FROM the local to the global level, women’s leadership and political participation is limited.
Women have less representation as voters, as well as in leading positions, whether in elected offices, the civil service, private sector or academia.
This occurs despite their proven abilities as leaders and agents of change and their right to participate equally in democratic governance.
Women face several obstacles to participating in political life.
Structural barriers through discriminatory laws and institutions still limit women’s options to run for office.
Capacity gaps mean women are less likely than men to have the education, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders.
The Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, and the Millennium Development goals (MDGs) are among other instruments backing the empowerment of women.
Therefore, the revelation by President Edgar Lungu that the Patriotic Front will allow 40 per cent of women to contest as members of Parliament and ward councillors in the forthcoming tripartite elections, is a milestone in the promotion of gender and democracy.
The move is not only welcome because President Lungu is in line with the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development which Zambia has ratified but also, studies show that higher numbers of women in parliament could contribute to stronger attention to their issues.
The objectives of the SADC Protocol include providing empowerment of women, eliminating discrimination and to achieving gender equality and equity.
This is done through the development and implementation of gender responsive legislation, policies, programmes and projects.
The protocol also seeks to harmonise the various international, continental and regional gender equality instruments that SADC countries have subscribed to such as, the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.
This is why we are elated by Mr Lungu’s support for women because their political participation is fundamental to gender equality and genuine democracy.
Women’s direct engagement in public decision-making is a means of ensuring better accountability to women.
Political accountability to women begins with increasing the number of women in decision-making positions, which the PF Government wants to achieve today.
One of the pillars of United Nations Women’s work is advancing women political participation and good governance to ensure that decision-making processes are participatory, responsive, equitable and inclusive.
This is exactly what President Lungu’s administration wants to achieve.
Such efforts should continue be encouraged because they are premised on strategic entry points that can advance the status of women by catalysing wide-ranging, long-term impacts.
We, therefore, believe that equitable participation of women in politics and Government are essential in building and sustaining democracy.
Democracy cannot truly deliver for all of its citizens if half of the population has less representation in the political arena.
However, what is required are gender-sensitive governance reforms that will make all elected officials more effective at promoting gender equality in public policy and ensuring their implementation.