Politics – no easy walk for women

Women’s participation in politics remains low due to several bottlenecks hindering efforts to ensure that men and women share 50% representation in the political arena by 2015 in line with the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development.

Report by Phillip Chidavaenzi

Women in Zimbabwe have raised concern that the political field in the country was too “blood-soaked” for their comfort and there was need to humanise the political space so that it could be attractive to them.

Zanu PF’s MP for Goromonzi West, Beatrice Nyamupinga, says while there is need for women in politics and those in the civic society to close ranks and join forces, the fact that the women have to be in political party structures to participate was often a drawback.

“We want the fundis to join the party, to be in the structures,” she says, adding that past attempts by the Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development ministry to get “knowledgeable” women, who have much intellectual capital from the civic society into mainstream politics have been thwarted.

“The ministry wanted to come up with a Women’s Council Bill, like the one in Uganda, where women would not have to be in party politics, but are elected from the community to represent women’s interests,” she says.

“We wanted to include women from all walks of life, but this is a political party show.”

She says the Bill was blocked in Parliament after it was felt that it would be similar to the Gender Commission.

Nyamupinga, who is the Zimbabwe Women’s Parliamentary Caucus chairperson, bemoans how the drive to reach a 50:50 gender ratio in Parliament is increasingly running out of steam as the number of women in the august house is on the decline.

Such retrogression has been blamed on women’s lack of capacity to pull significant weight on a skewed political landscape.

Sunningdale MP Margaret Matienga (MDC–T), who has not been confirmed in her party ahead of the forthcoming elections, says for her to last this long in Parliament, it took much sweat and blood –
something she says women in civic organisations are perhaps not prepared to deal with.

“Some of us who are unlearned are better prepared to confront violence, unlike educated, middle class women. I’ve been beaten and harassed, but I am strong,” she says.

Sometime last year, Matienga had to watch the Chipangano terror outfit unleash violence on her supporters in full view of the police during an MDC-T rally in Sunningdale.

Nyamupinga says the majority of women desiring to step into the political arena finally give up due to lack of resources.

“Our people (in the constituencies) are poor. If someone comes with money, they go for that person, and usually these are men,” she says.

“If we are not financially empowered, we will not make it. Our politics have been commercialised. A well-resourced person needs just one night of campaigning and they will make it.”

She says lack of understanding on the role of the legislator among the electorate is a problematic issue as most MPs end up addressing issues outside their brief to appease a restive constituency.

“You can be voted for if there are gender sensitive policies. But people want you to do something tangible for them.

“As an MP, my role is to make laws, but I end up building roads too. You come to my constituency and you find that my car has also been turned into a hearse as I assist those who have been bereaved,” she says.

She says she prefers to miss parliamentary meetings while working out in her constituency and sometimes she has no choice, but to use her own money to do the work.

The programmes manager with the Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU), Patricia Muwandi says her organisation has been working with different political parties and have found that the MDC-T to have a better inclination towards gender issues.

“We are educating the electorate on that (roles of the MP). But we have realised that the MDC-T is the most gender sensitive, but more still needs to be done to ensure that leaders adhere to their policies that promote gender balance in both parties,” she says.

Media, Advocacy and Communications Officer at The Women’s Trust, Tendai Wenyasha Garwe, says her organisation is running what they have dubbed “Simuka Zimbabwe Campaign”, which she describes as “a social visioning tool for women to understand the role of the MP, among other issues.”

She says: “The electorate needs a lot of teaching on why they should vote for a woman. You realise that after the election season, it’s over. The woman should become the mother of the community.”

Nyamupinga says it’s important for women to appreciate that the defeat of a woman in an election was the defeat of all women.

Matienga challenges women in the civic society to come and observe her party’s primary elections as they are open to all.

“You are our watchdogs. You are free to come and observe the MDC-T primary elections and confirmations. It’s sad that women’s organisations don’t even come to observe what is happening in the political parties,” she says.

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