The composition of urban and rural district councils in Masvingo province, and indeed in the rest of the country, represent the long journey that lies ahead towards the attainment of equal representation of men and women in local governance.
Local governance is regarded by many as the most important area of governance owing to its almost unequalled proximity to the people.
As the cornerstone of service delivery to the public, matters of local governance are reasonably expected to reflect inclusivity and are also expected to show some inclination to the gender cause that the country seems to be cozying up to.
It is unfortunate however to note that the case in the councils that were elected in 2013 stands in stark contrast, with entry into council largely having been determined by political affiliations and the level of influence that each candidate could assert.
At municipal level, the two main parties that contested the elections and that currently share the spoils of their political exploits, ZANU PF and MDC, did not have a gender programme when they fielded their candidates.
Unlike at legislative level where proportional representation is legally in place, there are no related policies at local government level although technically, this area carries more weight in addressing women’s practical gender needs, their immediate welfare.
There were no female quotas and neither was there any attempt to strengthen the hand of female contenders during their primaries. It was a matter of on your marks, get ready and go, even though that straightjacket approach has continuously proved to be unhelpful in efforts to attain gender balance.
In particular, Masvingo urban elected an all-male council, with the only female councilor in the previous council, Grace Josia of ward 10 falling at the ZANU PF primaries to Lovemore Mufamba, putting paid hopes for any female representation in the council.
In Masvingo rural, the situation is no less gloom, with female councilors numbering only four out of a total of 35. Ironically, it is Virginia Hwena of ward 19 and Sungano Machakanure of ward 30 who are said to be the best performing council employees. This is so despite that the position of Chairperson and Chief Executive Officer, perhaps the most influential roles in a council set-up, are occupied by males.
Maina Mandava, a distinguished former parliamentarian who served in Zimbabwe’s successive male-dominated legislature for years, said it requires a drastic ideological shift among women themselves if meaningful change is to be realised.
“The problem is never about women’s competencies or lack thereof. Rather, the problem lies in the engrained mistrust among women themselves. Women seem not to have as much confidence in other women as they do in men. We constitute the biggest voting bloc yet we keep on voting men into office. Why?” said Mandava
Gutu, a vast district with 41 wards, has also lagged behind in with regards to equal representation within its council. In the 2013 elections, 38 wards were snatched by men, with a paltry 3 going to women, a development that further solidified the gender imbalance.
Mpandawana, the seat of council, recently gained town status but gender activists will be outraged to know that the first six members of the town board, which came into existence in January 2016, only has one woman – Susan Samatenga – whose duty on the board is to represent the interests of residents.
She will be expected to strike a fine balance between articulating and pushing the overall cause of her mandate without ignoring the women’s agenda within the male-dominated board of a town marred by unemployment, gender-based violence and child prostitution.
Similarly, of Chiredzi Town Council’s eight councilors, only one, Jessica Mutiyaunga is female. She is the chairperson of the Environment Committee with the rest of other committees and other crucial posts in the town council led by men.
“The program is aimed at institutionalizing gender mainstreaming in all policies, programmes and budgets of government and selected private sector organization.”
This is what the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development says of its gender mainstreaming programme. Difficult though to see how policies crafted in the name of development can omit mainstreaming in local governance, when it is the most relevant to the most immediate development goals of society.
A superficial glance at Bikita reveals more or less the same disturbing pattern of wide discrepancies in the distribution of power between men and women. Although Councillor Clara Makura of ward 29 is the current council chairperson, it is no doubt that real power lies with men who dominate the council.
With only three female councillors out of 32, the rural council is yet another microcosm of that which is wrong with the organisation of our socio-political system, a system that needs to be urgently overhauled to promote the full participation of women lest the country’s development potential becomes a nullity.
Engineer Cecilia Nyamande, a civil engineering technician with Bikita Rural District Council said society cannot expect any miracles in its quest to achieve gender equity.
“It should start in the families; we should be educating the girl child and helping her to realise that there are no limits to what she can achieve in life. That can be instrumental in developing her confidence and self-esteem, with the ultimate result being more women bidding for better posts in councils and elsewhere.
“There is a growing consensus that societies that give women prominence in leadership roles enjoy higher chances of being more peaceful and more prosperous than those on the contrary,” said Engineer Nyamande.
That view can probably be buttressed by even a superficial glance at Rwanda, a country ravaged by a horrendous, male-instigated genocide just over two decades ago. How the country has risen from the ashes to be the most promising economy on the African mainland remains an enigma to many.
This is partly attributed to the country’s robust women empowerment drive which has seen it being the only country with more women than men in its parliament.
The capital city, Kigali, which has a female mayor and vice-mayor, Monique Mukaruliza and Judith Kazayire respectively, is ranked one of the cleanest and most investor-friendly cities in Africa.