Zanzibar. A consortium of three non-governmental organisations has released a circular identifying key legal and policy gaps constraining women’s participation in political and democratic leadership in the semi-autonomous archipelago of Zanzibar.
The organisations – Tanzania Media Women’s Association in Zanzibar (TAMWA – Z), Zanzibar Female Lawyers Association (ZAFELA) and Pemba Environmental and Gender Protection Community (PEGAO) – issued the circular on October 5, 2023.
The circular comes at a time when Tanzania and Zanzibar are preparing for general elections due to take place in 2025, where people will have the chance to vote for councillors, members of parliament, members of the House of Representatives (Zanzibar), and presidents.
Women are unfairly represented in political and democratic leadership in Zanzibar, representing only 38 per cent of the House of Representatives, according to the circular that the three organisations issued.
Only eight women, equivalent to 16 per cent, entered the House of Representatives by winning in their constituencies, while 40 per cent of female legislators entered the House via the legislative quota of 40 per cent.
Women comprise 36 per cent of all District Commissioners in Zanzibar and 33 per cent of judges and deputy principal secretaries, respectively, the circular reported.
The lowest representation of women is at the basic level of administration – the Shehia – where they constitute only 16.45 per cent of all Shehas in the isles.
The situation is much worse for People With Disabilities (PWDs) as only three of them, equivalent to four per cent, are in the House of Representatives.
In their circular, the organisations highlight laws, policies and cultural practices that constrain women’s participation in political and democratic leadership in Zanzibar, which they consider to violate the country’s Constitution, demanding immediate reforms ahead of the 2005 elections.
The laws include the Political Parties Act CAP 258 R.E 2002, which the organisations think has not given women and PWDs any consideration. The act does not establish quota systems for political parties nor redress violence against women in politics, the organisations charge.
They decry the Kadhi’s Court Act No.9 of 2017, which they have criticised for embracing “patriarchy” by not allowing a woman to head the institution that is primarily responsible for enforcing limited rights for Muslims.
They also criticise the Zanzibar Civil Status Regulation Agency Act No. 3 of 2018, which, like the Kadhi’s Cort Act, “has effectively excluded the fate of Muslim women from civil law.”
The three organisations have criticised the Zanzibar Elections Act No.4 of 2018 for failing to protect women against abusive remarks during elections. According to the organisations, the law has not considered materials needed for PWDs for their voting comfort.
The activists also take issue with the Civil Servants (Participation in Politics) Act No.3 of 2003, the Youth Council Act No.16 of 2013 and the Zanzibar Local Government Authority Act No. 7 of 2014 for contributing to undermining women’s participation in political leadership in Zanzibar.
The organisations also criticise the culture of “misogyny, sexism and patriarchy within institutions,” which they believe impacts women’s readiness to partake in public life.
They issue several recommendations to address the issue, which include amending all laws and policies undermining women’s participation in political and democratic leadership they have pointed out in their circular.
Najjat Omar is The Chanzo’s journalist based in Zanzibar. She is available at firstname.lastname@example.org.