Source: IPS
Although there is a female presidential candidate contesting Zambia's Sept. 20 general elections, her prospects are not strong. And in fact, fewer women overall are likely to be elected into public office this year, analysts say.


Zambia is a signatory of the Southern Africa Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development, which commits member countries to have 50/50 representation of women in all decision- making positions, including the political arena, by 2015. But the Zambia's political parties have not reflected this in their adoption of female candidates.

Only the Forum for Democratic Development (FDD) nominated a woman, Edith Nawakwi, to contest the presidential race. She is the only woman out of the 15 presidential candidates.

In the last parliament, there were 22 women out of 158 members in the National Assembly, accounting for a 14 percent female representation.

The ruling Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) was the first to publish its list of parliamentary candidates on Jul. 20, and it only had 19 women out of 150 candidates.

The main opposition parties, the Patriotic Front and the United Party for National Development, are yet to publish their lists, but women's rights activists feel there will not be much of a difference.

Emily Sikazwe, the executive director of Women for Change, a non-governmental organisation that advocates for the economic and political empowerment of women, told IPS that this year the prospects for women being elected look bleak.

"Already, all the political parties have adopted few women," Sikazwe said.

In September, Zambia will hold tripartite elections to choose a president, 150 members of parliament and councillors.

When the registration for presidential election candidates opened on Aug. 7, scores of women turned up at the Supreme Court, the venue for the nominations. These women were from different walks of life, but they had one common purpose: to cheer on FDD's party president, Nawakwi – who is the only female presidential candidate.

Among those who came to offer solidarity to Nawakwi was women's rights activist Beatrice Grillo, the chairperson of the Non-Governmental Organisations Coordinating Council (NGOCC), an umbrella body for women's organisations.

"We have been looking forward to this occasion. We will support her not because she belongs to any party, but because she is a woman. We want to see an end to the poverty that is in this country. We want the women of Zambia to stop struggling. Those are the issues we are looking for and that is what she has promised," Grillo told IPS.

Grillo was adamantly confident that Nawakwi and other women contesting various positions in the elections would perform well. She said the NGOCC has even come up with an election fund to support women who will be running. The fund will support female candidates in acquiring campaign material. The candidates will, however, not be given cash.

"We have campaign teams that will be going out to campaign for all women from all political parties," said Grillo.

But not all women share Grillo's excitement about Nawakwi's presidential candidacy. Some feel the struggle for women's representation has been lost before it has even started.

Although the exact figures have not yet been compiled following delays by some of the parties to announce their final lists of candidates, a number of sitting female MPs were dropped and replaced with either male or female candidates.

In Zambia, political parties do not conduct primary elections to choose candidates for parliamentary elections. That task falls to the national executive committees of the parties, which are male- dominated.

"Some women who were in the previous parliament worked hard in their constituencies, but they were replaced. This presents a challenge for us having to (work) with new people over and over again," Sikazwe said.

Even Nawakwi's nomination has not really inspired Sikazwe.

"Symbolically, yes, we say we are happy she is filing. But we know she is not winning. There is currently a lot of hate language and this does not inspire women to participate," added Sikazwe.

But Nawakwi told IPS in an interview immediately after filing her nomination that she was in the race to win it.

"Nothing and no one will stop me now," said Nawakwi. "I believe that Zambia will only be saved by a woman and that Zambia is ready for a woman president. As soon as the men heard I was contesting, they all panicked. I will work and deliver like I delivered when I was minister of finance."

With slightly over one month left before the elections, Sikazwe said it only makes sense now for the women's movement to start preparing for the next elections in 2016.

"We cannot resolve that (under-representation of women) now, but it is a challenge for us to start working and make sure that come 2016, we will be ready. In the next five years we will have to work hard in addressing these issues. Watch us after five years."

Sikazwe said in a number of cases, political parties were also causing unnecessary tension among women by replacing experienced female candidates with inexperienced ones.

In her view, this is one of the many schemes by men to cause confusion among women.

"This is how men make women fight, replacing females with females," said Sikazwe. "This is a bitter lesson for us as women. A lot of women gave themselves to (their) political parties, but they have been slapped in the face."

In July, the former gender minister and member of parliament Sara Sayifwanda said women were to blame for their poor representation as candidates because they only contested posts in a few constituencies in the country.

She told reporters that women ended up competing for only a few available seats.

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