Zimbabwe may become the world’s first country to pass a law requiring that women hold at least 50 percent of posts in parliament and other government bodies, according to a new constitution.
“The state must take all measures, including legislative measures, needed to ensure that both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level,” according to a copy of the charter obtained by Bloomberg News from an official who helped write it. Women must “constitute at least half the membership of all commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies.”
The constitution must be approved in a national referendum before an election can be held. President Robert Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change agreed on the constitution, the leaders said on Jan. 18. The document hasn’t been made public.
Women hold 15 percent of the seats in Zimbabwe’s House of Assembly, according to Quotaproject, a global database of female representation in political institutions that’s backed by International IDEA, the Inter-Parliamentary Union and Stockholm University. One of Zimbabwe’s two vice president posts is held by a woman, Joice Mujuru.
“You are hearing more and more voices, especially from Africa, saying equality in politics means parity,” Zeina Hilal, manager of the gender program at the Inter-Parliamentary Union, said today in an phone interview from Geneva. The challenge for Zimbabwe will to be “operationalize” the constitution through an electoral law that ensures the achievement of equal gender representation in parliament, she said.
While Tunisia and Belgium have tried to reach a similar objective by mandating that 50 percent of electoral lists are female, that didn’t ensure that parliament was fully representative, she said. Women hold 27 percent of the seats in Tunisia’s parliament and 39 percent in Belgium, according to Quotaproject.
Rwanda has the highest percentage of women in parliament at 56 percent, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. By law, 30 percent of representatives in the country’s decision-making organs must be female, according to Quotaproject.
Across sub-Saharan Africa, the average female representation in both the upper and lower houses of parliament is 20.8 percent compared with a 20.3 percent world average, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union. Nordic countries have the highest percentage of women legislators at 42 percent, while countries in the Pacific have the lowest at 12.7 percent.
While Zimbabwe’s constitution maintains the death penalty for certain crimes, it bars sentencing women to death. It also kept a ban on marriages between members of the same sex.