By Daniel Chigundu
ZIMBABWE’S constitution says there shall be 210 Parliamentary Constituencies in the country which shall be represented by a legislator elected directly through the secret ballot.
The constitution also makes provision for the inclusion of 60 women legislators elected through proportional representation (PR) for the duration of the first 10 years (2013 to 2023) of the life of the new supreme law.
The 60 women (6 from every Province) are in the National Assembly to help raise issues affecting women and also to help them get the courage and confidence needed for them to be able to stand on their own in future polls.
In Zimbabwe legislators are generally seen as social welfare officers by the electorate who expect them to donate agricultural inputs, pay school fees for the poor children and buy coffins, food and beer at funerals among various other services.
These expectations from the electorate have resulted in most women failing to contest for such positions as councillors and legislators as they are not financially strong to meet the needs.
The introduction of Constituency Development Fund (CDF) was, therefore, a step in the right direction to help ease the burdened legislators who get paid US$2000 per month and a US$75 sitting allowance for each day they sit in Parliament.
Since 2013, the treasury had been failing to release the CDF funds owing to lack of a guiding constitution which was however adopted in the National Assembly two weeks ago.
Only 210 legislators are entitled to get CDF by law, while the other 60 (woman) and Senators will only be ex-officio members of the CDF committees.
The bone of contention is that the majority of the 210 legislators will use the CDF to further their bids for 2018 general elections and some have clearly indicated this in the National Assembly.
This, therefore, means the 60 female legislators have been disadvantaged because their coming back to Parliament in 2018 is not guaranteed as they have nothing to use in buying the hearts of the electorate in their various political parties.
Failure to give proportional representation members a share of the CDF will disrupt women empowerment objectives as it might mean that new people might be favoured to take up the positions and as the current members have no other means to fight or prove their worth.
It will also leave these female legislators at the mercy of the appointing authority at a time when they are already restricted by the whipping system.
There is no doubt that the appointing authority in any of the political parties currently represented in Parliament are male and therefore women have been subjected to the benevolent of these men and will likely have to sing to their tune if they dream of coming back in 2018.
Therefore, the failure by the CDF Constitution to recognise that the fight for political survival is won by doing things which are strictly not in the original job description of legislators should be one reason to challenge it.
Women in Zimbabwe and indeed Africa are still trying to come out of the shells of male dominance induced by tradition and historical events such as colonization which reduced women to objects and property of men.
Although the constitution and other subsidiary laws in the country have tried to instil a belief that men and women are equal, but in practice, it has been proved not to be so as women are always judged from the eyes of men and their emancipation is subject to the goodwill of men.
If the government and the various political parties in the country are serious about empowering women politically then they should be on the forefront denouncing the current CDF Constitution for its failure to recognise proportional representation legislators.
In fact, this idea of proportional representation is a creation of the political parties who were trying to run away from the 50/50 policy and therefore they cannot dump it now because it will still come back to haunt them in the not so distant future.
MDC-T vice-president Thokozani Khupe already set the tone over the CDF issue in the National Assembly that this fund must be given to everyone regardless of their coding.
“In the Standing Rules and Orders, it is clear that a Member of Parliament is a Member of Parliament regardless of them being Proportional Representatives or whatever.
“We are all Members of Parliament so this should be known clearly. So, when this money is distributed, it must be given to all the 350 Members of Parliament including the Senate,” she said.
Khupe added that “we are not against supporting this Bill, it is very important but what I want to be noted is that as women, we are saying as much as it is going to be adopted we have reservation because what we are saying is that there are 210 constituencies and within those 210 constituencies they are 60 women and 80 Senators. So, that must be noted that as women we have reservations.
Another proportional representation legislator Melody Dziva said the 60 women legislators represent a constituency which is marginalised and therefore deserve CDF to be able to work effectively as other legislators.
“I am also appealing that all the 350 Members of Parliament, including the Proportional Representative Parliamentarians, must also get the CDF because they are representing a Constituency which is marginalised.
“So, for them to be able to work effectively and efficiently in their constituencies, they should get that CDF. This Constitutional provision has it that we are Members of Parliament and we should be able to get all our benefits just like other Members of Parliament.
“So, we are appealing that Members of Parliament representing the Women’s quota must get the CDF for them to be very effective on the ground. That will make them grow and it will also make the women’s environment workable,” she said.
Speaking on the same issue proportional representation member Honourable Lwazi Sibanda said there is no difference between the proportional representation members and other members of Parliament and therefore there is no need to distinguish them with CDF.
“If you look at it, there is no differentiation between Proportional Representation in as far as Members of Parliament are concerned.
“We are equally the same; hence we make the request Mr Speaker Sir, that as women representatives, we should be included in this budget so that we are able to deal with the issues that affect women so that next year, we can come back to Parliament,” she said.
Honourable Dorcas Sibanda said proportional representation legislators have bigger constituencies attend to, adding that “when I say I am a Member of Parliament for Bulawayo Metropolitan, I am invited by all women in all the metropolitan province and deal with their issues.
“So these women are important and they should be seen accessing the CDF. We did not come here on Bacossi as they say. We are equally important, if not more than those that have constituencies,” she said.
Speaker of the National Assembly Advocate Jacob Mudenda earlier this year told legislators at a post-budget seminar that if political parties don’t change their current gender policies, the number of women in Parliament was likely to drop.
According to Women in Politics Support Unity (WIPSU) director Sakhile Ngoma, women wanted a share of what was there already (210) and not the extra 60 seats but political parties were unwilling.
“Literally at the 11th honour during the constitution-making people decided that it can’t be done at parties better it be done in Parliament and so the 60 came and became 60 on top and not 60 inside…,” she said.
By giving CDF to the 210 will however not only deprive the proportional representation members but also those representing the disability constituencies as well.
Government is however correct under the current law to give the CDF only to 210 legislators and the proportional representation legislators are also correct to demand a share of the fund if it is being used to guarantee one’s come back in 2018.