Only four women contested in last week’s by-elections and none of them won. Gone is a one-off opportunity to increase the number of women in Parliament and councils. Our News Analyst MERCY MALIKWA caught up with lawyer and gender rights activist Ngeyi Kanyongolo on low women participation in politics.
: How do you feel that only four out of the 19 contestants in six by-elections were women?
: That figure is on the lower side, but I think when we look at the bigger picture, proportionately, that is not too different from participation of women in general elections. So, in terms of proportionate representation, that is low. But it has been lower than that even in general elections. I think it is not very surprising.
: What is your take on the fact that none of the four has made it to represent the constituency or ward?
: The results are very worrying. We really would have thought that we would improve in the level of women participation by having a few women elected either as a councillor or as a member of Parliament. We should be concerned and maybe find ways of improving from what has happened.
: Just 18 months to the 2019 Tripartite Elections, what picture does this paint?
: It is very negative. We should quickly learn lessons from what has happened and prepare. I know that most of the gender activists are already preparing for the 2019 elections and we can only hope that it will get better. It is unfortunate that there weren’t many interventions during the by-elections, but mostly I think it is because of lack of funding and resources for the non-governmental organisations [NGOs] that normally get involved with these activities to do so. But for the general elections, they are already preparing now and we can only hope for the best.
: Talking about funding for women advancement campaigns, should we say that by-elections do not matter?
: They do matter. Every opportunity in the electoral cycle should be taken seriously to allow women enter into politics. I think it is just that with the by-elections there is no enough time to plan. Therefore, because most of the NGOs depend on development partners’ support, maybe it becomes too difficult for them to intervene. But with the general elections, because we are prepared, we know when they are going to take place, it becomes a
lot easier. However, I think we should take by-elections seriously as the general elections. Probably, that is a point of reflection where in future we may have to think of ways how NGOs and gender activists will still intervene in by-elections.
: How best can activists address MEC concerns that that even during general elections, some campaigners come late, when many women have already dropped?
: That is a genuine and a fair observation. From a post-mortem review of the 2014 elections, lessons were learnt. If you see what has happened since 2014, they have been working on elections. The idea that elections should be looked at as a process and not as an event has been internalised. And then from 2015, there were those national conferences and meetings which were convened by gender activists to look at what went wrong and they came up with strategies on what to do next. Then, after that, they have looked at the regulatory framework, the policies and the laws to find what impedes women’s participation. There has also been a campaign around affirmative action, talking to political parties and voters on how they can support women. So, I think there is a slight difference from previous interventions. This time around, they have started early. They have been working throughout. They might not have adequate funds to go and talk to the women, but even if you look at some of the programmes in place now, for instance the women political empowerment group at Ministry of Gender that works with most of the NGOs, they have been having their meetings, they are prepared and they have written proposals to donors seeking funding. So, we can only hope that things will keep on improving and that this time around women will be reached in good time than we have done before.
: Are political parties doing enough to move from rhetoric to action regarding women empowerment?
:There is a lot that political parties need to do and I think in some fairness, they already have started doing what they are supposed to do. For example, the national conferences that we had soon after 2014 elections, part of the critique was that there wasn’t enough support from political parties and even their framework—their constitutions and manifestos, did not really reflect the required support for women. So, over the years, in 2015 and 2016, organisations like Centre for Multiparty Democracy have been working with political parties to redo their party constitutions and to look at their party manifestos to make sure that the framework is in place for them to properly support women. And then we have had some political parties that have been working with some NGOs such as NGO-Gender Coordinating Network [GCN] and Women’s Legal Resources Centre [Worlec] just to put in place strong structures working with women wings and role models to mentor young women. I think we are slowly going beyond the rhetoric and some effort is really being put by political parties to support women. But then, I think we will only be able to test whether they are serious if, for example, if the constitution that they have gendered will be passed at their conventions because most of them are still waiting for their party conventions to pass the gendered amendments that they proposed. And then, looking at what has happened with the by-elections, one would say that we really have not gone far enough for us to go beyond the rhetoric. But I think efforts are being made, small steps, very incremental, but some change can be seen. It will take time but I think we need to take some serious steps as we approach the general elections. n