As Zimbabwe's government of national unity begins its work, gender activists are pushing for a greater place for women in decision-making.
The early signs are not promising - the Joint Monitoring and Implementation Committee (JOMIC), the body which will monitor all parties' compliance with the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was formed Jan. 30. Of its 12 members, only three are women, one from each party, strongly suggesting a token presence.
IPS spoke with Theresa Mugadza, a lawyer, human rights activist and one of the coordinators of the Feminist Political Education Project (FePEP), which has actively engaged regional and national leaders throughout the contested elections and the negotiations since. FePEP also works with ordinary women inside Zimbabwe, as part of ensuring that women's voices and views are part of the political development of Zimbabwe.
IPS: The government has appointed only three women to the 12-member JOMIC: what are the prospects of adequate representation of women in Zimbabwe's new government?
Theresa Mugadza: The composition of women in JOMIC is actually 25 percent female representation, a far cry from the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Gender Protocol and African Union (AU) guidelines which outline that there must be 50-50 representation by 2010. Given this, I don't have confidence that we will see more women being represented in the new government.
IPS: What is the argument here: is it having women in decision-making positions for the sake of it?
TM: The argument is that we want to see more women of substance in positions of authority, not to make up numbers. We have many competent women who can deliver more than males who have failed over time. We feel it's time that women are given a chance.
There are several examples of women who have distinguished themselves in corporate environments and can do the same in politics. There are many examples in the region such as South Africa's Foreign Affairs Minister Nkosazana Dlamini-Zuma who has distinguished herself in diplomatic circles helping to address many political disputes around the continent.
It is important to note that there are women in Zimbabwe who are capable of taking any positions in government as evidenced by the roles that many celebrated women in Zimbabwe are already playing on the international scene.
For example MDC legislator Paurina Mpariwa is a prominent member of the Pan African Parliament. Lucia Matibenga led the regional labour body, Southern African Trade Union Coordination Council and sat on the governing board of International Labour Organisation.
These are just a few who have a proven track record among many and I don't see why they should not be in government.
IPS: But what difference would we expect women to make if included in government?
TM: A different way of doing things. Women are not as shy as men. Look at how they have performed in the South African government which has recognised their worth by continuing retaining faith in them because of how they have distinguished themselves as women. They have approached issues in a more business-like manner and in most cases have got the job done.
IPS: How is the crisis in Zimbabwe gendered - what are the different impacts for women of economic collapse, health problems, food shortages, and political violence?
TM: It has further compounded the problem of gender and more and more men are likely to see women more as sex objects because of the political violence that women were subjected to, which affected them physically and emotionally, draining whatever confidence that they might have had.
IPS: In your view, how should the reconstruction of the country be approached to address these specific impacts?
TM: We would like to see women playing an active role in the governance of the country. This is a perfect opportunity for this new government to deal with issues of gender equality and gender justice.
The preamble of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Zanu-PF and the two MDC parties recognises the need to build a society founded on justice and equality. This input on gender justice should be recognised. There should be a deliberate and conscious effort to give women a political voice.
IPS: What are your own overall expectations of the new government?
TM: This is an opportunity to do things differently. The world is watching us.
There is a need to have an overhaul of the legislative statutes from the constitution to the actual legislative acts embracing gender equality. It is time to push for 50-50 representation. Capable women are there and we can provide them in every sector.
To the political leaders we say there is nothing shameful about consulting the various organisations dealing with women, they can provide capable figures that can move the country forward.