Women’s voices are not heard in politics
In Zambia, women’s participation in politics is low: only 17 % of the Members of Parliament and 9 % local councillors are women. Zambia has been a multiparty democracy since 1991, but the political field is dominated by one party at a time. Women’s participation in politics is hindered by prevailing patriarchal attitudes and strict hierarchies within political parties. The electoral system doesn’t support equal representation either. After the general elections in 2016 the relationship between the ruling party and the opposition have become tense and election violence has been common during by-elections. The threat of violence also weakens women’s political participation. The tense situation has narrowed the political space.
Before the 2016 elections, an amendment to the constitution ruled that all candidates must have studied for 12 years and prove this with a Grade 12 certificate. This hindered possibilities to stand as candidates especially for women in rural areas. Another factor that affected the number of candidates was raising the election fees for candidates. The fees ranged from 75 dollars to as high as 750 dollars for parliamentary candidates. Although patriarchal attitudes and prejudices still hinder women’s participation in politics, more supporting attitudes are emerging.
Our work in Zambia
In Zambia Demo Finland has been working to strengthen women’s participation in local level politics since 2013. With our local partner, Zambia National Women’s Lobby, we train female politicians and support their co-operation and networking across party lines. The aim of the programme is to build their capacities for effective participation in politics. The current programme (2018–2021) works in three districts (Kaoma, Kapiri Mposhi and Lusaka) and on the national level.
The programme builds the capacities and leaderships skills of local female councillors. Political parties are the gatekeepers for women’s political participation, and therefore the programme also trains parties on the importance of women’s participation for democracy and supports them in drafting their own gender action plans. The programme also supports and builds the capacities of the parties’ women’s wings on the local and national level.
In addition, Demo Finland also supports multiparty co-operation of female politicians, so they can better advocate for issues important to them. Multiparty dialogue forums have been set up and operate on the national as well as the local levels and provide a safe space for the female politicians to co-operate across party lines.
Results of our work
- Nine parties are preparing gender action plans for their own party. The programme monitors their implementation.
- The capacities of female politicians (both local councillors and candidates) have been built. On the local level hundreds of female politicians and on the national level all female councillors have taken part in the trainings throughout the years. Prior to the elections also heads of campaigns were trained.
- The women’s wings of the political parties have created a national multiparty dialogue forum (National Women in Politics Platform) and three local level forums (Local Women in Politics Platform). This has been very important for strengthening co-operation across party lines: a neutral space for dialogue has increased trust between the female politicians and helped in overcoming prejudice against representatives of other political parties.
- The dialogue forums have succeeded in functioning in a co-operative manner despite the tensions between the ruling and opposition parties.
- The Platforms have created a safe space for female politicians to share ideas on how to support women’s participation in politics and advocate for gender issues. Despite the political tension in the country, during its first year of operation the national level platform issued three joint statements on issues affecting women.