Background: Women’s voices are not heard in politics

In Zambia women’s participation in politics is low: only 18 % of the Members of Parliament and 9% local councilors 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 and awareness of gender equality is not high among voters. 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.

Our work in Zambia:

In Zambia Demo Finland has been working to strengthen women’s participation in 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 councilors. 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 have prepared gender action plans for their own party. Demo Finland´s partner ZNWL supports the parties in their
  • The capacities of female politicians (both local councilors and candidates) have been built. On the local level hundreds of female politicians and on the national level all female councilors 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 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.