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Towards 50/50 representation: Women’s participation must be prioritized for inclusive democratic process

WHEN the President, John Pombe Magufuli, addressed the National Assembly on June 16th, this year, the final day before Parliament was dissolved; He made a strong statement encouraging political parties to give adequate opportunities to women, youth and people with disabilities in the upcoming general elections, a very important message for the country and women’s future political participation.

Similarly, as processes towards the general elections begin to gain traction and potential candidates make their aspirations to hold leadership roles come November 2020.

There is a growing discourse among various stakeholders, from the women’s rights activists, political leaders and gender equality champions across different fields–to ensure that more and more women are nominated and supported throughout the process to enable them to participate in the elections with the ultimate aim of attaining 50:50 representation. 

The importance of women’s representation, is not just for women but for inclusive and sustainable development has increasingly received recognition.

Time and time again, women have proved themselves as skilled and capable leaders, with studies showing that women’s leadership can result in greater socio-economic benefits.

Although this recognition presents a ray of hope for the women’s rights and gender equality activists who have been working in this area for decades, aspiring women leaders, and women and girls everywhere.

The African Women Leaders Network (AWLN), Tanzania Chapter posits that what is even more critical, is for everyone involved to have a realistic understanding of what needs to be done to get there.

Tanzania has reached some notable milestones as a result of national efforts to promote women’s political leadership. From the introduction of temporary special measures for women in 1985, women’s representation in parliament has experienced substantial growth.

The proportion of women in parliament increased from 3.5 percent in 1970 to 5.9 percent after the introduction of the quota system in 1985. It rose to 29.9 percent in the year 2005, and stood at 37.8 percent in the recently dissolved parliament. 

Amendments to the constitution in 2005 requires for women to make up no less than 30 percent of all members of parliament, and in 2015 the government decided to increase the proportion of women parliamentarians through Temporary Special Measures (TSM) from 30 percent (which is provided for in the current constitution) to 40 percent as a progressive step towards the achievement of the SADC benchmark of 50 percent.

Furthermore, we have been fortunate to have seen a woman Speaker of the House in 2010, Deputy Speakers in both the National Assembly and the Zanzibar House of Representatives from 2105-2020, and in the same period, the first woman Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan.

These are undoubtedly great achievements; However, we must remain mindful that the numbers still fall short of national commitments for 50:50 representation, including the SADC protocol and 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Furthermore, outside of the temporary special measures, there is still a lot of work to be done.

Only 10 percent of women in the National Assembly and 12 percent in the ZHoR have been elected through constituencies, and at the local level, only 5 percent of women have been elected as Councilors in Mainland Tanzania, with 21 percent in Zanzibar. In terms of nominations by political parties, although the proportion of women nominated grew by 14 percent from 1995-2015, only 19 percent of candidates nominated to contest for constituencies in 2015 were women.

Looking at why these proportions remain significantly low, we see that a number of barriers exist that continue to hinder women from taking up leadership and political positions. Political parties remain the only gateway to political office in Tanzania while gender discrimination within political parties remains a serious challenge.

This is partly caused by male-dominated leadership within political parties, gender irresponsive party policy documents and intra-party nomination guidelines. Political parties have been favouring the selection/nomination of men over women for leadership positions, particularly in ‘win-able seats’ as women are often left out.

This, combined with other challenges such as violence against women in politics (VAWP); Discriminatory laws, practices, attitudes and gender stereotypes; Low levels of education and access to information; In addition to poverty disproportionately affect women in achieving their leadership aspirations.

In responding to the challenges that are hindering women from making strides in assuming leadership within political institutions, in 2019 the URT Parliament passed the new Political Parties (Amendment) Act, 2019 (PPA) integrating provisions that promote women’s leadership and political participation.

The principles incorporated in the amended law require political parties to adhere to principles of non-discrimination, gender equality, youth, and social inclusion, with Article 6A specifically emphasizing that political parties need to promote these principles in the formulation and implementation of its policies; The nomination of candidates for elections; and election of its leaders.

It is in these areas that AWLN Tanzania urges political parties to place a greater focus, to make 2020 an exemplary year towards the achievement of gender equality in political leadership. And we recognise that this does not only require building on the existing political will, but the concerted efforts of multiple stakeholders.

As a network that seeks to empower Tanzanian women leaders for the transformation of the nation, promoting women’s political leadership is a key priority for AWLN Tanzania. We are committed to amplifying the voices of women leaders in the country towards significantly increasing the role of women in leadership and political spaces.

We aspire to see 50:50 representation in key decision-making organs including in the Parliament, Councils   and cabinet, and we are committed to supporting efforts to ensure that women’s leadership capacity is strengthened, and for women, including young women and women with disabilities to be accepted as legitimate leaders.

We are committed to further building on the achievements that have been made thus far, collaborating with government, political organs, civil society, development partners, and the many other ongoing initiatives towards this end.

At the launch of the AWLN Tanzania Chapter in February 2020, the Guest of Honour, Vice-President Samia Suluhu Hassan urged the network to ensure that it plays a significant role in advocating for progress towards 50:50 representation in the coming general elections.

AWLN Tanzania will ensure that we pursue this mission tirelessly. We believe that through collective action, Tanzania can make 50:50 representation a reality. We can increase women’s participation in the 2020 elections, we can achieve unprecedented numbers of women in constituency seats, and we can ensure that not only do we have equal numbers, but an equal recognition of women’s abilities as leaders. This is not just for the sake of women, but the entire country– because when more women lead, everyone benefits.

AWLN Tanzania, a chapter of the continental AWLN network supported by the African Union and the UN, is committed to empowering Tanzanian women leaders to fulfill their respective roles for the transformation of Tanzania, Africa, and the world.

Launched in early 2020, the chapter currently has over 250 members consisting of women leaders from all over Tanzania who have demonstrated their leadership and a strong track record in the areas of women’s peace and security, women living in rural areas, social mobilisation, young women’s leadership, women’s leadership and governance and financial inclusion.  

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