Zimbabwe’s women decry political underrepresentation

Zimbabwean women are hugely underrepresented in politics despite making majority of the populationImage: Alexander Joe/AFP/Getty Images
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Women make up at least 54% of Zimbabwe’s population. But one can hardly tell from the country’s new cabinet. President Emerson Mnangagwa gave the lion’s share of ministerial positions to men. Out of the 26 ministers, only six are women.

By Columbus Mahvunga 

Madrine Chiku, the chairperson of the Women’s Coalition in Zimbabwe, told DW that women remain underrepresented in decision-making.

“I am not very pleased with the [cabinet] outcome,” Chiku said, stressing that there were very few women appointments.

“When we look at the presidium, we do not have any representative,” the women’s rights activist added, before pointing out that, according to Zimbabwe’s Constitution, particularly section 17, it would have been ideal to have a woman in the presidium and more women in parliament.

“But we don’t see this happening. And we continue to experience the suppression of women in occupying decision-making portfolios.”

 A woman casts her vote during the Zimbabwe general elections in Zimbabwe.
About 52% of Zimbabwean voters in the August 23 election were womenImage: Siphiwe Sibeko/Reuters
About 52% of Zimbabwean voters in the August 23 election were womenImage: Siphiwe Sibeko/ReutersNo female vice president for ZimbabweLinda Masarira, the founder of the opposition Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD) told DW that she is concerned about the absence of a female vice president.

“Section 17 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe has been violated yet again as the women appointed only constitute 26% of the cabinet ministers,” Masarira said, adding that this happened even though women constitute 54% of the population and 52% of the voting population in Zimbabwe.

“As a pan-African feminist transformation leader, I demand 50-50, all organs of the state as enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Arise women of Zimbabwe, arise!”

Mnangagwa shrugs off critics

Mnangagwa, who was declared winner of August’s disputed general election, wants the cabinet to stir Zimbabwe out of its economic crisis as he serves his full second and final term.

When asked if he felt any pressure from gender activist organizations to increase the number of women in his cabinet, the 80-year-old responded with laughter.

“Some names can be female, some can be surnames. Some can be male or female,” Mnangagwa mused. “So I am just making it very clear: No pressure, clarity. The demand is that of clarity.”

President of Zimbabwe Emmerson Mnangagwa addresses a press conference at State House in Harare.
President Mnanagagwa seems unfazed by his critics for appointing a male-dominated cabinetImage: Jekesai Njikizana/AFP via Getty Images

According to Alexander Rusero, a professor of politics at Africa University in Zimbabwe, the cabinet is nothing short of power consolidation.

“That is serious in issues of gender equality and gender equity. Politics in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular is still pretty much patriarchal,” Rusero told DW.

“The women that are appointed are actually men’s women. They are not women who are appointed or married or on their own terms.”

Rwanda leads the world in women’s representation in politics

The Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU), a global organization of national parliaments, collected data in 2023 showing that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide — and that achieving gender parity in political life is far off.

Nevertheless, over 60% of the seats in Rwanda’s national parliament were held by women as of December 2022. The country is ranked first globally, with the highest proportion of women in parliament.

Other African nations, such as Senegal, South Africa, Namibia, and Mozambique, have a progressive record when it comes to women’s political representation.

In 2018, Ethiopian Prime Minister Abiy Ahmed was praised for appointing a 50-50 gender-balanced cabinet. However, the number of seats held by women in parliament as of 2022 dropped to 41.3%.

Women tend to lead policy areas related to gender equality, human rights, and social affairs, while men dominate policy areas like defense and economy.

Eunice Wanjiru contributed to this article

Edited by: Keith Walker

Source: DW