Year 2016 is an important landmark in Zambian politics. General elections will be held on the 11th of August, and the citizens vote for president, parliamentarians, local councilors, municipal mayors and even in a referendum.
The elections are a new opportunity for Zambian women, who are currently remarkably few in Zambian local politics. In the 2011 elections, only 6% of the elected local councillors were women.
For this year´s elections the hopes were high before the new Constitution was released in January. One of the new requirements is that all the aspiring candidates for Zambian parliament as well as municipal councils need to have a proven certificate of 12 years schooling, an achievement that has been out of reach for the majority of women in Zambian countryside.
Another serious obstacle for women to aspire as candidates is the high level of registration fees to be paid to the Zambian Electoral Council. Equivalent to 100-200 euros, local councillor candidate fees are impossible for many ordinary women, since this will be additional to parties’ own nomination fees, not to mention the funds needed for campaigning.
A third obstacle for women´s participation, identified by Demo Finland’s partner Zambia National Women’s Lobby and many political parties, is the electoral violence. Many female candidates are exposed to discrimination and intimidation. Power shift is seen a threat, and many seem to think that if women took more active role in the society, decisions would look different.
Despite of the obstacles, ZNWL, with its 7000 members countrywide, tries to change things and promotes new thinking in Zambia. Along with active lobbying towards the decision-makers in the political parties to include more women, the important base of ZNWL´s work is to build the capacity, motivation and skills of women in many districts of Zambia. Together with Demo Finland, ZNWL supports local women from 5 districts in this process.
Demo Finland’s Chairperson, Member of the Finnish Parliament Eva Biaudet, participated in May in one of these trainings in Kabwe District, Central Province. Biaudet shared her experiences on how she started her political career years ago and how cross-party collaboration with fellow female politicians in Finland has helped to overcome some of the obstacles that female politicians face.
These obstacles are surprisingly similar, regardless of the context and country: discouragement by fellow, often older male politicians, demands related to public appearances, less financing, necessary support of the family and even non-solidarity of fellow female politicians. Ms. Biaudet encouraged the Kabwe District aspiring candidates to trust in themselves. She claimed that the decision to aspire as a candidate is already a courageous thing to do and therefore these special women should keep on their track to look for a better society for themselves and their fellow women.
One of the thirty participants of the training, a young politician from Bwacha constituency, Susan M. Palale, was aspiring as a local councilor candidate for the UPND party because she wants to do something for the problems she sees in her environment daily. “I am a social worker, and encounter the poverty, low infrastructure and lack of health and even police services in my area”, Palale said.
Ms. Palale participated in an ZNWL activity for the first time, and noticed that collaboration across the party-lines is extremely important for women. “Women many times face the same problems no matter what their background is or even their experience in politics is”, Palale explained. “Not only collaboration of the female politicians, but all the women is important and women should vote for other women” she stated.
Another aspiring candidate, representing the Patriotic Front, Ms. Doreen Mambwe from Kabwe Central constituency, said that a common space offered by ZNWL in for of a training session, gave her a lot of peer support. During the discussions she learnt that many women face the same problems of intimidation by fellow party men during candidate adoption and even direct discrimination.
It is really important, she says, that women share these experiences and also ideas how to cope with the constraints and go on with an own agenda and objectives. “I want to say to Zambian women, that by voting for women, you will gain leaders that are used to manage and organize issues and that understand your problems better than any man can” says Ms. Mambwe.
ZNWL continues the trainings during June for those candidates that have been adopted. “After August elections, no matter what the results will be, we will continue creating strong, committed and confident female politicians, who are ready to strive for gender equality and rights in this country”. claims Juliet Chibuta, the Executive Director of ZNWL
Zambia National Women’s Lobby is celebrating its 25-year anniversary this year in supporting gender equality in Zambia. ZNWL is a non-partisan, non-profit making and membership driven NGO committed to the equal representation and participation of women in decision –making at all levels through advocacy, lobbying and capacity building. ZNWL strives to change those structures and diminish those obstacles that had hindered the fulfilling of the human and political rights of Zambian women for ages.