoral races.
Naturally, this means fewer women make it to Parliament despite many of them having contested elections.
Perhaps a major problem in achieving gender parity has been that the agenda is being largely pushed by men with very few women seemingly interested in getting involved in the activism required for there to be equality.
It thus becomes anyone’s guess if the region is really committed to meeting its own targets on women in leadership.
With two years to go before the SADC deadline, there is a possibility that some parliaments in the region will achieve parity, but the signs on the ground do not look good for women in Southern Africa.

June 2013
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