Feature -Women participation in politics still pitifully low as Zimbabwe prepares to hold harmonized elections


By Johnson Siamachira and Sharon Tawuya

Harare (New Ziana) -When Zimbabwe holds harmonised elections on August 23, fewer women will be contesting due to a number of reasons, chiefly fear of political violence, intimidation and abuse from their male competitors.

A deeply conservative southern African nation of approximately 15 million people, Zimbabwe holds general elections every five years to elect a President, Members of Parliament and local government representatives.

However, a sombre atmosphere grips the female electorate each time they go to the polls as political violence remains one of the major challenges to women’s full participation in elections.

Since independence in 1980, fewer women have participated as candidates in elections compared to men.

“Women are exposed to political violence in different forms as election administrators, voters, candidates and intimate partners of male political leaders,” says Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) media and information technology officer Jessie Chihota. WALPE trains and helps prepare women to run for public office.

Sally Ncube, National Coordinator of Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe is on record saying, “women are underrepresented in leadership and decision making” and had in February last year hoped for more women participation in the 2023 elections.

In 2018, only four women contested as Presidential candidates while this year, only one, United Zimbabwe Alliance leader Elisabeth Valerie successfully registered out of the 12 candidates who will be on the ballot paper for the Presidential race.

Valerio managed to file her papers after winning appeal against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) which had rejected them over issues of payment.

Only 70 out of the 637 candidates vying for the 210 National Assembly seats are women, which is a decline to 11 percent from 14.4 percent in 2018, while at the local government level, results show that women constitute only 15 percent of the candidates who successfully filed their nomination papers.

In the March 26, 2022, Parliamentary by-elections, there was no movement in the number of women participating in political contests. ZEC says 15 percent of the candidates in the polls were female-the same number as the July 2018 National Assembly elections.

Women in Zimbabwe have traditionally been viewed as cheerleaders and chanters for male politicians resulting in little or no competition against the men, a scenario which is, however, disturbing considering that they constitute 52 percent of the electorate and of the 15 million people in the country.

The government, however, is very worried about the lack of women participation in politics with Justice Minister Ziyambi Ziyambi insisting that it has always been its wish that women participate in politics.

Zimbabwe is trying hard to rehabilitate its image, long battered by Western countries, who unjustifiably accuse it of human rights violations. Some Western nations have also imposed economic sanctions on this country, which is trying hard to shake off the quagmire through home-grown economic and development solutions.

“We have always wanted women engagement in politics. This is why we introduced a women’s quota to enable women to take part in the country’s politics, but since 2013 and 2018, the numbers have dropped significantly, making a negative bearing in national politics.” Ziyambi said recently when he addressed diplomats and foreign observer missions accredited to cover the August 23 polls.

Women rights watchdogs strongly maintain that women remain grossly underrepresented in political posts, Parliament and in the cabinet, despite efforts to achieve the 50-50 representation in politics.

According to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR, violence against women politicians is on the rise during this campaign period, raising fears that it could discourage their participation.

To protect women who bravely express their political views despite facing continuous challenges both online and offline, the Zimbabwe government should intensify its efforts in combating hate speech and harmful content that fuel animosity and incite violence against women in politics, said ACHPR in a statement.

Opposition Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD) president Linda Masarira, wanted to join the presidential race but failed after she could not raise the US$20 000 fees. She went on to challenge her rejection at the electoral court but the application was thrown out.

She told New Ziana that steep nomination fees denied her and 57 other female Parliamentary candidates from her party the opportunity to represent citizens.

“The journey was arduous. I was very angry and disturbed, I felt rejected. I was a victim of inconsistent monetary policies in our country. Also, my constitutional right was violated. When ZEC pegged the nomination fees it was trying to elbow out some Zimbabweans from participating in the electoral process which is, however, unconstitutional.

“There were people who had hope in me and were going to vote me as their president regardless of the status of my pocket,” she said.

Masaria said insults and name-calling was rife to women in politics.

“Insults, name calling, and body shaming becomes the order of the day. I have resorted to blocking (online) all those who speak vulgarities and retrogressive issues,” she pointed out.

Since 1980, a number of policies and strategies were put in place to promote gender equity in the country.

Zimbabwe adopted a new Constitution in 2013 which is more progressive compared to its predecessor, the Lancaster House as it guarantees gender equality and non-discrimination.

The new Constitution also brought to an end the legislation of inequality by outlawing gender-based discrimination. The provisions of the new Constitution include the establishment of the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission, the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, among others.

These institutions are expected to provide recourse to citizens who may feel that their rights have been violated. They are also proactive in facilitating contemporary research into key issues and recommending appropriate action by relevant authorities at various levels. The challenge remains that of making the supreme law operational and effective.

Since the late 1990s, Zimbabwe has put in place gender machinery that saw more than 10 years of discussions of a National Gender Policy, eventually adopted in 2004.

In 2019, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission conducted a gender audit to establish representation of women within political parties. Findings were that no political party managed to achieve the 50/50 threshold between men and women in 2018 elections.

Other key findings of the audit included lack of confidence in the leadership of women, limited support for female candidates and lack of commitment by political parties to implement gender equality provisions.

Speaking at recent meeting to reflect on the achievements of the Ninth Parliament (2018-2023) in advancing gender equality and women empowerment, ZGC chairperson Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe said the participation of women in key sectors remains low.

She said the situation was unfortunate as the country’s Constitution provides elaborate and explicit constitutional guarantees for promoting gender equality.

“These constitutional provisions clearly support the equal participation of men and women in all spheres of life within Zimbabwe.
“Further, the country is party to various regional and international instruments on gender, among them, the Convention on the elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women.

“All these instruments provide a framework for the government to use in ensuring the achievement of gender equality,” she said.

Mukahanana-Sangarwe said the Electoral Act should be amended to make it mandatory for ZEC to only accept lists of candidates for nomination from parties that have a 50-50 representation.

“The commission would like to propose Constitutional amendments that will ensure gender equity. We propose the reservation of seats for women, that is, 105 seats for women and 105 seats for men.

“These can be rotated every five years. Alternatively, we could adopt a proportional representation electoral system in the House of Assembly like we have for the senatorial elections,” she elaborated.

ZGC chief executive officer, Virginia Muwanigwa, concurred that the position of women in political parties is a challenge.

’Women are heavily side-lined in political parties. Even when women rise to the top they can be reduced due to spurious charges, ‘’ she said, adding, “Political parties prefer men for critical positions and do not trust women to do an adequate job. Political party governance structures, including at the highest levels, still have limited numbers of women and a higher proportion of men.’’

With less than two weeks to go, Zimbabweans can only hope that the participation of women will improve in the next polls in 2028.

New Ziana

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