Most African countries are signatories of numerous protocols that encourage gender equality in politics, yet analysts say more still needs to be done to implement these protocols and ensure women are not sidelined.
Women in the region and beyond are breaking the glass ceiling in politics as evidenced by the likes of former Malawian president Joyce Banda and other women who have managed to occupy important positions in national governments and multilateral organisations.
Despite this development, statistics indicate that worldwide at least one-fifth of the seats in parliaments are occupied by women.
Countries like Botswana, Lesotho, Malawi, Namibia, Rwanda, Zambia, Zimbabwe are amongst the signatories of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) .
CEDAW defines discrimination and provides a practical blueprint to promote human rights and open opportunities for women and girls in all areas of society.
The treaty calls on each ratifying country to overcome barriers to discrimination in the political, social, economic, and cultural fields.
Recently, Zanu-PF, the ruling party in Zimbabwe, held its primary elections and the large majority of female candidates fell by the wayside. Out of 190 national assembly constituencies being vied for, only 21 will be represented by women in the harmonised elections scheduled for July or August.
Women constitute 54 percent of Zimbabwean population but have been lacking when it comes to occupying high ranking positions in political parties.
According to female politicians in the country, women continue to face challenges due to lack of finances, stereotyping, political violence and low support from fellow women.
The incumbent Goromonzi Member of Parliament, Beater Nyamupinga, who lost in the Zanu PF primaries, said Government should financially empower women ahead of elections.
“It is very important that women are empowered financially so that they are able to conduct campaigns. Unlike men, women lack the financial muscle to undertake a campaign. We thought that the coming in of a Women’s Bank would ease the financial challenges that we face. We were looking forward to having a project that would give women access to funds to use for campaigns,” she said.
Nyamupinga said political violence discourages women from contesting in elections.
"The primary elections this year were marred with violence. Women vying for a political office are subject to political violence. In most cases women shy away from violence and this leaves a gap for men to participate. There is need for a conducive political environment for women to participate without them fearing for their lives,” she said.
MDC legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said women were ready to take up leadership positions save for lack of support from the Government.
“Women are capable of leading but they face challenges of a low performing economy. This makes it difficult for them to raise money for campaigns, which are very expensive, instead of looking for bread and butter for their families.
“Also, political parties are very patriarchal, we have seen how men hold the top leadership positions and women are just given honorary positions in most cases. Political violence limits women. In most cases women are beaten up and even raped. This affects women’s participation in politics,” she said.
Bulawayo legislator, Jasmine Tofa, said despite having a constitution that stipulates on gender equality in politics women are still under-represented in the political arena.
“Our constitution is clear and fantastic when it comes to gender equity. However, this is not practiced but it’s just on paper. At the end of the day women are being given a pie in the air. We need to have equal opportunities for women as we have for men to participate in politics,” she said.
According to the country's Constitution, 60 National Assembly seats are reserved for women, 60 senatorial and 10 persons on each provincial council are elected on the basis of proportional representation.
Tofa said young women must be taught not to shy away from politics.
“Education is very important if we are to have female politicians in the country. Young girls and boys must be educated at a tender age to think like leaders. For example, in Australia, children start learning to vote from school for a class monitor. In Zimbabwe most people vote during national elections and it’s a feared process. Women must be taught not to fear leadership, elections or joining politics,” she said.
According to organisations that advocate for women’s rights, women have made strides in the economy, engineering, science, technology, academia, media, and many more sectors.
However they say this progress does not translate to politics. In 2001, nine out of 191 countries had a woman elected head of state or government.
They say there is a need to implement laws that call for gender equality in politics in order to fully realise women's potential.