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Monday, 5 May 2008

Affirmative action...for Zambian women?

Interesting comments from Marian Munyinda (NGOCC Chairperson) on the need for the new constitution to have some element of affirmative action for women vis-a-vis electoral participation before the 2011 elections. Excerpt :

"We would like a situation where political parties can enshrine certain provisions aimed at advancing the development of women such as ensuring that 30 per cent of women adopted are women and also the Electoral Commission of Zambia adopting and implementing an affirmative action….For example, in Uganda there are certain areas where only women candidates compete against each other because of course there are fears that if men are put with women they may lose because the reality is that women are still disadvantaged in a lot of areas."
It was only a matter of time before someone suggested this. We have seen recent parliamentary bills reserve positions for women e.g. the new mining bill calls for a “deputy chair [of the mining watchdog] to be a woman if the chair happens happens to be a man”. Similar provisions are found in the pending ICT bill. Whilst I am not opposed to affirmative action in principle, I am amazed how the drive to set mandatory minimum female participation in certain areas has proceeded without debate.

What is not always clear to my mind is whether proponents like Marian see “minimum female participation" as Zambia development in action (end in itself) or as a crucial step towards economic growth. I think in so far as equality between sexes is a noble aspiration, any drive to improve it must be viewed as necessarily development. However, the question of unintended consquences must also be considered. Clearly having a minimum quota of MPs reserved for women may not be efficient for society as a whole if it delivers uneducated female MPs incapable of serving their constituents properly. There are clearly difficult trade-offs to be made and that is why a debate is necessary.

Of course may be Marian really believes that affirmative action is the way to achieve sustainable growth! For example she might believe that in the long term economic prosperity lies in reducing gender inequality. Either through preventing further social fracturing or by more positively breaking down barriers that prevent effective competition for top jobs. The argument here again needs to be better debated to see whether that is indeed the case.

16 comments:

  1. I don't think she ever suggests that affirmative action is a crucial step towards economic growth. What she suggests is that more women representation is a good thing in itself and may make political institutions more responsive to the needs of women.

    What I can't understand is how you mention unintended consequences when it comes to elected women MP but you don't see that possibility with chiefs. Do you really think that 50 educated Zambian women ?

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  2. As it turns out I have never rejected "unintented consquences" for chiefs. I have simply gone further and pointed out that people may trade those off if they place a higher procedural value on traditional leadership. The same could apply to women MPs as well. This is what local preference is about.

    I am working on a very short paper on the traditional leadership question, so I hope to bring it together for a more informed discussion.

    On the question of "economic growth". I agree she does not suggest that quotas are crucial for growth, but neither does she suggests that she sees this as an end in itself. No does she explain how true that is. I guess what I was trying to provide is the duo intepretation of her vague call. Thats why debate is necessary on whether both goals are viable.

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  3. As it turns out I have never rejected "unintented consquences" for chiefs. I have simply gone further and pointed out that people may trade those off if they place a higher procedural value on traditional leadership. The same could apply to women MPs as well. This is what local preference is about.

    cool ;-)

    I am working on a very short paper on the traditional leadership question, so I hope to bring it together for a more informed discussion.

    I would very much like to be part of that discussion.

    On the question of "economic growth". I agree she does not suggest that quotas are crucial for growth, but neither does she suggests that she sees this as an end in itself.

    My impression was that the fact that she doesn't say women participation is a mean to achieve any kind of goal strongly suggests it's an end in itself.
    And I'd bet that guess is right because that's how I talk too. lol.

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  4. "My impression was that the fact that she doesn't say women participation is a mean to achieve any kind of goal strongly suggests it's an end in itself."

    That of course does not eliminate the question of how Marian decides whether it is an end in itself... how does she know that people SHOULD absolve these negative trade offs?

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  5. Like the people who wrote the US Declaration of Independence, she holds that truth to be self-evident.

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  6. Thats just walking blindly. Whats to say that we don't need quotas for "other vulnerable groups"? The disabled, or the very elderly etc?

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  7. Uganda, which seems to be the inspiration here has 53 District Women Representatives, 10 army representatives, 5 youth representatives, 5 representatives from the disabled and 5 from trade unions.

    Rwanda which inspired Uganda has 24 female members elected by provincial councils, 2 by the National Youth Council and 1 by the Federation of the Associations of the Disabled in the lower house and 8 appointed by the president to ensure the representation of historically marginalized communities (Twa), 4 by the Forum of political formations and 2 elected by the stafff of the universities in the upper house.


    The only group lacking is the elderly but they are represented in the parliaments, aren't they ?

    So why not ?

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  8. The more representative the house becomes the less effective it might become in achieving other goals. These are the difficult trade-offs. In Western countries these quotas don't exist and they do just fine.

    I think we should keep Parliament competitive, without quotas of any kind, but we ensure that at the local level other mechanisms are introduced that achieves this equity goals.

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  9. The more representative the house becomes the less effective it might become in achieving other goals. These are the difficult trade-offs.

    No. I really don't think the presence of women and disabled people would make parliament less effective.

    In Western countries these quotas don't exist and they do just fine.

    1. Some European countries actually enforce gender equity but not by using quotas, instead political parties who don't have a certain number of women candidates pay fined. Beyond that, some of those countries don't need quotas.
    2. Western countries are liberal democracies, built on the enlightement principle of one man, one vote etc.. The same universality you seem to oppose when I'm arguing against the chiefs is the one that prevents quotas.
    3. they do fine. Zambia doesn't.

    we ensure that at the local level other mechanisms are introduced that achieves this equity goals.

    What would those mechanisms be ?
    I mean when the parliament decided whethere custumary law would be prevalent in marriage, wouldn't it have been nice if some women were there ?

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  10. "No. I really don't think the presence of women and disabled people would make parliament less effective."

    Isn't this straightforward? If you appoint people on anything other than merit you would not be getting the very best to the top?

    "Western countries are liberal democracies, built on the enlightement principle of one man, one vote etc.. The same universality you seem to oppose when I'm arguing against the chiefs is the one that prevents quotas"

    We've been through this before..Of course I happen to think "democracy" is a means to an end....not an end in itself... but my position is that whether that is the case should be defined by the local people themselves, through "one man, one vote"...

    "What would those mechanisms be ?"

    Basically you need a Statutory Body that promotes the rights of women and advises parliament and local government on these issues. Its as simple as that. We don't need quotas in Parliament.

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  11. Isn't this straightforward? If you appoint people on anything other than merit you would not be getting the very best to the top?

    The parliament is elected and not appointed.
    Beyond that, it's role is representation and even the current allocation of representative (geographical) has nothing to do with merit.
    Voters would elected the best women to those seats, just like voters currently elect the best MP in their constituency.
    In the current system, it is very possible that some people loose election while being way more competent than others elected in other constituencies. Yet, I don't see anybody arguing to change that (for good reasons too, nobody wants ethnic imbalances in the parliament).

    So yeah, it's quite irrelevant as the role of the parliament is to represent the people and make laws on its behalf.

    Basically you need a Statutory Body that promotes the rights of women and advises parliament and local government on these issues. Its as simple as that. We don't need quotas in Parliament.

    Yeah, so that parliament and local government can keep doing this:

    "The Constitutional Review
Commission (1995) recommended that “the Constitution should reaffirm the
principle of equality for men and women in all respects ………. [including] that
women have equal rights with men regarding the use, transfer, administration
and control of land and enjoy the same rights with men with respect to
inheritance.” This recommendation was not accepted."

    If one is dealing with a parliament or a constitutional assembly so undedicated to women rights that it rejects such a basic recommendation, quotas may not even be enough. That's of course if one thinks women's right is something important.

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  12. The CRC (1995) was not a statutory body. So I don't think that argument applies. A good and effective independent statutory body would be more effective in advancing women's rights that quotas in parliament even. We don't need quotas because once you go down that route there's no end...in any case I don't think such quota based institutions are condusive for growth. Yes they are more representative, but also want to have an effective institution able to promote effective legislation that is conducive with the positive aspirations of the Executive.

    What I am saying is that there are models (like the one I have proposed) which allow people to express some degree of procedural preferences but without unnecessarily move the nation backwards in terms of economic growth.

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  13. The CRC (1995) was not a statutory body. So I don't think that argument applies. A good and effective independent statutory body would be more effective in advancing women's rights that quotas in parliament even.

    And what can a statutory body do when a parliament rejects their proposals or when the parliament amends the inheritence law for the worse (as in 1996) ?

    We don't need quotas because once you go down that route there's no end...

    lol. What do you mean ? What other group that has been so constantly disadvantaged by the law is there ?

    in any case I don't think such quota based institutions are condusive for growth. Yes they are more representative, but also want to have an effective institution able to promote effective legislation that is conducive with the positive aspirations of the Executive.

    And of course, having women sitting there would prevent that ?
    I mean once again, why aren't you making that argument against the house of chiefs or the geographical representation system or the current parliament ?
    If effectiveness is so constrained by representation, why not get rid of all representation and simply appoint the 150 more competent Zambians ?

    What I am saying is that there are models (like the one I have proposed) which allow people to express some degree of procedural preferences but without unnecessarily move the nation backwards in terms of economic growth.

    Backwards ? What could those 50 women do that will move the nation backwards in terms of economic growth ?

    I mean it's one thing to say that the issue must be debated but it's another to make this kind of weird statements.

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  14. ”And what can a statutory body do when a parliament rejects their proposals or when the parliament amends the inheritance law for the worse (as in 1996) ?”

    Zambia has many effective statutory bodies e.g. the Bank of Zambia, Environmental Council of Zambia, etc. The question is what powers should it have. In short a statutory body can do a lot depending on its remit. The debate should be about that remit.

    ” What do you mean ? What other group that has been so constantly disadvantaged by the law is there ?”

    If people are disadvantage by law then it should be addressed through repealing that law, not changing the law makers. We are talking about the vulnerable groups. Why not get the people at the bottom of the income scale to be represented. Or why not get the uneducated (who are actually disadvantage a lot…they cannot be presidents for example because you need minimum qualifications). So let us have MP quotas for the poor and the uneducated. What about the victimized Albinos? etc etc etc. The list is really endless.

    ”And of course, having women sitting there would prevent that ?”

    I meant that not having the very best people (men or women) will not get us far. We need compent law makers regardless of sex, tribe etc.

    ”I mean once again, why aren't you making that argument against the house of chiefs or the geographical representation system or the current parliament ?”
    My position on chiefs has now moved on. I do now think that a statutory body for Chiefs is the best way forward at the national level rather than a House of Chiefs. Partly its because I agreed with your concerns that there are landmines down the House of Chiefs route vis-à-vis geography, representation and so forth. Also a stronger second chamber may introduce a costly adjustment. A statutory body is best way forward and I think people can sign up to that. As I said I am working on that little note…which I shall share shortly. The model remains the same at the local level. So no contradiction there :)

    ”If effectiveness is so constrained by representation, why not get rid of all representation and simply appoint the 150 more competent Zambians ?”

    I do accept that representation is a legitimate goal…my point is that it is not the only goal.

    ” Backwards ? What could those 50 women do that will move the nation backwards in terms of economic growth ?”

    Grated my statement was too summarized. What I meant was that ultimately what Zambia need is to have the best and most competent people in important positions of authority. If women were uneducated and they took half of the positions, then the quality of the decision making would be diminished. Bad laws can get passed etc. You need to ask yourself why women cannot get to the top. I think these quotas try to fix the symptom rather than the disease.

    I am not against women participation, I am simply again poor mechanisms for increasing that participation.

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  15. Oh, also. Remember that the two African countries with those quotas are Uganda and Rwanda. Not exactly the ones with the slowest growth, right ?

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  16. Correction of my last sentence:

    I am not against women participation, I am simply against poor mechanisms for increasing that participation.

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