ZIMBABWE: Now To Share Power With Women

Monday, September 29, 2008
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 

The ink was barely dry on the power-sharing agreement signed by Zimbabwe's main political parties on Sep. 15 when women activists demanded a fair share of power.

Half of all cabinet posts should be for women, argued the Feminist Political Education Project (FePEP), a pressure group led by the country's top gender thinkers and leaders. Of the 31 ministers, 15 should be women, and of the 15 deputy ministers, eight. Moreover, women should be appointed to non-traditional, "hard ministries" such as foreign affairs, home affairs, defense, local government, finance and trade.

The group wants to prevent a repeat of the exclusion from the power-sharing talks, where there was only one woman among eight negotiators.

This is not the first time that the women's movement has criticised the male stranglehold on the political process. In the impasse after the March elections, FePEP lashed out at politicians who tear the country apart with their "selfish male egos, the quest for unbridled power, and total disregard for citizens' rights."

If the unity government appointed women to half of the cabinet posts, said FePEP, it would be showing its true commitment to gender equality, a core principle in the agreement. It would also comply with the recently approved Southern Africa Development Community Protocol on Gender, which requires 50/50 male and female representation in government by 2015.

Moreover, appointing women would build trust in the unity government, said FePEP.

These days, trust may be a commodity as scarce as cooking oil and sugar. Zimbabweans endured yet more political, economic and social hardship this year as they staggered through a flawed and violent election, which left some 200 dead, and 25,000 displaced, according to the rights monitor Zimbabwe Peace Project. Many instances of sexual violence against female members of the opposition by pro-government militias were documented.

Some human rights activists believe that having more women in power will bring issues of justice and redress to the fore. Jenni Williams, founder of the lobbying group Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), would like the new government to provide psychological treatment for the victims of torture and shelter for the displaced, prosecute perpetrators of political violence, reform the army and police, repeal oppressive laws, and allow international humanitarian aid.

But "nothing will ever come out of this deal until women are included," she told IPS.

Jameson Timba, a Member of Parliament for the Movement for Democratic Change, notes some positive steps towards gender parity.

Of the unity government's executive - a president, two deputy presidents, a prime minister and two deputies - two must be women. Timba adds that "at least a third of the cabinet and ambassadorial positions will go to women."

There is also equitable representation at the top levels of Parliament and Senate, both in both political and gender terms. The Parliament's speaker is an MDC man, Lovemore Moyo, and the deputy speaker a woman, Nomalanga Khumalo. In the Senate, the speaker is ZANU PF's Edna Madzongwe, with a male deputy, Naison Ndlovu.

Others remain skeptical about power-sharing among men and women. Among them is Gladys Hlatswayo, advocacy officer at the umbrella group Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition.

"We have heard these nice words before but, without political will, they do not mean anything," she told IPS. "The power relations are uneven and reflect the power struggles of the general Zimbabwean society."

For many women, bread and butter issues are the priority. About 80 percent of the population is unemployed and lives with less than $2 a day, according to the United Nations. Life expectancy for women has dropped to 34 years and seroprevalence stands at 20 percent.

Patience Chitapi, a mother of two living in Harare's Glen View suburb, knows this first-hand.

"All I want is food in the supermarket, medicine in the hospitals, water and electricity, but I can't afford any of these basic needs, let alone personal hygiene products. I believe women can address these issues better than men," she told IPS.