Mar 31, 2011

Getting to equal representation

This started out as a blog response to a posting on Zambian Economist titled “why do we have few women in Parliament,” but given the length of it I decided it would serve well as a posting.
The issue of low representation of women in Zambian politics is multi-faceted. These are my observations and thoughts:
Conditioning
For the most part women aren’t conditioned to consider the political arena as a viable means to effect meaningful change. Our socialisation still runs towards men in politics and women in civil society. You can see a microcosm of this in our schools where student government structure (if it exists) is mostly male dominated, and females are directed towards more genteel activities such as theatre or school fundraising. Being bold and assertive is not something that ‘good girls’ do.
Mentoring
The lack of mentoring makes it harder to remove real and/or perceived barriers to entry into politics. Women need to hear from other women about the challenges and successes in balancing family life, work, travel and so forth. There is no denying women have unique familial responsibilities, and it helps to learn how to do it successful from others who have been there.
And to be frank, women need to start supporting one another. We often do not support each other in positions of power, and undercut others for being ambitious. This why a women’s caucus is beneficial as long as everyone understands and respects the goals set forth. We need critical mass to start making a difference, complemented by caucus with a unified agenda and robust network.
Attitudes/Behaviour
The attitudes and behaviour of male politicians often run counter to what they say in campaign speeches or on Women’s Day. I have personally witnessed latent verbal abuse of female parliamentarians that has no basis in ideological differences but with sexism. More emphasis needs to be placed on gender sensitisation. We’ve had enough male chauvinism that still treats women as mere children out of their depth!
Family friendly environment
We cannot overlook provisions such as on-site day care facilities and lactation rooms that are necessary the comfort of mothers and their children. Without such concessions, it’s a harder sell for someone to consider working in that environment and further emphasises the fact that these are “male-only environs.” Another consideration is limiting evening sessions that put a strain on MPs with other responsibilities.
Commitment
Our top leadership in government and other political parties need to be committed to including female politicians in their decision making networks. And I am not talking about the ‘token’ female who just acts as a rubber stamp for policies or as a prop for photo ops. I am talking about women who have proven themselves in their respective fields in the public and private sectors, as community organisers, etc getting meaningful positions. Women also need to step up and demand that they get included; nothing will be handed on a silver platter. The visibility of female leadership needs to be raised.

Busting through that glass ceiling is no easy feat but we can get there by addressing the areas I have highlighted. I welcome your thoughts and further discussion.

2 comments:

I agree. In my opinion, attitude/behavior, family friendly environments, and commitment will only follow once conditioning and mentoring are thoroughly entrenched. Perhaps that's why you wrote this post in that order. I enjoyed reading it.

Glad you enjoyed the post Mambwe. I did write it in that order intentionally because I was looking "within" before looking "without." I believe those issues within need to be sorted out first otherwise the whole thing is a non-starter.

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