Source: The Herald

Certainly, women constitute more than half the world's population, yet their involvement in electoral and governance processes where decisions regarding their lives are made remains marginal in many countries.

Zimbabwe is no exception, especially at local government level.

However, the Central Government continues to show political will through the enactment of various pieces of legislation chief among them the National Gender Policy (NGP) of 2013 to 2017 which was later revised and unveiled on 6 July 2017.

The initial NGP recorded successes, namely the passing of a series of legislation to operationalise the policy, institutional and structural reforms that saw the national gender machinery being streamlined and strengthened through the creation of a separate Ministry responsible for Gender and Women Affairs.

Other notable achievements include institutionalisation of processes for gender mainstreaming including gender budgeting, the development and launch of the framework for broad based women's economic empowerment and far-reaching constitutional provisions for gender equality and equity.

Rural and urban local authorities under the leadership of the ruling Zanu PF party and opposition parties including MDC-Alliance all can attest that NGP has been progressive in increasing the voice of women, albeit slightly.

The revised NDP on the theme of policy objectives on Gender, Politics and Decision Making aims for to create a supportive environment for gender parity in politics and decision making positions with some notable progress evident.

A case of Chitungwiza Municipality, which is among the local authorities being headed by females.

The acting town clerk, Mrs Evangelista Machona, said gender policies have benefitted the council handsomely in many aspects.

"Women are being empowered to take up challenging posts and occupying them at middle-management level and at senior management level," she said.

"In terms of recruitment there is gender in nursing, casuals for roads, sewer, refuse. There has been an improvement with women being considered to take part in posts that were predominantly occupied by men."

Zimbabwe's new Constitution adopted in 2013 is also widely acknowledged for its firm commitment to gender equality as it recognises the equality of all persons and goes further to explicitly outlaw discrimination on the grounds of sex or gender.

The Constitution in section 56, provides a strong framework for the protection and promotion of the rights of women and men, girls and boys in Zimbabwe. Mrs Machona said as a way of grooming women to take up the previously male dominated fields female students on attachment were being considered in areas like sewer, electricity, roads, workshop and water departments.

"All these factors point to the improvement on enforcing the gender policy," she said.

As part of the country's other commitments to uphold gender equality and equity, regionally Zimbabwe is part to the 2004 Solemn Declaration on Gender and Equality in Africa and subscribes to the COMESA Gender Policy which fosters gender equality and equity at all levels of regional integration and cooperation.

In 1997 it ratified the Southern African Development Community's (SADC) Gender and Development Protocol and subsequently ratified the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development which was adopted by SADC in 2008.

The protocol advocates for gender parity in all sectors and sets out 28 substantive targets for achieving gender equality by 2015. Gender pressure groups working with Government are also working tirelessly for more inclusion of women at local Government and national level. Gender Links country manager Ms Priscilla Maphosa said the NGP has helped to shape programme activities in local government.

"To date over 62 local authorities both urban and rural local authorities have developed stand-alone gender policies that drive gender programming in these councils through the Gender Links Centres of Excellence programme.

"Prior to that local authorities mostly rural were using the adopted Zimbabwe Local Government Gender Policy, which was developed from the NGP," she said.

Ms Maphosa said other local authorities have even gone on a step further to come up with gender committees that bring gender issues to council's agendas and drive gendered service delivery in local authorities.

"Aided by these frameworks women's participation both as councillors and managers rose to prominence," she said.

Some of the successes, the Women in Local Government Forum (WILGF) has been at the forefront of lobbying and advocacy for temporary special measures guided by national provisions including the Constitution and National Gender Policy.

Last year, WILGF approached President Mnangagwa, a champion of gender equality, for the extension of the women's quota to local authorities, a move the Head of State and Government swiftly granted. WILGF Midlands chapter president, Councillor Idirashe Dongo had said their key concern is the under-representation of women in local government in Zimbabwe despite the constitutional provisions under Section 17 on gender balance.

"You are now asking me to panel-beat democracy in order to meet our needs rather than our needs to be met through plain democracy. Fortunately, I am in agreement with you, and that is granted, and I will ask the Minister of Local Government to begin the process," the President said during an Indaba in Victoria Falls.

In terms of the International Policy Framework of which Zimbabwe is part of a number of international conventions that provide for gender equality.

These are the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) (1991); the Beijing Declaration on the Platform for Action (1995), the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR).

The Equal Remuneration Convention; the Convention on Prohibition of Discrimination in Occupations, Convention on the Elimination of the Worst Forms of Child Labour and the Convention on Economic, and Social and Cultural Rights (ECOSOC).

Ms Maphosa, however said while these frameworks have been put in place there is still need for concerted efforts to ensure that women's participation is given the relevance it requires as it is a human right and will aid the attainment of Gender Equality and the Sustainable Development Goals.

Speaking during the recent Local Government Institutional Centres of Excellence SADC Protocol Work and Awards, Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister, Dr Sithembiso Nyoni said there was greater need to improve the involvement of women in councils.

"Viewed at a glance, the summit can be misconstrued to be dealing with soft and peripheral issues of women, yet when viewed from a developmental perspective the summit's objective is to ensure that the work of local authorities is streamlined and systematically improved to be responsive to the needs and priorities of all segments of our population where no one is left behind," she said.

While there seem to be notable progress in terms of an increase of female managers, statistics show that the trend is worrying on the side of councillors.

An analysis of the July 2018 harmonised elections shows that the representation of women in local Government declined from 16 to 14 percent.

Out of 6 800 candidates who contested for seats in the country's 92 local authorities, only 1 156 (17 percent) were women. Local Government and Public Works Minister, July Moyo said there was need for local authorities to ensure that gender is mainstreamed in councils, particularly through gender policies.

Minister Moyo urged local authorities to domesticate the National Gender Policy through by-laws so that they are binding even to the communities they serve.

"If local authorities want to achieve rule of law, the Constitution of Zimbabwe has given you the ability to domesticate everything," he said.

While the pace on empowering maybe slow there is progress as through WILGF all female local Government councillors and officials have been receiving pieces of training that built their capacity on various topics including electoral processes, monitoring and evaluation.

Courtesy of Government councils have also been able to partner with various institutions including government departments like the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises and other civil society organisations.

The partnership has resulted in the rolling out of gender activities where female councillors and official participate including on prominent International Days like the International Women's Day.

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