The drive to promote women in political and corporate decision-making positions has historically been a slow and resisted one worldwide.
It was as if women needed to move mountains to join what became “the gentlemen's club.” Now, thanks to a series of International Conferences in the 80s and early 90s, the Beijing one included, it gained momentum.
At the UN Millennium Summit in September 2000, in New York, world leaders pledged to “promote gender equality and the empowerment of women as effective ways to combat poverty, hunger and disease to stimulate development that is truly sustainable”. Several goals were adopted including that of gender equality. Since then the number of women in leadership positions has risen.
Rwanda, a country still recovering from the 1994 genocide is now cited for the unprecedented number of women in parliament.
In South Africa and Mozambique, women hold a significant number of seats in parliament.
In Uganda, Beatrice Kiraso was elected to Parliament as way back as 1986. This gave women confidence in other women, thus opening even more avenues. In South Africa and Zimbabwe, women played a key role in the national liberation struggle and today in SA, are benefiting from a Quota system adopted by the ANC.
In Africa, the SADC protocol was adopted encouraging a quota system for women.
Three systems are worth to mention:
l Constitutional quotas: Countries like Uganda have constitutional provision reserving seats in national parliament for women.
l Election law quotas: In countries like Sudan, provisions are written into the national legislation.
l Political party quotas: In countries like South Africa parties adopt internal rules to include a certain percentage of women as candidates for office. (Africa Recovery, Volume 18, 2004)
While this addresses the issue of gender equality in decision-making, the practise often lacks support from important political actors as well as those with cultural beliefs that fear it would discriminate against men.
One Swedish parliamentarian once said that political parties, the education system, non-governmental organisations, trade unions and churches, must take responsibility within their own self to systematically promote women's participation from the bottom.
The case of Zimbabwe is of much interest to me as a Zimbabwean woman eager to see justice and democracy for my country. The economic and political crisis in Zimbabwe is well-documented and well-covered in international media. Solutions and new players are being sought.
What is clear for all is that the economic crisis has hit Zimbabweans hardest. Women and children have haplessly watched as male politicians mastered either the art of plundering and economic destruction, or for some engage in efforts to revive the sinking glory of Africa.
Zimbabwe has never had a woman at the helm of the Ministry of Finance or as the Governor of the Reserve Bank. Although it is not clear what could have happened if women had been at the centre of economic decision-making in Zimbabwe, a case in point is citable in the Nigerian former minister of finance and now at the World Bank for her ability to stabilise and eliminate corruption.
One may be tempted to believe that not enough women are qualified enough to participate at high level. This of course is just a myth.
What has lacked in Zimbabwe has been the ability by those in political power to make room for women without the need for push and shove.
I am one of those women who know that as a matter of merit, women are more than capable. Zimbabwe in particular has a huge pool of women who are intellectually and practically qualified to be on the decision-making high table.
Zimbabwe needs all of us to take the initiative and craft lasting solutions. Women who are willing and able should be allowed to participate in national politics without prejudice.
It is therefore encouraging to see parties like the recently revived Zimbabwe African People's Union, embracing women to bring sanity to a country that has been brought to its knees by the economic crisis of the last 10 years.
The main responsibility falls on women to stand up and be counted and be involved in bringing peace and prosperity to the country.
They say “behind every man's success there is always a powerful woman”. Let us stand by our men, not in their shadows and put a smile on everyone's face.
Let me leave my fellow country people to reflect on the following words by one Joan Kirner at the Women into Power conference, Adelaide (1994):
“There is no such thing as being non-political. Just by making a decision to stay out of politics you are making the decision to allow others to shape politics and exert power over you. And if you are alienated from the current political system, then just by staying out of it you do nothing to change it, you simply entrench it.”