Political parties have come under fire for doing little to ensure gender inclusion

A leading inclusive governance expert has criticised political parties in Tanzania for failing to make deliberate efforts to ensure gender inclusion in their ranks, hindering the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

Dr Victoria Lihiru made the criticism on Tuesday 25th April 2023 while presenting summary findings on a study she conducted titled ‘Locating Gender Equality and Inclusion Commitments in Political Parties Constitutions’ during a day-long workshop organised by the Tanzania Center for Democracy (TCD) in Dar es Salaam.

Dr Lihiru examined the constitutions of TCD members – Chama cha Mapinduzi (CCM); CHADEMA; ACT-Wazalendo; Civic United Front (CUF); and NCCR-Mageuzi. The study was co-funded by the Swiss and US Embassy in Tanzania.

Dr Lihiru, a law lecturer at the Open University of Tanzania (OUT), said that the recognition of equality and non-discrimination principles starts and ends with the preambles to the political parties’ constitutions, recruitment of women members and the establishment of the women’s wings.

“Critical parts of the party constitutions make no commitments to women’s inclusion,” she said during a presentation.

“Gender blind spots are seen in critical parts such as party membership; party leadership positions; representation in decision-making organs; candidates’ nominations; allocation of political parties’ resources; and capacity building,” she added.

The scholar found that there is a challenge in establishing the number of women and men members in a political party’s list.

She said this is so because the law does not require political parties to submit a sex-desegregated membership list to the registrar of Political Parties when applying for provisional and or complete registration.

No gender safeguards

Regarding leadership in political parties, Lihiru found that while the parties’ constitutions safeguard the representation of the two parts of the Union – Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar – in the election of its national leaders, they carry no safeguards in ensuring both genders are represented.

She points out opposition ACT-Wazalendo as an exception for electing two women at each of its Mkutano Mkuu to sit in the leadership committee. The party also has a Shadow Cabinet, headed by a woman, Dorothy Semu.

Dr Lihiru names CHADEMA as a political party that has never had a woman in national leadership positions since its establishment in 1992.

“CHADEMA held its most recent internal elections in 2019, culminating in a male-led party,” she noted. “Sophia Mwakagenda aspired for the Vice-Chairperson position but withdrew her candidacy a few days before the election.”

It took 45 years since CCM’s formation for the party to have its first female National Chairperson and the first female Deputy General Secretary-Mainland in 2021, Samia Suluhu Hassan, and Ms Christina Mndeme, respectively.

Anamlingi Macha replaced Ms Mndeme. In addition, CCM elected the first female Secretary for Party Ideology and Publicity, Sophia Mjema, on January 14, 2023.

“The election of political parties’ leaders at the lower party administrative levels is also male-dominated,” Dr Lihiru noted. “Most women in the political parties’ national leadership positions are Vice-Chairpersons or deputy general secretaries.”

She calls this “deputisation,” a situation she thinks “does not avail [the women] of substantive decision-making power.”

Far off

Speaking earlier while inaugurating the workshop, Party Registrar Judge (retired) Francis Mutungi said political parties must address these challenges to ensure maximum participation of women in the parties’ leadership.

“The reality on the ground is telling,” Mr Mutungi said. “The number of women in the decision-making organs of our political parties is dismally low. I think this is a challenge political parties should commit to address as part of national strategies to achieve gender parity in Tanzania.”

TCD deputy chairperson Prof Ibrahim Lipumba said political parties must ensure women’s participation in leadership, pointing out that it is logical to do so because women outnumber men in Tanzania.

“Women also is the biggest voting group in this country,” Lipumba, who doubles as the national chairperson of the opposition CUF, said during the workshop. “But they are not fairly represented at parties’ leadership positions. Now, that has to change.”

Balanced political participation and power-sharing between women and men in decision-making is the internationally agreed target set in the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action.

According to UN Women, women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals by 2030.

However, data show that women are underrepresented at all levels of decision-making worldwide, something which makes the UN agency conclude that “achieving gender parity in political life is far off.”