Reforming and Restructuring Women Special Seats towards the 2020 General Elections: Stakeholders Debate on Women’s Representation in the National Assembly

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Although the Parliament of Tanzania as a major decision-making body adopted a quota system in 1985 to address gender imbalance, the national assembly still consists of about 37 percent of women Members of Parliament whereby 30 percent are from special seats arrangement and 7 percent are elected by the citizens in their constituencies. There is a deficit of 13 percent of women in parliament to achieve a parity with men in the National Assembly. The deficit is also vivid in  local governance whereby elected women councillors constitute about 240 seats, which is equivalent to 5 percent of the total number of approximately 4000 councillors in Tanzania.

The initial objective of special seats for women was not to redress the imbalance but rather to ensure that the voices of a special category of citizens are heard in decision making bodies in order to enhance the representation of varied interests. It is said that special seats system has increased women’s numerical participation in the Parliament of Tanzania. The process of acquiring female members of special seats is held within their constituencies based on the level of membership attained, yet some stakeholders lament that the process is obscured by corruption and nepotism.

Unveiling a study on the women special seats in Tanzania at the Policy Forum Breakfast Debate of 28th February 2020 entitled “Towards the 2020 General Elections: Reflecting on Women Special Seats in Tanzania”,  Dr. Victoria Lihiru a Lecturer at the Open University of Tanzania emphasized that female participation in decision making has consistently been at the  centre of the global  development  agenda,  especially  after  the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly and ratified in Tanzania in 1986 and the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing, 1995.  The platforms have been instrumental in bringing to light issues that hinders equality between women  and men.

Despite the efforts to increase female parliamentary candidates, there has been a challenge for women to contest for electoral positions which hinders further numerical increase in the number of candidates that have been voted for by the people. The National Electoral Commission (NEC) should put in place proper guidelines on how to secure candidates to eliminate bewilderment. Hence the improvement of women special seats and its implementation should be aligned and geared to accelerate realization of its objectives, Dr Lihiru added.

Dr. Suma Kaare,  a renowned gender specialist stated that although the gender norms are changing at a snail pace, many negative norms still prohibit women from contesting for leadership position.

She further commented that restructuring of the women special seats based on CEDAW  guidelines (are supposed to be temporary in nature, diverse and broad) might not be as effective as stipulated rather suggested that  the realignment and repurposing of CEDAW and placement of  monitoring and evaluation frameworks to superintend women participation. Significantly, the greater representation of women in parliament has led to improved articulation of women issues and in positive legislative changes for women.

The Political Parties Amendment Act of 2019 gives guidelines on how political parties should empress gender equality and social inclusion in different aspect like in making of their policies and selection of their leaders. Women  Parliamentarians  formed  a  convention called  Tanzania  Women Parliamentarians’  Group  (TWPG)  to  enable  them  share  skills  and  experiences  and  unite  them regardless of their political differences, to address gender issues in a more focused way. The  group  has  increased  sensitization  and  awareness  of  gender  issues  for  Parliamentarians, decision makers in the public service, NGOs and the private sectors and led to the appointment of more women to leadership positions even in areas that are traditionally not occupied by women.

Moreover, Dr. Kaare emphasized on developing a mentoring programme aiming at assisting women to gain the political knowledge and skills that is needed. This will support female MPs to become more effective, but also to better understand the political processes and might build support to challenge to be a candidate for a constituency.

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