By BRIAN HATYOKA –
FOR some time now, the political landscape has mainly been dominated by politically experienced men.
Women and youths are often excluded or overlooked when it comes them being selected as candidates to contest elections due to their perceived inexperience and lack of financial resources, among other factors.
This is in spite of them women and the youths being used as tools for mobilization by political parties.
Sadly, the young people are in some instances used as tools of perpetrating violence in the political arena.
Others are systematically marginalised because of their young age and limited opportunities.
According to results about women’s participation in the August 12, 2021 general elections compiled by the Non-Governmental Gender Organisation Coordinating Council (NGOCC), very few women were elected as councilors, council chairpersons and Members of Parliament (MPs).
For example, NGOCC states that 141 women and 1,698 men were elected as councilors during last year’s elections.
Further, 15 women and 104 men were elected as council chairpersons, while 20 women and 136 men were elected as MPs.
However, in Monze and Gwembe districts in Southern Province, the picture is slowly changing as more women and youths are participating in leadership roles compared to the past.
This follows the introduction of the Carter Center project in Monze, Kabwe, Mpika, Lusaka and Mufulira districts prior to August 12, 2021 general elections.
The said project is aimed at facilitating the participation of women and youths in elections.
This project has been implemented by Zambia Council for Social Development (ZCSD) through Gender Justice in Monze and Gwembe.
Gender Justice is among the five ZCSD member organisations that were supported to embark on local campaign and sensitisation to advocate for more women and youths to participate in politics.
Prior to the 2021 elections, all three constituencies in Monze, namely Monze Central, Moomba and Bweengwa, were not represented by youths and females at both parliamentary and local Government level.
Gwembe district, a constituency with 24 wards, did not have a woman or young person before August 12, 2021.
According to Gender Justice Executive Director Collins Mumba, Gwembe currently has three female councillors, two of whom are young people who were elected last year’s polls.
Monze, which has 25 wards, currently has one female councillor and three youths in the wards who were elected last year.
“Slowly, we are seeing more women and youths occupying leadership positions, which was not the case before due to the support from Carter Centre and ZCSD,” Mr Mumba said.
He said more needs to be done to mitigate the gender imbalance in the two districts and the entire country at large.
Mr Mumba said the Gender Equity and Equality Act, as well as the United Nations International Covenant of Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) are clear on the need to promote 50–50 gender parity, but Zambia is still very far from reaching the target.
“We are glad to see a slow shift on the election of youths and women here in Monze where we have a patriarchal or male dominated society,” he said.
Mr Mumba said elections and campaigns are expensive and most women and youths are not able to afford to make media adverts and pay for nomination fees.
He said most political parties do not adopt candidates who do not have resources to contribute to their political parties.
Mr Mumba said there is need to continue building capacity in women and youths as well as to engage major political players ahead of 2026 general elections.
“Supporting women and youth must be a continuous process especially that most women still have low self-esteem and are not educated,” he said.
Gwen West, a 21-year old young woman based in Monze, said there was an improvement in youths and women participation in Monze and Gwembe districts following the ZCSD project.
Ms West, who works for Gender Justice, said the improvement was manifested by four women and 16 youths who contested as councillors during the August 12, 2021 general elections in Gwembe.
“In Monze, few results were recorded but the increased interest is encouraging,” she said.
Ms West noted that most youths do not take interest in community affairs when they complete Grade 12, especially girls who only think of marriage.
“Girls with political ambitions are usually discouraged by their peers and elders. Others fear of failing to raise children if they join politics,” she said.
Ms West said women and youths are perceived to be inexperienced, lazy, rebellious and incompetent.
She noted that most youths are not aware of policies and laws which support their active participation in politics.
There are also cultural, religious or family norms which undermine women and youths in their quest to actively participate in leadership roles.
“To mitigate gender imbalances in Monze, we need more sensitisation. People need more knowledge about their civil rights and inspirations,” Ms West said.
She said the Carter Centre and ZCSD laid a strong foundation for women and youths to aspire for political office.
Paul Mutenguna, a youth who is serving as councillor for Monze Urban Ward under Monze Central Constituency, said the support he received from ZCSD through Gender Justice assisted him to build his political career.
Mr Mutenguna, who is also United Party for National Development (UPND) Monze vice youth chairperson, said veterans like former councillors and incumbent Monze MP Jack Mwiimbu motivated him to join politics.
“It was scary to go for a position of a ward councillor previously as such positions were usually held by financially stable people who were elderly. However, I was adopted and elected as a councillor,” he said.
Mr Mutenguna said the 2016 amended Constitution has made it easier for young people to participate in politics.
The Constitution provides that a person wishing to contest as an MP must be 21 years old and must hold a minimum Grade 12 certificate or its equivalent.
For a councillor, he or she should not be less than 19 years old and must have a minimum of a Grade 12 certificate or its equivalent.
“It is not only elderly people who should be in leadership positions. Time has come for young people to take up leadership roles,” he said.
The young councillor urged youths to desist from engaging in vices such as clubbing, alcohol and drug abuse, among others.
Mr Mutenguna said there is need to encourage young and adult women to participate in leadership roles.
Robson Mayambo, who is Mayaba Ward Councillor in Monze Central Constituency, said young people and women should not be scared of giants or witchcraft in the political area.
Mr Mayambo, who is UPND Monze youth chairperson, urged families not to discourage youths and women from active participation in politics.
“Younger people must have courage to lead others. People like veteran politician Vernon Mwaanga started politics at a tender age but he favourably competed with giants,” he said.
Catherine Kashembe, a marketeer based in Chisekekesi, called for the education of women so that they actively participate in development matters.
Ms Kashembe said most women are scared to engage in politics and developmental matters due to lack of education.
“Our husbands should also stop the issue of suppressing women. Let the women speak out on their concerns,” she said.
ZCSD Executive Director Leah Mitaba said the project implemented in Monze is aimed at bridging gender gaps by sensitising women and youths to actively participate in elections.
Ms Mitaba said the initiative, which is currently bearing fruit, also involves engaging traditional leaders in Monze district to encourage participation of women and youths in elections.
She expressed happiness that Chief Monze promised to start appointing women into leadership positions in his chiefdom.
Ms Mitaba said chapter 8(d) of Zambia’s Constitution provides for human dignity, equity, social justice, equality and non-discrimination.
“Electorate is now giving space to women and youths in Monze, but unfortunately, political parties are still male dominated and the adoption process is rampant with corruption,” she said.
Ms Mitaba called for a national indaba to discuss the continuous low levels of women representation in politics.
She said political parties, the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), United Nations (UN), women and youths, among other stakeholders in the electoral process, must be part of the indaba.
Ms Mitaba said there is need for stakeholders to investigate the root causes of never-ending gender disparities in Zambia, particularly among the women and he young people.
“Political parties must take a centre stage during the indaba because these entities have consistently been adopting more male candidates,” she said.
Faith Minja, a Lusaka-based gender activist, said the 2021 general elections provided hope that more women would take up leadership positions at parliamentary, ministerial and other levels, but the numbers still remained low.
She said it was good that the position of Vice President was maintained in the new Government.
“There is hope that Zambia will one day have a female President like the case is for Tanzania and a few other countries,” she said.
Ms Minja said there is need for citizens to stop being gender biased so that issues of equality are given the attention they deserve.
“Advocacy around gender equality must continue at all levels so that women can be given an equal opportunity to participate and benefit in national development,” she said.
Ms Minja said Zambia is a signatory to the Maputo Protocol which, under article two outlines that state parties should combat all forms of discrimination against women through appropriate legislative, institutional and other measures.
In this regard, member states should include in their national constitutions and other legislative instruments the principle of equality between women and men and ensure its effective application.
Ms Minja said Government must ensure that women’s participation in leadership roles is given priority.
“We currently have more women who are educated, have attained higher qualifications and are ready for leadership,” she said.
It is only hoped that going forward, more women and youths will be involved in leadership roles.