Why women leaders perform badly in presidential elections

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Times of Zambia by Hildah Lumba

IS Zambia ready for a woman president?
From the look of things, it is clear that the sexist society that Zambia is, is not yet prepared to change the male dominance of presidency going by the paltry votes the only female candidate Edith Nawakwi is recording in this year’s presidential race.
This is despite the fact that the Non-Government Organisation Coordinating Council (NGOCC) recently called on women to support Edith Nawakwi whom the council argued was highly committed to promoting national and local policies that addressed the socio-economic and political challenges facing women, children and disadvantaged groups.
Why is it that women who play an important role in politics by supporting male candidates have confined themselves to playing the second fiddle of dancing and singing for male politicians? Who is to blame for this bigotry?
When one thinks of a leader of Ms Nawakwi’s stature, the woman who has been on the turbulent political scene since July 20, 1990 when she joined the Movement for Multiparty Democracy (MMD), it is difficult to understand why she has been underperforming politically.
The former University of Zambia student who cut her teeth politically in the MMD held several political positions of deputy minister of Energy, minister of Agriculture, Food & Fisheries and finally occupied the plum job of Finance minister.
In 2001, Ms Nawakwi with 19 others were fired from the MMD after rejecting Frederick Chiluba’s bid to go for a third-term of office as president. They formed the Forum for Democracy and Development (FDD) in which she emerged vice-president.
In 2005, the FDD chose her as the party leader, a platform that made her attempt to become the first female president of Zambia in presidential elections the following year.
By this time the Beinjing Conference had already rooted to conscietise women on their rights, including voting for female candidates to high political offices.
How then can one explain why Ms Nawakwi has been performing poorly since she started standing for presidential office considering that Zambian women represent 60 per cent of the electorate?
One can liken Ms Nawakwi’s ill performance to that of another high-profile female presidential candidate, the late Gwendoline Chomba Konie who studied for a doctorate in Sociology at the University of Warwick and entered politics when she was nominated to Zambia’s Legislative Council in 1962, two years before independence.
In independent Zambia, Ms Konie held diplomatic posts of Zambia’s permanent representative to the United Nations and ambassador to the Federal Republic of Germany before forming her own party, the Social Democratic Party (SDP).
Till her death in March 2008, Ms Konie continued championing women’s rights in a country that is not ready to change the status quo concerning women’s rights. Yet like Ms Nawakwi, she ill-fated politically with her presidential bids bearing no fruition.
Considering their numerical advantage over men, there is no plausible explanation for the female candidates’ poor performance in presidential elections other than a lack of support for each other.
Kelly Valen’s The Twisted Sisterhood published in the UK recently revealed that women universally were their own enemies when her survey disclosed that almost 90 per cent of the 3,000-plus women who took part in her survey frequently felt “currents of meanness and negativity emanating from other females.”
Almost 85 per cent of those who took part in the 50-question survey admitted having suffered serious, life-altering knocks at the hands of other women.
The women reported that many of their female friendships had an “intense, sinister underbelly” characterised by “intra-female incivility” and insidious, “gratuitous negativity”. More than 75 per cent had been hurt by the jealousy and competition of a friend.
It is not surprising then that a big continent like Africa has only had three female heads of State – Catherine Samba-Panza of the Central African Republic, Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and the former Malawian president Joyce Banda.

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