Source: All Africa
This is the third in a series of articles analysing regional progress on gender equality and women's empowerment. The January 22 statement by the SADC Electoral Observer Mission (SEOM) to the recently-ended Zambia elections is unique.

Of the seven names listed at the top, four are of women.

These include SEOM Head of Mission, Maite Nkoana-Mashabane of South Africa, Irene Mambilima, chairperson of the Electoral Commission of Zambia, Ellen Molekane, South Africa and Deputy Head of the SEOM and Dr Stergomena Lawrence Tax, SADC Executive Secretary and Tanzanian.

That management of a key national and regional process such as a Member State election would be led by a majority women is testimony of gains made under the SADC Gender Protocol.

Member states committed to adopting specific legislative measures and other strategies to enable women to have equal opportunities with men to participate in all electoral processes including the administration of elections and voting.

These women found themselves leading the SEOM by virtue of the influential positions they hold either in their countries or at regional, unheard of in 1997, when the precursor to the protocol, the Declaration on Gender and Development, was adopted.

As the dust settled on the Zambian election, Inonge Wina, the first female Vice President, was appointed.

This brings to four the number of women who have held that position in SADC states, after Phumzile Mlambo-Nqcuka of South Africa, Joyce Banda of Malawi and Joice Mujuru of Zimbabwe.

Banda went on to make history by becoming the region's first female president but unfortunately lost that position in the May 2014 elections.

There is general consensus that some laudable efforts have increased women's participation and representation in politics and decision making.

However, there is no room for complacency as statistics and the outcomes of elections show that the opportunity to achieve the protocol's 2015 gender parity target has largely been missed in national elections.

The SADC Gender Protocol Barometer 2014, produced by Gender Links, argues that "elections are one opportunity to increase women's representation, raise issues of gender inequality and women's human rights, and to press for greater government accountability on gender sensitivity."

Chapter 5 of the protocol on gender and governance targets at least 50 percent of decision-making positions in the public and private sectors for women.

However, as 2014 ended, women's representation in parliament at regional level was only 26 percent, the highest it has ever been and a nominal increase to 24 percent in 2013.

In local government, the percentage of women dropped four points to 24 percent while women held 22 percent of cabinet posts, down from 24 percent in 2012.

"Gender equality is central to representation, participation, accountability, responsiveness and transparency.

"These, in turn, hold the key to better policies and services that will begin to normalise women's equal participation in decision-making," notes the barometer.

Only six out of the 15 SADC countries attained the 30 percent representation of women in parliament with Seychelles having 45 percent, and ranked fifth in the world.

The Democratic Republic of Congo, on the other hand, has consistently had low representation of women in parliament at eight (8) percent.

The highest number of countries to ever reach the 30 percent representation of women in cabinet was three out of the 15.

South Africa topped the region in the last five years with 42 percent representation.

In 2009 and 2013, Zimbabwe joined Mauritius in having the lowest cabinet representation of women at eight (8) percent.

Women's representation in local government averaged 24 percent and six countries surpassed the 30 percent target.

Lesotho has had the highest representation with 58 percent of council positions being held by women, largely attributed to the migration of Basotho men to South Africa.

This figure however fell in the last elections to 49 percent.

The lowest representation at that level was shared by Mauritius, Madagascar and Zambia.

It remains to be seen if the Zambian elections have had much effect on the number of women represented at local level.

Contrary to the expectation that elections are an opportunity to increase women's representation, the last round of elections in many countries have actually seen a decrease, particularly in those countries that do not have any quotas.

For those countries that have some form of affirmative action in line with Article 5 of the protocol, these have been cited as the reasons why there was an increase.

Zimbabwe, for example jumped from number 11 to six out of 15 on the SADC scale and globally from 78 in 2009, 89 in 2013 and 30 in 2014.

This was due to the legislated quota adopted in the constitution in 2013 in the form of proportional representation for women and men as candidates at senate level and reserved 60 seats in the lower house.

It has also been noted that those countries using proportional representation in electoral systems have achieved higher representation while those using First Past the Post (FPTP) are low.

FPTP is the electoral system where the winner takes all and no consideration is made of the proportions held by other contenders.

Mauritius successfully experimented with a hybrid system which required party lists for the FPTP to ensure that no party fields less than 30 percent representation of any one sex.

This resulted in a jump from six (6) to 26 percent representation of women in parliament.

Perhaps signifying the degree to which having women in decision making positions can positively uplift other women is shown in the way in which Banda, in the short time she was president, increased the number of women appointees.

The biggest casualty of her removal from power was the fall from 30 to 15 percent of representation of women in parliament/cabinet in the new political dispensation.

Between 2005 and 2014, SADC region has consistently outdone the global statistics of women's representation in parliament, cabinet and at local government level.

In 2005, global ranking of women in parliament stood at 16 percent while SADC was at 21 percent.

In 2009, the figures were 22 and 26 percent respectively.

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