2020 polls: Women plotting a major upset

Wednesday February 6 2019

Women demand peace during the campaign period

Women demand peace during the campaign period recently in Kenya. In younger democracies, research shows, a super heated campaign with numerous candidates may actually impede democracy. PHOTO FILE 

In Zanzibar, women in various political spaces are eager to increase their numbers, not only in the Zanzibar House of Representatives and in Cabinet, but also at the local government level.

This is, however, not the first time that women have expressed high interest to contest in national elections, only to fall short when it comes to actually participating and winning in the polls.

Political Platform spoke to the Deputy Speaker of the Zanzibar Parliament, Ms Mgeni Hassan Juma, on what the upcoming local government and national assembly elections mean to women in politics in Tanzania.

Temperatures are beginning to rise within the political sphere, what outcomes should we expect in terms of victory for women in politics, come 2020?

As a woman, I have not lost hope that there is going to be a shift in terms of the number of women who will make it into both parliaments, Zanzibar and in the Mainland. The numbers are still low in the Zanzibar House of Representatives at 32 women compared to 55 men. The gender scale in Dodoma is also skewed towards men with only 145 women out of 393 members of parliament.

We really want more women in the two houses to strike a gender balance.

I believe victory for women is certain if we can play our cards very well. That is why we are very happy with all the support all women politicians are receiving from organisations such as UN Women. Just last week I attended a meeting organised by the Tanzania Centre for Democracy (TCD) for eminent women and men leaders. It aimed at increasing understanding of eminent leaders on gender and women empowerment, women’s rights to leadership and political participation.

What strategies can tilt gender imbalance in the next elections?

We have been doing a lot of work to mobilise women to participate at political party level. Through our political party manifestos, we can also promote the participation of women starting at grassroots level – looking at the local government elections taking place this year.

I can speak for my party and say that there is something brewing within our Women’s Wing. We have an exercise that is identifying women who have potential and can be trained to lead, even if they can start leading within the Wing. We also have a system that continues to recognize the importance of having women in key leadership positions, a system that elected our Vice President; and I believe this will be further strengthened to ensure we have more women at the top.

Looking at the whole political space, I can say we have moved a few steps ahead in terms of how women have worked hard with various development partners for the change we are seeing in some areas.

The other approach we are implementing as Tanzanian women politician, is working with partners including UN Women, to target our cultural norms that dictate that women cannot be politicians and leaders.

In most parts of our country women are brought up to be minor citizens while men are shaped by their families and communities to be leaders.

We have to come out of this and as women we are saying – how can we come out? I believe through education and the exposure we are getting through interactions with women organisations and learning from women from countries such as Rwanda who have successfully claimed their political space, we can get to a better place in 2020.

What can development partners do differently to improve the chances of having more women elected?

I think there has been positive energy and great work by some non governmental organisations, including Tanzania Centre for Democracy, in as far as promoting women to make their mark in political leadership is concerned. What we should all do differently is to target young women and women with disabilities across the country. In some of our meetings last year, I interacted with many young women in tertiary institutions who are interested in governance issues. They would like to participate but do not know how.

I also believe mechanisms that promote the education of women, working with the government, will be excellent initiatives. Educating women and girls should be our starting point for women to have confidence in ourselves and our capabilities.

As a member of parliament, you also travel to other parts of the world where you are expected to contribute to global issues. To do that you need to have acquired an acceptable level of education that can enable you to contribute at global level. In that light, I believe the way to go is to further develop the capacity of women and to emphasise on higher level education for our girls.

One area we have been struggling with as women in politics is how to mobilise resources to effectively organise our campaigns and to start projects that can develop the communities we represent.

Another issue we would like our partners to support us on is how we can encourage women with leadership capacity to join politics and further improve the quality of women representation. Our constitution does not allow anybody to contest if they do not belong and participate actively in a certain political party.