HARARE — Women’s groups in Zimbabwe have responded angrily to President Robert Mugabe's decision to appoint just three women to his 26-seat Cabinet. Defending his decision, Mugabe says women must do better in elections to be eligible for Cabinet posts. Women say the road to gender equity in Zimbabwean politics is a long one, given their disadvantaged background.
Only 12 percent of Zimbabwe’s new Cabinet is female, well below women's 52 percent share of the population recorded last year in Zimbabwe's census.
After swearing in his new ministers on Tuesday, President Robert Mugabe told journalists that there is nothing abnormal about having just three women in his 26-member Cabinet.
“Education is for all now. It is mixed. The yield is the same. It is no longer necessary for us to have affirmative action, it is now free for all. Let women contest alongside men without any preferential treatment," said Mugabe.
Zimbabwe's new constitution, approved earlier this year, provides legal protections for women, including equal rights in the workplace and a 50-50 representation in all public offices, which would appear to include the Cabinet.
In addition, the Southern African Development Community has mandated that its members give women 50 percent political representation by 2015.
After this week's Cabinet announcements, the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe convened to strategize on increasing women's participation in the political, legal and economic sectors.
The group's chairwoman, Virginia Muwanigwa, said her members are not happy with Mugabe's appointments.
“We are disappointed that we have not been able to achieve the number of women in Cabinet according to what we expected in the constitution, which is actually 50-50 or 50 percent," she said. "And we are particularly disappointed because it is not just about the Cabinet, but what the Cabinet represents in the lives of people of Zimbabwe."
An official with the Women in Politics Support Unit, Patricia Muwandi, says not all hope is lost. She explains why women in Zimbabwe lag behind in politics.
"The historical imbalances that have seen most women not getting enough opportunities as their male counterparts in terms of accessing education and the gender roles the women expect to play," she said. "So this where we are saying; as an organization we want to work with the women to ensure that those with some qualifications can go further."
The women, who come from the business world, academia, the church, and civil society, say they hope the Zimbabwean government will eventually live up to the constitution and appoint equal numbers of women and men to all public offices and commissions.