Zimbabwe: Women's representation quotas
Updated March 2008
The Constitution of Zimbabwe (1980) and the electoral laws of the country make no provisions for quotas to advance the representation of women in publicly elected bodies. The Constitution is masculine in its, language. "He" and "him" as used throughout in a way that assumes that the masculine embraces the feminine, while the words "she" and "her" appear nowhere. The article that prohibits discrimination in law or in the activities of public officials is qualified so as to exclude the prevention of discrimination against women in customary law and specifically permits discrimination that "takes due account of physiological differences between persons of different sex or gender" (Constitution 1980, Article 23). It does, however, permit "the implementation of affirmative action programmes for the protection or advancement of persons or classes of persons who have been previously disadvantaged by unfair discrimination" (Constitution 1980, Article 23, 3(g)).
The representation of women in the National Assembly has fluctuated between a low of 8% in after the 1985 election and a high of 16.7% after the 2005 election (see Women's representation in the House of Assembly). The 2005 figures is higher than that of other Southern African countries that also use the first-past-system (FPTP) that Zimbabwe uses (eg Botswana 11.3%, Zambia 14.2% and Malawi 14.4%; see Gender issues: Women's representation in the Lower House of Parliament), but compares unfavourably with countries that use a proportional representation system (Namibia 27.3%, South Africa 32.8% and Mozambique 35.6%). Lobbying by women parliamentarians and related organisations such as the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) for constitutional and electoral reforms such as the introduction of the proportional representation system and legal, enforceable quotas, have been without fruit (Chiroro 2005, 92). Matters are hardly likely to improve as far as representation in the National Assembly is concerned. According to figures from the Women in Politics Support Unit, cited by journalist Tonderai Kwidini (2008), in the 2008 parliamentary elections only 13.6% of candidates for the National Assembly are women.
Success in improving women's representation in proportional representation countries has been accompanied by the adoption of voluntary quotas for women candidates by parties themselves. However the adoption of quotas in FPTP has been less successful; in Mozambique for instance FPTP local government elections have yielded indifferent results (see Mozambique: Women's representation quotas). The ruling Zimbabwe African National Union - Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) adopted and implemented a 25% quota for candidates for the National Assembly in 2005, but at least a third of these were nominated in opposition strongholds where they had little chance of success and in the end only 17.7% of elected ZANU-PF members were women (Chiroro 2005, 102). The adoption of the quota by the party was the consequence of intense lobbying by the women's movement, but the implementation reflected the party's traditional marginalisation of women and effectiveness of opposition by powerful men within the party to their effective implementation (Chiroro 2005, 102).
The main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), has neither adopted quotas, nor made any other effort to advance women's representation in publicly elected bodies. Only 15% of MDC candidates were women, though those women nominated stood a better chance of election than their ZANU-PF counterparts, for 14.6% of the party's elected representatives were women (Chiroro 2005, 102).
Party leadership quotas
Many parties in Southern Africa have attempted to strengthen women's representation in public life by building it within the party's leadership structures and some progress has been made in Zimbabwe in this respect. ZANU-PF requires that a third of its Politburo be women and that one of its two vice-presidents must be a woman, but has no quota for its Central Committee (Sachikonye 2005, 36). The MDC has no quotas other than a provision that one-third of its National Council must women and sufficient women must be co-opted, if necessary, to ensure that this is the case (Sachikonye 2005, 36).
CONSTITUTION OF ZIMBABWE 1980, incorporates all amendments until October 2007, [www] http://aceproject.org/ero-en/regions/africa/ZW/zimbabwe-constitution-of-zimbabwe-2008-1 [PDF document, opens new window] (accessed 21 Jan 2010).
CHIRORO, B 2005, "Persistent Inequalities: Women and Electoral Politics in the Zimbabwe Elections in 2005" IN Journal of African Elections, 4(2), October 2005.
KWIDINI, T 2008 "Zimbabwe: A Society 'Not Ready for Female Leadership'?" In AllAfrica.com, 14 March, [www] http://allafrica.com/stories/200803150007.html [opens new window] (accessed 21 Jan 2010).
SACHIKONYE, LM 2005 Political Parties and the Democratisation Process in Zimbabwe [PDF], EISA Research Report 16.