CHAPTER One Foundation has lamented that lack of diversity in appointments to public office has deteriorated under the UPND government.
And Chapter One Foundation says it believes the current position of the law with regards to diversity in appointments to public office is in breach of Zambia’s treaty obligations which guarantee non-discrimination and the rights of all persons to participate freely.
And Young Women in Action executive director Harriet Chibuta says government needs to ensure structural and legal reforms that will allow more women in decision making positions.
Speaking at a joint media briefing, Monday, Chapter One Foundation executive director Linda Kasonde observed that of the 24 Cabinet Ministers, only four were women.
“In 2020, Chapter One Foundation, Young Women in Action and another civil society organisation petitioned the Constitutional Court under the cause over the lack of representation of women, youth, and disabled persons appointed to public office by President Edgar Lungu under the previous Patriotic Front government. At the time, of the 10 provincial ministers appointed none were youth, female, or persons with disabilities. The 30 cabinet ministers appointed, only nine were female, none were youths and none were persons with disabilities. In the Petition, we highlighted that of the 164 Members of Parliament, only 29 were women,” Kasonde said.
“In addition, although there were 30 positions available for Cabinet Ministers, only nine women were appointed and no youths or persons with disabilities were appointed. Further, of the eight Nominated Members of Parliament, only two were women, and none were either youths or persons with disabilities. The situation regarding the lack of diversity in appointments to public office has deteriorated under the new UPND government. Of the 24 Cabinet Ministers, only four are women, none are youth, and none are persons with disabilities. Of the 10 Provincial Ministers only one is a woman, none are youth, and none are persons with disabilities.”
And Kasonde said the Constitutional Court’s interpretation on the provisions of Article 259 that the President’s power to appoint cabinet members is discretionary, allows successive governments not to provide equal representation.
“On 18th August 2021, the Constitutional Court delivered its judgment dismissing the petition by a majority judgment and found that the power of the President to appoint members of Cabinet was discretionary. Further, the Court was of the view that the Petitioners bore the burden of proving that it was practical to appoint an equal number of women and men, and an equitable number of youth and persons with disabilities and had failed to do so,” she said.
“The Constitutional Court is the only court with jurisdiction to interpret the relevant provisions of the Constitution. Furthermore, decisions of the Constitutional Court are not appealable as it is a court of first and final instance. In this regard, we as Petitioners had exhausted possible remedies in Zambia.”
Kasonde said the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights had been engaged to get their opinion over the standards of compliance by a member state as regards diversity in representation in public office.
“We believe that following the interpretation of the provisions of Article 259 by the Constitutional Court, the current position of the law in Zambia with regard to diversity in appointments to public office is in breach of Zambia’s treaty obligations under the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Maputo Protocol which guarantee non-discrimination and the rights of all persons to participate freely in the governance of their country,” she said.
“We have therefore referred the matter to the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights for their opinion on the issue. It is our hope that the communication to the African Commission will clarify the standards of compliance required by a member state to the aforementioned treaties as regards diversity in representation in public office.”
Kasonde said the Constitutional Court’s judgment could not go unchallenged.
“This case is not about the current government’s failure to give effect to Article 259 of the Constitution which requires gender equality and equitable representation of youth and disabled persons in political appointments. It is about the fact that the judgment of the Constitutional Court effectively restricts the full application of constitutional provisions that provide for gender equality and equitable representation of youth and persons with disabilities,” said Kasonde.
“The judgment has done that by effectively allowing successive governments the discretion as to whether or not to meet the gender equality and equitable representation of youth and disabled persons on the basis that it is impracticable without requiring the government to prove that it is indeed impracticable. We think that that assertion cannot go unchallenged and that is why we have taken up the case at the African Commission on Human and People’s Rights. Zambia has ratified the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights and the Maputo Protocol which guarantee non-discrimination and allows all citizens the right to full participation in public life.”
Meanwhile, Chibuta said government needed to ensure structural and legal reforms that would allow more women in decision making positions.
“I think this speaks directly to how we can see more women participating in elections going forward. So for instance, the government must take this very seriously and ensure that there are structural, legal and electoral reforms to ensure that the environment is levelled for everyone to participate. We all understand that women face many challenges and that is the reason why we are probably not vying for positions in the by-elections,” said Chibuta.
“If the government takes such legal reforms to ensure that the playing field is leveled, then we are going to see more women participating. On a political level, is the government ensuring that political parties allow equal representation and nominations of women and men? Are the youths and persons with disabilities represented? So this is going to paint a different picture going forward.”