Women can do bet­ter than ride on men’s grace

We see noth­ing wrong in women claim­ing con­sti­tu­tional en­ti­tle­ment in “ap­pointed po­si­tions”, be­cause it is ei­ther they have al­ready proved them­selves, or tal­ent is not a de­ter­mi­nant cri­te­rion for the post. The si­t­u­a­tion looks dif­fer­ent when it comes to “el

The Herald (Zimbabwe) - - Opinion & Analysis - Jo­ram Ny­athi Spec­trum

ELEC­TION fever is in the air. Agen­das are com­ing up. Po­lit­i­cal par­ties and in­di­vid­u­als are stak­ing their claims to what prom­ises to be an ex­cit­ing con­test next year. Now women want their share of power. But they are pitch­ing it like it is a form of en­ti­tle­ment, which how­ever must be ex­torted from men by bran­dish­ing the na­tional Con­sti­tu­tion.

Women con­sti­tute 52 per­cent of the pop­u­la­tion in Zim­babwe, but sit at only 22 per­cent in na­tional pol­i­tics. The Con­sti­tu­tion pro­vides for a 50-50 gen­der rep­re­sen­ta­tion at all de­ci­sion mak­ing lev­els. Yet in prac­tice things are not so sim­ple and women don’t ap­pear to lever­age their nu­mer­i­cal ad­van­tage.

That is why their demand for equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Par­lia­ment needs to be framed in­tel­li­gently if they want to be treated as equals to their male coun­ter­parts. It would be a pity if it turns out that women want to be treated like an over­grown ver­sion of the “girl child” in public life while in the same breath claim­ing to be equal.

Worse, that doesn’t seem to be the best way to fight what they claim to be pa­tri­archy that’s keep­ing them down.

Me­dia re­ported last week that Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment for Harare West Jessie Ma­jome had called for an amend­ment to the Elec­toral Act to re­serve seats via con­stituency de­mar­ca­tions to women.

“This Par­lia­ment must en­sure that be­fore the next elec­tion, we change the Elec­toral Act to en­sure that in de­lim­i­ta­tion, 105 seats are de­mar­cated to women,” Hon­ourable Ma­jome pleaded in the Na­tional Assem­bly.

“We must move with speed and en­sure that we ef­fect nec­es­sary elec­toral re­forms that make sure that for the 210 seats that are in this au­gust House, at least 105 of them are oc­cu­pied by women and 105 are oc­cu­pied by men, be­cause that is what the Con­sti­tu­tion says.”

She is only par­tially right. The Con­sti­tu­tion reads;

“The State must pro­mote the full par­tic­i­pa­tion of women in all spheres of Zim­bab­wean so­ci­ety on the ba­sis of equal­ity with men;

“The State must take all mea­sures, in­clud­ing leg­isla­tive mea­sures, needed to en­sure that both gen­ders are equally rep­re­sented in all in­sti­tu­tions and agen­cies of Gov­ern­ment at ev­ery level; and,

“Women con­sti­tute at least half the mem­ber­ship of all com­mis­sions and other elec­tive and ap­pointed gov­ern­men­tal bod­ies es­tab­lished by or un­der this Con­sti­tu­tion or an Act of Par­lia­ment; and,

“The State and all in­sti­tu­tions and agen­cies of Gov­ern­ment at ev­ery level must take prac­ti­cal mea­sures to en­sure that women have ac­cess to the re­sources, in­clud­ing land, on the ba­sis of equal­ity with men.

“The State must take pos­i­tive mea­sures to rec­tify gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and im­bal­ances re­sult­ing from past prac­tices and poli­cies.”

Let’s hear Hon­ourable Ma­jome speak again:

“What can be done in the Elec­toral Act is when the De­lim­i­ta­tion Com­mis­sion starts, it ac­tu­ally de­lim­its , and we make pro­vi­sions in the Elec­toral Act to in­di­cate that there are cer­tain seats we de­mar­cate and de­limit 105 seats to say these are for women.”

We are not sure if that’s what was con­tem­plated in draft­ing the Con­sti­tu­tion. We are also not sure whether “leg­isla­tive mea­sures” can broadly be in­ter­preted to in­clude de­lim­it­ing con­stituen­cies for women with­out at the same time treat­ing them as phys­i­cally or men­tally in­ca­pac­i­tated in some way.

This is where women should be care­ful that they don’t de­mean them­selves. They can­not keep their cake and it eat.

If the Con­sti­tu­tion sug­gests that women should be treated as a spe­cial cat­e­gory of Zim­bab­weans or hu­man be­ings while as­pir­ing to be equal, then that’s where they should be de­mand­ing an ur­gent amend­ment.

We see noth­ing wrong in women claim­ing con­sti­tu­tional en­ti­tle­ment in “ap­pointed po­si­tions” be­cause it is ei­ther they have al­ready proved them­selves, or tal­ent is not a de­ter­mi­nant cri­te­rion for the post. The si­t­u­a­tion looks dif­fer­ent when it comes to “elec­tive po­si­tions”. The idea of elec­tion opens the po­si­tion to demo­cratic trans­parency and fair com­pe­ti­tion where tal­ent, not gen­der, must pre­vail.

Once that is ac­cepted, we must also ac­cept that no con­sti­tu­tion can leg­is­late for merit or tal­ent. All things be­ing equal (they rarely are), which is what we all aspire to as so­ci­ety, we don’t want do “de­mar­cate” ex­am­i­na­tions for our boys and girls.

The girl child must en­joy the pride of be­ing able, tal­ented, ca­pa­ble, equal, not a ben­e­fi­ciary of a benev­o­lent so­ci­ety feel­ing pity for her be­ing fe­male.

Un­for­tu­nately, we read in Hon­ourable Ma­jome’s state­ment a plea that women are a spe­cial case. Worst of all, at na­tional level where the aim should be to de­ploy our best brains be­cause be­ing a Mem­ber of Par­lia­ment should not be about mak­ing the num­bers. It should not be about gen­der. It should go be­yond form to sub­stance, con­tent.

Women have a chance to prove them­selves at party level be­fore they seek to pa­rade them­selves on the na­tional stage to plead for spe­cial con­sid­er­a­tion be­cause they are women.

Po­lit­i­cal par­ties are vol­un­tary or­gan­i­sa­tions; if party D doesn’t meet one’s ex­pec­ta­tions, one is free to move on and join party Z or to found their own.

No such lux­ury at na­tional level. We can­not have in democ­racy laws which say a man can­not con­test an elec­tion in a par­tic­u­lar con­stituency where or­di­nar­ily he would qual­ify, merely be­cause that con­stituency has been de­mar­cated, des­ig­nated or re­served for a woman — her sole qual­i­fi­ca­tion be­ing that she was born fe­male. The man dis­qual­i­fied for be­ing born male.

A fine way to en­trench gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion. I think women can do bet­ter than that!

We ear­lier al­luded to things rarely be­ing equal or fair. The rel­e­vant Sec­tion 17 of the Con­sti­tu­tion is il­lu­mi­nat­ing and gen­der ac­tivists need to read it closely be­cause it does ad­dress the prac­ti­cal side of this de­bate about women rep­re­sen­ta­tion, that is Par­lia­ment. This is what we are re­fer­ring to:

“The State must take pos­i­tive mea­sures to rec­tify gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and im­bal­ances re­sult­ing from past prac­tices and poli­cies.”

So­ci­ety, or the home en­vi­ron­ment in par­tic­u­lar, tends to place a dis­pro­por­tion­ate bur­den on the girl child. That might ex­plain the phe­nom­e­non where so­ci­ety ap­pre­cia­tively as­serts that girls ma­ture faster than boys.

It is be­cause they are ex­pected at an early age to run and man­age the kitchen, re­gard­less of whether the par­ents are there or not. Men­tally, the girl is be­ing pre­pared to be a mother and there­fore, should know where all the tools of the kitchen are, and be able to cook.

While she is do­ing all this moth­erly work, no­body asks what the boy is do­ing. If he is a clever one, he is in the study room, ad­vanc­ing him­self and ex­pect­ing his twin sis­ter to call him to sup­per once she is done cook­ing and the ta­ble laid. The boy is be­ing pre­pared for a men’s world. The par­ents ap­prove, and don’t see a role for him in the kitchen, nor the dis­ad­van­tage at which they place the girl child, who would want to be a Jessie Ma­jome to­mor­row.

It is this form of “gen­der dis­crim­i­na­tion and im­bal­ance” in the home and so­ci­ety which women should use the law to fight. In­stead of which fe­male MPs seem to want to leapfrog the girl from the kitchen on to the in­ter­na­tional stage, for that’s what an MP’s role in Par­lia­ment en­tails.

This “just be­cause I am a woman” ap­proach doesn’t work. It cer­tainly would fall foul of the Con­sti­tu­tion and can’t be a per­ma­nent cure for a dis­ease nur­tured in the home and so­ci­ety in gen­eral. I refuse to be po­lit­i­cally-cor­rect by be­ing sym­pa­thetic to a poorly and badly founded ar­gu­ment.

Women have the Le­gal Age of Ma­jor­ity Act. They re­cently got sup­port­ing leg­is­la­tion against child mar­riage. The next stage is to equip the girl child men­tally for the real world. By the looks of it, the im­ped­i­ments to the girl child’s ad­vance­ment are no more so much in the law as in the home.

Let’s teach the girl child that she can walk on her own two feet to Par­lia­ment, not only by the grace of men. That way, we pre­pare her to win bat­tles in com­pany board­rooms with­out lift­ing her skirt.

Jessie Ma­jome

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