Critics of affirmative action argue that it violates the principle of merit. Others say it amounts to reverse discrimination. However affirmative action enhances democratic participation by admitting underrepresented segments of the population. Besides, it enhances equality and results in the emergence of role models.
In a sense, women are able to move into full political competition from affirmative action seats. Take for instance the 2017 election — 31.3 per cent of the members of Senate are women, most of them nominated. The National Assembly has 75 women, 2 of them 3 elected, 47 Woman Representatives and five nominated.
Two of the 23 elected members were women reps, two nominated senators, two nominated MPs, and two nominated MCAs. One of the three elected women senators was previously a nominated senator.
This shows that affirmative action can be a useful launching pad for women getting elected by the ballot. Some argue that if women have seats reserved for them, why do they still need to run for election to other positions. We must tread carefully here so as not to promote a one-sided agenda.
How do we ensure that the process is not a zero-sum game but a win-win? What about the beneficiaries of affirmative action, do they fit the bill or do they behave in a manner likely to exacerbate the notion that women are weak leaders?
Put differently, what have women MCAs and the 47 women reps done to advance women’s interests in legislative and policy changes? Women must continuously demand from their counterparts benefitting from affirmative action leadership that they transforms society’s mindset towards women leaders.
Are they doing enough to debunk the long-held myth that women are their own worst enemies and mere flower girls? Or they are politicians’ girlfriends?
The other all- important question is, how do we get male voters to appreciate female leadership? The concept of empowerment should never be reduced to a zero-sum game in which a gain for women is misconstrued to mean a loss for men. There is need for continuous sensitisation on the levelling of the platform for both genders with respect to leadership.
Women must demonstrate leadership ability. And, as the populace gets to interact with women leaders they will slowly but surely begin to change their attitude and perception. The number of women running for election will consequently increase as people get used to the idea of women leaders.
Women’s numerical strength and organisational acumen must always be their biggest assets. We urgently need to have more women’s voices in the political parties to entrench gender principles. Women should find a way of penetrating their parties’ leadership. That way they will be more successful in pushing their agenda.
Women must at all times coalesce around a common agenda that safeguards their political interests; men will not just create space for them. This will not only empower women but it also has the potential of enhancing issue-based politics.
Finally, women should never walk alone. Men are part of the struggle. Women should identify men who have supported their cause as well as convert new ones to their side when an issue comes up in Parliament that requires male support. Parliament is yet to pass the two-thirds gender bill. The struggle continues.
Executive director, Governance Pillar Organization