Regional parliamentarians meeting for the 33rd Plenary Assembly of the SADC Parliamentary Forum this week in Gaborone have their work cut out for them.
In attempting to manouvre the theme, ‘“Enhancing the Implementation Capacity of SADC: What Parliaments can do to facilitate Regional Integration in SADC” the plenary, which ends on Sunday, will consider country reports from member state parliaments as well as discuss Dr. Angelo Mondlane’s presentation on the theme.
Kicking off the official session Wednesday night, chairperson of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and also Member of Parliament for Zimbabwe Beatrice Nyamutinga painted a sorry picture of what regional parliaments have done to facilitate implementation of SADC protocols. Nyamutinga’s brief was largely on SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which envisages that at least 50% women should be in decision-making positions at Local Government, Parliament, Cabinet and senior positions in the public sector by 2015. It also calls for implementation of affirmative action measures to accelerate the attainment of this target by 2015. Nyamutinga called on regional parliaments to accord SADC women “equal rights and opportunities, both inside and outside the courts.” The need to domesticate the provisions of the Protocol, such as the enactment of various pieces of legislation aimed at the protection and empowerment of women, is still very real, and the role of Parliamentarians in this regard is critical, she said, emphasisising that she was speaking on behalf of the National Women’s Caucuses “in our Parliaments.” She said that statistics have shown a “strong correlation” between the percentage of women in Parliament and the type of Electoral System that is used in Member States. She said that states that use the Proportional Representation System, and those that use a combination of different electoral systems have realised an “upward trend” in the number of women in Parliament, while states using the Constituency (First-Past-the-Post) System “have not been able to either maintain, let alone increase, the number of women in Parliament.” And to deal with this, Nyamutinga suggested a few remedies among them being that:
- Member states must review their electoral laws and adopt electoral systems that have proved to be gender friendly such as Proportional Representation Systems as opposed to First-Past-The Post System
- SADC Member States must adopt and implement legislated quotas in their constitutions and electoral laws, as well as implement other affirmative action provisions; including at political party levels. In addition, Member States should introduce policies that will encourage all the political parties to implement the legislated quotas that can increase the possibility of achieving gender equality in all political positions.
She said that in the case of quotas political parties could be required to voluntarily reserve seats regarded as “safe” for women in order to achieve the set target of 50/50 representation. As to women representation in management positions in both the public and private sector, Nyamutinga observed the need for Member States to “integrate affirmative action provisions in their recruitment policies to address the imbalances of the past” and facilitate the entry of more women in to positions of power. It is a combination of such measures that have led to some of the regional parliaments making headway with respect to the SADC gender and development protocol, she said, as she heaped praise on Zimbabwe’s “progressive” new constitution, which among other things, sets up a Constitutional Court and Gender Equality Commission to deal with women’s rights, and ensuring that customary laws and practices that infringe on women’s rights are invalidated. “In this Constitution, women are guaranteed 60 seats on the basis of proportional representation. The Constitution also provides for equality at work in relation to promotion, paid maternity leave and family healthcare, equality in marriage, gender balance in the distribution of agricultural land, and gender balance on the Land Commission, among other things`” she said. In conclusion she paid tribute to the judgement of Botswana’s High Court, which abolished a rule of customary property law and associated ruling that women have the same right to inheritance as men. The human rights and gender equality jurisprudence that has emanated from that court’s decision in the Mmusi vs Ramantele case is according to Nyamutinga “is a cause for both envy and optimism.” Subsequently the judgement has been nominated for the 2013 global ‘Gender Justice Uncovered Awards.’