Women and political participation

[By Lucy Musonda]

THE United Nations (2019) states that women in every part of the world continue to be largely marginalised from the political sphere, often as a result of discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes, low level of education, lack of access to health care and the disproportionate effect of poverty on them.

Women’s full and effective political participation is an issue of human rights, growth and sustainable development.

The percentage of women participating in politics is frightening owing to the key barriers such as; the current structure of legal framework and political culture embedded with patriarchal values, norms that are unsupportive to female candidates and lack of personal wealth to fund campaigns.

Under the Zambian legal framework, besides the Constitution, which creates a provision for political parties, there is no other law that puts emphasis on the participation of women in politics and how political candidates can be put in positions of being able to make decisions. Zambia is a signatory to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right (CCPR, 1976) which under Article 25, states that,

“Every citizen shall have the right and the opportunity, without any of the distinctions mentioned in article 2 and without unreasonable restrictions: (a) To take part in the conduct of public affairs, directly or through freely chosen representatives; (b) To vote and to be elected at genuine periodic elections which shall be by universal and equal suffrage and shall be held by secret ballot, guaranteeing the free expression of the will of the electors; (c) To have access, on general terms of equality, to public service in his country.”

Further, the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1979) goes beyond the approach of the CCPR by placing an obligation on State parties to take all appropriate measure to end that discrimination, particularly under Article 7 which requires women to be on equal terms with men in participating in all facets of public life. It is a responsibility of the state to ensure such measures are put in place.

There is little that women can do to ensure they are adopted by their political parties, besides them displaying great interest in the affairs of the State, showing leadership attributes through communicating to the public, especially through social media. This is because if they communicate through their fellow political party members, they will hardly be heard. More is up to the political leaders in decision making positions to ensure that the policies and measures that they create are creating an enabling environment for the females to arise and take up decision making positions and not leaving them behind performing kitchen roles for which they are best known.

Julie argues that “Political parties also formulate policy and set governance priorities and are therefore strategically placed to address the concerns of women” (Ballington, J. Expert Opinion 2009). Having legislative measures such as policies and laws that indicate strict inspection on how women participation in these political parties is conducted would be another way of ensuring that women are in decision making position.

In many countries, the adoption of party quotas, either voluntarily or due to a legislative requirement, has become very popular in the last few decades. This enables them come out to the public and communicate effectively with them and consequently getting recognition from the public and taking up decision making position. The implementation of gender quotas, however, is not the only tool used by political parties to advance women in politics.

The creation of women’s wings helps promote women’s interests in party policy platforms and strengthens the demand for increasing women’s representation in party nomination lists and decision-making processes. A good example is the Women’s League of the African National Congress (ANC) in South Africa. The advocacy efforts organised by the ANC Women’s League against all forms of discrimination and gender imbalance led to the ANC resolution that one third of its representatives in Parliament must be women, which had a far reaching effect in transforming the newly-elected democratic Parliament of South Africa. The Zambian political sphere should adopt this style to ensure that women are heard by the public, and voted into power.

In conclusion, in order to have a great percentage of women participation in politics, it is important for there to be laws that are placing so much emphasis on women participation in politics. Besides, women should come to the public through social media and firmly speak their goals and intentions for the State using all possible resources they may have. Most importantly, political parties should be very supportive to women and create room for them to occupy decision-making positions. It is therefore, the responsibility of not only the women, but also the legislative body and political parties to be supportive.

The author is a part-time legal intern at the Free Press Initiative Zambia. The FPI is currently working with women and youth political participants across the country under the “Zambia Decides” project funded by the Carter Centre, to capacitate them ahead of the August 12, 2021 elections.

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