Friday, June 17, 2011

Women and this year’s elections

Women and this year’s elections
By The Post
Fri 17 June 2011, 04:01 CAT

We have been urged, as journalists, by Melanne Verveer, US Ambassador at large for global women’s issues, to raise issues on women’s rights with aspiring political leaders so that they are made to be mindful of their responsibilities.

This is a welcome challenge because we also sincerely believe that women’s rights issues should have a place in this year’s election campaigns. And it is our duty to ensure that our politicians make women’s rights issues a priority during campaigns.

Women have been discriminated against in making meaningful contributions to national development through participation in political life. And many people in this country, including women, still believe that a woman cannot perform competently in the same way as a man in politics.

This has led some people never voting for a woman to be a leader. This deprives society of the talent to really promote integral development.

It is important that women participate in the politics of their country. This is important because when women are engaged in politics at a level where they bring their talents and experiences to decision-making, we have better outcomes for the country.

And currently, there are many entrenched social and political practices that keep women away from taking up decision making positions in politics.

Women have a full right to become actively involved in all areas of public life, and this right must be affirmed and guaranteed. There is need for us to challenge politicians to explain specific policies they intend to introduce to guarantee women’s rights and increase their participation in decision-making positions.

Women have the right and duty to take part in administrative work of the society. Our constitution grants women the right to vote and the right to stand for elections and no political practices should take away these rights from them. In theory, the right to stand for elections, to become a candidate, and to get elected, is based on the right to vote.

The reality is, however, that women’s rights to vote remain restricted: principally because the only candidates to vote for are usually male. The level of women’s representation in our councils and Parliament is very low.

And this low level of women’s representation in our political institutions should be considered a violation of their fundamental democratic right, and, as such, of their basic human rights. This unequal rate of representation signifies that women’s representation, rather than being a function of democratisation, is more a function of preserving the status quo.

Men dominate our political arena; they formulate the rules of the political game; and they define the standards for evaluation. Furthermore, political life is organised according to male norms and values, and in some cases, even male lifestyles.

Our violent politics is not suitable for women and as such whenever violence crops up in our politics, more and more women are discouraged from taking part in their country’s political processes.

Our politics is based on competition and confrontation, rather than on mutual respect, collaboration and consensus building. This environment is alien to women, both to their nature and to their experiences.

The existence of this male-dominated politics results in women either rejecting politics altogether or rejecting male-style politics. Thus, when women do participate in politics, they tend to do so in small numbers.

Women should be allowed to be what they are, and to act according to their own unique personality. Women do not have to be like men to have power.
Women play important roles in campaigning and mobilising support for their political parties, yet they rarely occupy decision-making positions in these structures.

Why? The selection and nomination process within our political parties is biased against women in that male characteristics are emphasised and often become the criteria for selecting candidates. Those who are selected, often have to exhibit some male characteristics and be seen to be like men. We often hear people saying, ‘mukazi uja ni mwamuna’.

An old boys’ club atmosphere and prejudices inhibit and prohibit politically-inclined women from integrating into their party’s work. This results in an underestimation of women as politicians by those who provide money for election campaigns, thus further hindering women from being nominated.

Women’s participation is better realised when there are quarters for women’s participation. And this is the approach the Southern African Development Community (SADC) has adopted when it decided on a 30 per cent representation of women in key decision-making institutions of the member countries.

It is very difficult for a woman to make up her mind to enter politics. Once she makes up her own mind, then she has to prepare her husband, children and family. Once she has overcome all these obstacles and applies for the ticket, then the male aspirants against whom she is applying make up all sorts of stories about her.

And after all this, when her name goes to the party bosses, they do not select her because they fear losing that seat.

Although our government, in collaboration with other SADC governments, have declared to change all this, it is nevertheless unrealistic to expect the government alone to secure our women’s rightful place in all spheres of society.

Civil society in general, including religious institutions, traditional authorities, non-governmental organisations, the media and women’s groups, must play a role in advancing women’s representation.
To achieve gender balance in our country’s political life, it is necessary to ensure that commitment to equality is reflected in all our laws, national policies and political practices.

Affirmative action, as per the SADC requirement or guideline, is a necessary tool to maintain at least 30 per cent of women at all levels of decision-making in our country.

Expanding the pool of women who are qualified for recruitment in political careers is also needed. This can be done by giving women access, from an early stage, to work patterns that are conducive to political leadership.

Special attention should be given to the involvement of young women in political participation. Our women must also think carefully about their own goals, strategies and tactics. Women should be made to become more conscious of their human dignity and to demand rights to participate in public life.

All practices, political or otherwise, which deprive women of their rights and the respect due to them, must be condemned at all times. We should all be ready to vote for women who have true leadership qualities in this year’s elections.

We will have no meaningful development unless women take up their rightful place in the politics and administration of our country. In order to develop our country, it is of the utmost importance to arouse the broad masses of our women to join politics and take up leadership positions in our country.



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