The last few decades of the 20th century witnessed significant increases in women’s participation and representation in politics, in large part due to worldwide awareness campaigns, feminist movements, and better access to education, healthcare, and employment for women. Such is the shift in thinking, that the level of development of countries now includes reference to the level of women’s political participation and representation, and in this Zimbabwe is still lagging behind. This case study, published in the International Invention Journal of Arts and Social Sciences, examines the barriers and opportunities facing women in Zimbabwe, and argues that while participation is contingent on representation, it would be a mistake to see representation as an end in itself. Even the legally mandated quotas and mechanisms designed to enhance the representation of women in decision-making can easily be undermined, and the the numerical presence of women in representative bodies alone will not ensure their participation.
The paper explores numerous different arguments and perspectives (intrinsic, instrumentalist, essentialist, diversity, transformative, and symbolic) that show that the representation and participation of women in local governance is directly linked to the advancement of women, and is a basic requirement in the journey towards gender equality. Also discussed is the potential for gender equality to impact the culture of politics, as seen in the reduction of corruption in some municipalities in India and Rwanda, as well as the negative impacts that arise from the exclusion of women from decision-making bodies.
The author finds that the participation of women in local governance can and should be enhanced in three essential areas: as voters, policy-makers and as members of decision-making bodies. Furthermore, there is need for policies that involve empowering local authorities and communities to develop strategies that combine the empowerment of both communities, and rural women as individuals, something that will require local authorities to encourage the input of their constituents to identify areas that most need addressing.
The paper concludes that in order to ensure that the decisions that affect women’s lives are taken seriously, women cannot remain passive bystanders in their own development, but should be proactively involved. Together, the various arguments make clear that gender is central to understanding conventional politics, and as the case of Zimbabwe shows, local government systems represent an excellent opportunity for women to begin breaking down barriers, and help encourage and normalise their participation in politics.