Zilga wants 50 percent seats for female councillors

HARARE - Zimbabwe Local Government Association (Zilga), comprising 92-local authorities, has pitched for the fielding of female candidates in at least 50 percent of council seats in the forthcoming key 2018 general elections.

The powerful organisation — which came out of the merger of Urban Councils Association of Zimbabwe (Ucaz) and the Association of Rural District Councils of Zimbabwe (ARDCZ) — said Zimbabwe had slipped to a “shockingly low” of 14 percent for female representation in both urban and rural councils.

As well as urging both ruling and opposition political parties to consider giving women a stronger political voice in this patriarchal country, Zilga called on all parties contesting  the 2018 poll to set a 50 percent target  for the proportion of female councillors actually elected to the 92 municipalities.

Zilga urged all political parties to ensure women contest against each other in the primary elections so that if one loses, there will still be a female candidate.

Chivi Rural District Council chairperson Killer Zivhu — who chairs the powerful 92-local authorities body — said it was disturbing to note that out of nearly 1 400 rural councillors in Zimbabwe, less than 200 were female.

Women represent half of the population and “if we don’t include women, it’s difficult to transform the local authorities we live in,” he said.

The request has the potential to become one of the most empowering move for women in Zimbabwe.

“Less than 14 percent of local government councillors are women and their lack of political participation is hampering progress in influencing policies and strategies for enhancing women’s economic opportunities,” the Zilga president said.

He said half the seats in all urban and rural councils must be held by women after this year’s elections.

Zivhu said women running local governments were more likely to focus on improving basic services, such as clean water and healthcare, transport, childcare, schools and providing support to businesswomen, he said.

He noted that women and men’s interests are different and conflicting sometimes and hence the need for women in representative institutions so that they can articulate the interests of women.

He also noted that women were also better placed to mainstream issues of gender-based abuse because they were the main victims.

“Female councillors are the best weapon to effect development, especially in rural communities,” he said.

“There are many cases of child labour, abuse and rape among other vices that are committed mainly against children and women.

“Female councillors will be the best to push for an end to such vices because they are also victims and they know how it feels for children to suffer and for women to suffer.”

United Nations member states agreed in 2015 to end violence and discrimination against women and girls and make sure they have equal opportunities in all areas of life, including politics, as part of the UN Sustainable Development Goals.

But with women making up less than 15 percent of the country’s mayors and local councillors, females remain under-represented in local government.

While at the national level the percentage of women in Parliament has nearly doubled in the last 20 years to around 33 percent after the inclusion of a constitutional provision, S124, which guarantees 60 reserved seats for women for at least two terms until 2023, they still make up less than a quarter of all parliamentarians.

Zivhu said it was important to work with men to boost women’s participation in politics and gender equality.

He said having women in power, both in local and central government, can help to stem corruption.

“Corruption is an ill and when women have access to power they are less prone to falling into the phenomenon of corruption,” Zivhu said.

He said ensuring the new agenda can be met means implementing policies and development projects which take into account that women experience local authorities in different ways to men.

They face unique challenges, such as gender-based violence and discrimination in access to jobs, education and housing.

He said introducing quotas to ensure women get elected into power was one way to increase their political participation.

Gender experts say that among the numerous women’s issues that need to be addressed in Zimbabwe, one of the most important is to ensure that women have a voice in the highest seats of power.

Gender equality in municipalities would empower women in general, they say.

A stronger women’s voice at the top would have a trickle-down effect, leading to the development of policies and laws that would help women at the grassroots level fight abuse, discrimination and inequality.

Zivhu, a leading philanthropist, said one of his priorities was to ensure more girls go to school and have access to health services.

He said more must be done to ensure more women are elected to help build more socially inclusive and equal urban and rural councils.