NAREP Strengthens Women Participation in Politics
In late July 2014, women from all ten provinces of Zambia joined a two-day conference held in Lusaka, capital city of Zambia, with the purpose of strengthening NAREP’s Women’s League. The conference on womens participation in politics was arranged as part of DLDP's project with NAREP.
By Katrine Grytter
How to live the NAREP values, the importance of women’s involvement in politics challenges facing women in politics and how to communicate effectively. Those were some of the topics discussed at a two-day conference in July arranged by NAREP and DLDP.
The president of NAREP, Mr. Elias Chipimo Jr. opened the conference on Thursday 24th July with a political statement that echoed through the conference hall and got all the journalists’ pens facing the note books and cameras and microphones to spin faster.
A large amount of representatives from the national media houses covered the promise made by Mr. Chipimo on behalf of NAREP’s Executive Committee – a promise to work for a 50/50 representation of women in the party and in the forthcoming general election in 2016. Mr. Chipimo said that the party would ensure that it adopts 50 percent of women to contest on the NAREP ticket.
This is a radical statement that has not been heard before in Zambian politics, where women engaged in politics too often are perceived as ‘prostitutes’ or mere dancers for political party presidents, rather than respected politicians. As a result, only a limited number of women stand strong long enough to fight for their fellow sisters rights to influence their country, community and the coming generations.
Mr. Chipimo, who later addressed the media directly, received a big applause that accompanied him as he left the conference room. Thirty four dedicated NAREP female politicians, some of those aspiring for parliament, travelled from all over the country, one carrying her six-month-old daughter, to meet up and start the hard work that will lead to a stronger organization of the Women’s League Program. The hope is that the training and organizing of available capabilities can play an active role in promoting NAREP’s value-based politics and help the party recruit new members.
The workshop is a strategic investment in the development of the Women’s League, and is one of the political and organizational events made possible because of the relationship and support from the Danish DLDP-program. For the first time, NAREP brought women from all corners of the country to discuss key issues that will ensure women participation in politics and embrace democratic tendencies within the party.
The Importance of Women participation in Zambian politics
Zambian women hold power at community level though not in a political context (yet). In social and community contexts, women play a key role in the household, keeping families together, motivating children to stay in school, attending community work while often also juggling two or three business alongside to secure a stable income.
“We want our voices to be heard, we are the ones that feel the pain,
we want to give a voice to the voiceless. We want to fight the battle
for our children and our children’s children.”
- Member of the Women’s League
Thus, women know the challenges the country’s people face from a micro level perspective. The understanding of the dynamics in society is important knowledge to learn from and consequently this knowledge and networks should be seen as valuable tools that can be activated in the mobilization of new party members.
“Women have inborn leadership qualities. We are action-
oriented. Where there is a woman results are showing. If we
were paid for all the work we do in the household, we would be the
highest paid in the family“
- Member of the Women’s League
In a country where 85% of the population is below the age of 35 and 66 % is below 25 years of age, women are natural role models that can shape the thinking of the coming generations. Women’s continual interactions with large networks create a strong incentive to empower the female voters, making them into powerful opinion makers and politicians.
The challenge of transforming mothers into professional politicians
Getting women more directly involved in politics is also very important for securing a focus on the softer political issues, like household issues, childcare, health and education. In many cases, women have a stronger focus on the softer political issues than male politicians and a representation of both genders makes a stronger multi-faceted political framework.
A discussion about why women staying away from politics at the workshop, put forward classical societal obstacles like lack of finance, lack of self-confidence, female traits like shyness and emotion making it harder for them to handle the pressures of bribery and false accusations and rumors.
These challenges often result in women being used as ladders for male politicians as they advance their political careers, rather than as potentially successful politicians in their own right that can be equally admired. This and many other challenges make it very difficult for female politicians to excel in politics. NAREP is however making every effort in ensuring that women realise their potential in governance.
How to regain the trust of the people
Not only Zambian women but the entire Zambian people face the challenges of a difficult political landscape where promises of change are made more often than they are implemented, where most politicians favor their own families and friends above the leadership of the nation.
Politicians’ everyday actions strongly impact people’s perception of the trustworthiness of politicians and when the leading political parties fail to fulfil their promises, it is easy to conclude that all political parties will power in the same way.
To overcome these challenges, women in politics need to be trained to handle the pressure of corruption, briery and essentially knowing the game of politics inside-out.
NAREP is a value based party, and puts a lot of effort into making sure that members not only know the values, but live the values, inspiring people to do better and at the same time in a value based approach strives to minimize the incitement to corruption. The party's core values are:
NAREP's values play key role in attracting especially women to join the party. The values appeal to women, and functions as a safe map for the women to use when they navigate in the political landscape. As long as the politicians stay true to the values, they are on safe ground.
Words versus logistics
Besides an unfavourable political landscape that does not follow all democratic rules, the communications infrastructure is seriously challenging making it hard to communicate political messages to the Zambian voters. There are an inadequate number of accessible roads limiting the distribution of newspapers before they turn into yesterday’s news, making it difficult to access local communities. There is also limited access to the internet and even in areas where it does exist, connections are often unstable with frequent power cuts.
All in all this provides a serious challenge in the development of a strong communications strategy for the NAREP-women. A channel-based approach will not provide the necessary results, instead the workshop focused on providing the women with tools on how to use their words and not only focus on communications, material or channels that require money and other economic resources.
Denmark as inspiration
The story of women in Danish politics with the current female Prime Minister, Ms. Helle Thorning, and several female ministers and top politicians, was used to motivate and inspire the women to achieve a political career.
With the Danish example, women in NAREP believe that it is possible for women to ascend to senior governance position. They now believe that NAREP could be the first political party in Zambia to give the country a first female republican president in future.
Learning to communicate
Most of the women wanted to know when chitenge pieces with prints of Mr. Chipimo and NAREP would be purchased for distribution around the country. Chitenge - the African fabric that women wears as skirts, wraps around their heads or carry small children in has become an important communications channel in election periods.
At the last election in 2009, pieces of chitenge were handed out free of charge by major political players, while the parties hoped that one chitenge could be exchanged for one vote. An easy strategy if you have enough economic resources to buy at least 1 million pieces worth 25 kwacha each. (At the 2011 election, just over one million votes secured the current government the victory).
12 seconds per message
No doubt the chitenge will play a role in the 2016 elections, but money and chitenge material alone is not enough to win the election. Instead, the women were trained on how to use words as a means of attracting members and voters.
To be able to announce a political message in 12 seconds requires practice, knowledge about the political manifesto and most important, knowledge on which solutions to present to the political challenges. The spoken word costs nothing, it does not necessarily have to combined with a specific communications channel, but can be used across social media, radio, face-to-face and in speeches.
The rhetoric tools of announcing political messages and convincing voters of loyalty is about being able to draw on the women’s perception as role models, they need to inspire their surrounding communities about the Party’s political aspirations and plans for Zambia. These messages should be wrapped in stories drawing on elements that reflect the NAREP values, and be told by the role models themselves. Then the communications channels are less important – the political messages will spread.
“I learned how to communicate. How I will talk to the youth
is not the same way I will approach the women. And if I want
to attract voters, I should have a convincing message.”
- Member of the Women’s League
Ms. Katrine Grytter (second from the left) with participants in NAREPs Conference on Womens Participation in Politics.
Ms. Katrine Grytter visited NAREP during the summer 2014. She helped organising the Conference on Women's Participation which was part of DLDP's and NAREP's cooperation.