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Sunday, 20 March 2011

Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010: Part XI

Gender Representation in Elective Bodies

Article 183, clause (4) – (6) :
(4) The electoral system shall ensure that— (a) the representation of each gender is not less than thirty percent of the total number of seats in the National Assembly, district council or other public elective body; and (b) there shall be equitable representation of persons with disabilities and the youth at all levels of governance.
(5) Parliament shall enact legislation— (a) to ensure the conduct of free and fair elections; and (b) to provide a formula for achieving the purposes under clause (4).
(6) Clause (4) (a) shall come into operation on the date prescribed by, or under, an Act of Parliament.
The above provisions establish a minimum floor representation for women and men at 30% each. This is a sensitive provision which probably explains why it has received zero public debate. No one really wants to be seen as arguing against greater female representation. But we should have no such qualms. All issues must be up for debate otherwise we are no different to the dead, and this provision does have problems.

The main problem is that it is about representation not specifying a minimum level of candidates. The question is how this would be enforced in practice.  It seems there are only two ways this could be done.

One way  is to follow the Uganda model where there are certain areas where only women candidates compete against each other. In other words there would areas where they can never get a man as an MP, even if the men are likely to make for better representative. Is this fair on the locals and does it deliver efficient allocation of political power? This is especially the case when one considers that it is not just about MPs, but also local councils and other "elective body". Will some local wards only have women standing?

A better approach might be to impose quotas on participating political parties. The parties which fail to meet the quota from direct representatives would have to make up the difference through the "proportional element" of the new mixed representation. But that raises another question. Why force parties to go through these gymnastics? I mean if people value female MPs, then parties will choose female candidates because political parties should respond to what people want. If they are not responding to people's needs then perhaps the problem is lack of political competition not lack of quotas. 

The other problem with the current draft is that the goal is not clear. Angola and Rwanda both have the 30% rule but that is for candidates not representation. The Zambian proposal seems to go further. The impact of the 30% rule on Rwanda is unclear, but there are suggestions that the high presence of women in the Rwandan parliament has led to positive policy outcomes for children. Is this what Zambia is aiming to achieve or there a bigger point?

In general, I am uneasy about using quotas. I think more women in leadership is good for the country and I am not opposed to affirmative action for women in principle - if we had a good reason for it, though someone might ask, what about the disabled, the young, the blind and the elderly? What does amaze is how the drive to set mandatory minimum female representation in all areas has proceeded without debate. We have seen many acts of parliament set these gender "balancing" proposals. What is not always clear tis whether proponents of these clause see “minimum female representation" as development in action ( an end in itself) or as a crucial step towards economic growth. Is the point of these provisions that more women representation is a good thing in itself? Or is it that they make political institutions more responsive to the needs of women which has a profound effect in leading to greater poverty reduction? 

I think in so far as equality between sexes is a noble aspiration, any drive to improve it must be viewed as essentially development. However, the question of unintended consequences 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 or wards properly.  Of course may be a large majority of our women really believes that affirmative action is the way to achieve sustainable growth! For example they 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 point is not that they are wrong, but rather the argument needs to be made and better debated.

Zambian Economist is currently reviewing the Constitution of Zambia (Amendment) Bill 2010. All posts in this ongoing review can be found at the Constitution of Zambia

1 comment:

  1. Having better representation needs to start further back. Better education for girls. Fairer employment conditions. More equality in the home. More effective systems in government. Smaller families. If these are achieved, more women will be willing and able to serve as representatives. As it is, the best women are busy; working all hours, supporting families, carrying the role of wife and mother as well as their work roles. They are also disillusioned with current govt systems where elected representatives have very little power to effect meaningful change.
    Just having a quota tends to create a situation where someone gets a position on the basis of their gender rather than their ability or integrity. If quotas are used they must be used at candidate level not representation level. If every party has to have a minimum level of female candidates then they still would have to convince the voters to vote for them which may help weed out the less competent (of either gender)


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