Fighting unequal footing

13 September, 2011, Danstan Kaunda

When elected as Liberia’s President in 2005, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, said her success represented a victory for all women in Africa. This is a case in some African countries like Mozambique, Rwanda and South Africa but not with others. In the Zambia’s political scene, it is different from that as most political parties have not reflected this in the way adoption of female candidates for the coming September 20 general elections.

In the case of Zambia, fewer women have been adopted to contest in the coming election meaning less female candidates will be elected in public office. According to the Zambia National Women’s Lobby Group (ZNWLG) a total of 180 female candidates countrywide are contesting as parliamentarians in this year’s elections.[frax09alpha]

18 are contesting as independent candidates and 90 were adopted by various political parties. And Non-Governmental Organisation Coordination Council (NGOCC) vice chairperson Mary Silavwe Mulenga said the women’s movement in Zambia was not happy with the low numbers of women that had been adopted as parliamentary candidates by all political parties. Mulenga said the women’s movement was very disappointed that many women had been left out from the adoption list, resulting in most of them standing as independent candidates.

Zambia has one of the worst records in the region

“Most female candidates have been asked of left to foot their campaigns and sometimes referred to NGOCC of Zambia National Women’s Lobby,” Mulenga said. She said it was that political parties were not able to provide the much needed support to the few women that had been adopted.
She said the expectation was that women candidates from various political parties would be availed with adequate resources such as funds, posters, Chitenge materials, bicycles and any other support towards making their campaigns possible. Mirriam Kauseni is one of the unhappy candidates of nearly 200 women trained by the ZNWLG to aspire as a member of parliament in the forth coming general elections. She and others women trained by- ZNWLG, a gender-based non-governmental organization- has been lift-out of the final adoption lists political candidates to stand in the 150 parliamentary seats in the main political parties participating in the 20th September polls.

ZNWLG, a gender-based non-governmental organisation promoting the participation of women in governance, has been empowering prospective candidates. These women were trained country-wide in skills such as public speaking, self-confidence, self-esteem, and usage of persuasive language when articulating issues, among others. But to their surprise, most of those women were not adopted by their political party as a member of parliament worst enough as area councillors. According to the final list of approved women candidates released by three main political parties participating in the year’s election, women represent less than 20 per cent of all contestants.
Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD) has 19 female parliamentary candidates on their list while the Patriotic Front (PF) has taken on 21. The United Party for National Development (UPND) is yet to publish their final lists. In the last Zambian parliament, there were 22 women out of 158 members in the National Assembly symbolising 14 per cent female representation in the house. For Kauseni, a resident of Mansa in Luapula province, this is a second time she is attempting to run for parliamentary seat in her native area. She first put herself forward as a parliamentary candidate in Zambia’s 2006 general election on MMD.
But disputed conducting door-to-door campaigns for the last two years telling people to vote for her, this time she attempted applying for adoption on the Patriotic Front ticket in the same area but again received a shock for her life. Her campaign message was, “(to be) confident, visionary and courageous.” But the Patriotic Front has since picked a long-time- servicing politician Kennedy Sakeni for Mansa Central constituency seat and Chitalu Chilufya for MMD.

She said, she was not elected for adoption to run as a member of parliament for the recent PF adoption and by the MMD in 2006 because she had no money to fund her campaigns.

“I believe also because I am a woman,” she told Inter press news service (IPS) in Mansa. Women’s rights activists’ feels there will not be much of a difference as from the previous elections that Zambian has seen.
The ZNWLG has been empowering women politicians for the functioning of the arms of government and leadership in general.

Emily Sikazwe, the executive director of Women for Change that advocates for the economic and political empowerment of women, says: “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”.

“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.” Meanwhile, the Non-Government Organisation Coordinating Council (NGOCC) has said it will financially support female candidates contesting in this year’s election. NGOCC board chairperson Beatrice Grillo said her organisation would also campaign for all women regardless of their political affiliation.

“We will try to support the women financially in a little way as far as our resource can reach. We have what we call retention amount which we give to those who are already in parliament and at council level, then for the new ones, we are also giving them something to help them (in campaigns),” said Grillo. The organisation had formed a campaign team that would go wherever women would be standing and campaign for them. In July this year, former gender minister Sara Sayifwanda blame Zambian women for only contested posts in a few constituencies in the country.

“Women have failed to support each other in and out side political sense. They are themselves to blame for this,” Sayifwanda said. NGOCC, through ZNWL, would provide support to female candidates participating in this year’s elections regardless of their political affiliation.

Zambia has one of the worst records in the region in terms of women participation in politics dispute been signatory to the Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which commits member countries to have 50/50 representation of women in all decision- making positions by 2015

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