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How women can contest elections, abandon special seats

CIVIC polls are around the corner. The general election will then follow next year.

This is the season to feel the pounding heartbeats of politicians, with some of already identifying constituencies to contest, while others are keen on retaining their posts.

But the question that lingers among many stakeholders is whether women will command their presence in the political atmosphere or otherwise. This question was at the center of a meeting in Dar constituencies in the next elections.

“Special-Seats are basically aimed at building confidence among the women, thereafter, women should get out and contest…you must aim higher,” she says.

“Confidence building among women is paramount… successful women can even approach their fellow women individually and encourage them that they have the ability to contest,” Ms Makinda insists.

Executive Director of TAWLA, Ms Tike Mwambipile, says that the current data shows that elected female legislators account for only 6.7 per cent of all MPs, but thanks to the Special Seats, other managerial positions in the country.

The latter made various suggestions in regards to what women can do to increase their participation in contesting for posts during the forthcoming elections.

Former National Assembly Speaker, Anne Makinda who was the chief guest at the meeting, encouraged women to have full determination if they want to become leaders in organizations or political posts, saying leadership does not come from a dream.

Ms Makinda suggests that in order to increase the number of women in Parliament, the latter should be empowered to contest for es Salaam last week to mark the International Women’s Day.

The ‘women in leadership dialogue’ was organized by the Tanzania Women’s Lawyer Association (TAWLA) in collaboration with Oxfam Tanzania.

This year’s Women’s Day went with the theme of, ‘Balance for Better’, calling for action for driving gender balance across the world.

The theme insists that now is the best and important time in history to make everything possible to help forge a more gender-balanced world.

Several successful women and stakeholders dwelt on the theme during the meeting, specifically looking at what pulls women back from pursuing political leadership posts and the number of women in parliament is lifted to 37 per cent.

Country’s law provides for special seats, with 30 per cent reserved for women appointed by political parties based on proportional representation.

“We have decided to look at what we can do so that more women could take over electorates ahead of the next elections,” she states. Executive Director of the Tanzania Gender Network Programme (TGNP), Ms Lilian Liundi hailed the upward trend in the number of women in political leadership.

“As a country we have so far made a major step forward in women taking leadership positions…but we should brainstorm on how to improve the situation more,” she says.

Studies show that Tanzania is making some effort to promote women in leadership, yet advances are going at a slow pace in many of the top political leadership positions.

Political parties are the major gatekeepers in determining which candidates will be put up for election.

They play a critical role in enabling or blocking women’s participation in decision-making processes by using existing internal leadership structures that determine who leads the parties and who makes decisions about the nomination processes of electoral candidates.

Various studies on internal party democracy in the country have concluded that most political parties are male dominated and decision-making processes are hierarchal, and that women play a minimal role in these decisions which affects the nomination of candidates.

With this situation, Ms Sarah Mhamilawa, Vice President of the East Africa Law Society, argues that there is every reason to have a push for more women participation from within the political parties.

She believes that if the political parties field more women to contest for leadership positions, it would lead to increasing number of elected female MPs.

Ms Mhamilawa further counsels women on how to get stronger during election campaigns, calling on them to trash personal attacks directed to them.

“Personal attacks are meant to discourage women since men know that women are easily put off when attacked personally…If your opponent attacks you personally, know that he lacks an agenda.

I speak this from my experience which I obtained when vying for position in the East Africa Law Society,” she encourages. She also points out on issues of mentorship to women, saying considering their biological nature, women need mentorship.

Dr Hellen Kijo-Bisimba, human rights activist, gave her insights on gender balance looking to contest leadership posts. “My assessment is that women are very few in these leadership posts,” she says, arguing that the problem also starts from the beginning when those posts are advertised.

She explains that few women can apply because many of them are fearful even if they have ability. “This is the result of how girls are brought up. Men are brought up with daring spirit as opposed to girls,” she argues.

The only way to get rid of this, she says, is to motivate women to cling to opportunities and encourage each other. She further proposes that women could form groups for empowering each other financially to fund election campaigns because sometimes women lack financial resources to conduct campaigns.

Commenting, legislator for Hanang constituency, Ms Mary Nagu, said that the issue of leadership lies on the women themselves who need to have determination and courage.

“In election campaigns, women need to market their abilities and qualifications for them to be elected,’ Ms Nagu remarked. She also was of the view that women have to look at Special Seats as an area of building their capacity before they go and contest. “Let’s make the Special Seats permanent and use them for building confidence before competing,” she insists.

On other hand, she called for strengthened education against male dominance in the country and raising awareness on the importance of balanced participation of women and men in bringing development.

Special Seats MP, Suzan Lyimo (CHADEMA), concurred that there should be a time limit for Special Seats, proposing for two terms.

Though she was optimistic over achievement reached in increasing more participation of women in political leadership, Ms Lyimo said that political parties have been holding women back.

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Author: BERNARD LUGONGO

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