POLITICAL violence which affected the country in 2008 and stigma attached to women has contributed to Zimbabwe’s failure to meet the Sadc 50% quota for women in top positions including Parliament.
Zimbabwe currently has 85 women parliamentarians in the National Assembly compared to 185 men.
This means that the country would not meet the 2015 Sadc deadline, as the next elections in Zimbabwe are only expected in 2018.
Of the 85 women parliamentarians, only 25 were directly elected to Parliament while the other 60 are in the House of Assembly courtesy of a constitutional provision which reserves seats for women.
In an effort to have more women representation in the Senate which is again filled by proportional representation, political parties are now by law obliged to put forward candidates in a Zebra format with women topping the list.
According to Chapter 6 (4) 120 (2), elections of Senators must be conducted in accordance with the electoral law, which must ensure that Senators referred to in subsection (1) (a) are elected under a party-list system of proportional representation –
(b) in which male and female candidates are listed alternately, every list headed by a female candidate.
But despite this provision, Senate is still dominated by men because of the 16 seats reserved for traditional chiefs who are predominantly male.
It is, however, the 60 National Assembly seats which have courted controversy as the move to increase the number of women participation in politics has been met with ridicule by MPs who were elected directly now referring to proportional representation MPs as BACCOSI MP.
BACCOSI was a programme started by the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe at the height of the 2007 economic collapse when villagers were given groceries at ridiculously cheap prices.
The Women Parliamentary Caucus which met in Kadoma recently for a Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) workshop on Gender and Elections said political violence and other social deterrents were a major deterrent against women participating in politics.
Caucus chairperson Monica Mutsvangwa said Zimbabwean political parties continued to be dominated by men and as such proportional representation was the most likely tool which would see an increase of women legislators.
“First electoral systems in the Sadc region, Zimbabwe included, continue to be male-dominated, focusing more on competition rather than gender balancing. Secondly, political parties are still primarily male-dominated and women are socially discriminated against in social processes,” she said.
“As a result of these two major obstacles there is generally insufficient gender-positive national frameworks and electoral bodies.”
Rorina Muchiwa (MDC-T), who relived the horrors of 2008 when she was attacked by Zanu PF-aligned women supporters while bathing at her home, said political violence was the biggest deterrent to the political advancement of women.
Muchiwa said she fled her home naked in broad daylight after the attack and sought refuge at a police station. But despite being the victim of an attack, she was arrested by police and kept in detention for three months.
“I had to move my children out of the house and into relatives’ homes for safety reasons and even when I was released from remand prison I could not even stay in my house, I spent time living in mountains wearing apostolic gowns to avoid detection,” she said.
Muchiwa said such violence and “insanity” in Zimbabwean politics made it impossible for women of high standing to even come close to politics. She said even after the Constitution reserved 60 seats for women, they had become subjects of ridicule, verbal and physiological violence which escalated to the point that members are now called BACCOSSI MPs.
Monica Chigudu (Zanu PF MP) said legislators directly elected by voters did not take kindly to their proportional representation colleagues visiting their constituencies because they posed a serious threat come 2018.
“We have seen the ridicule of PR [proportional representation] legislators and clearly they are not being accepted by those who were elected directly . . . we have heard some Honourable members threatening to unleash the CIOs (sic) (Central Intelligence Operatives) on PR legislators who visit constituencies that are represented by them,” she said.
Hurungwe East MP Sarah Mahoka, one of the legislators elected directly, said she would not take kindly to proportional representation MPs coming into her constituency without invitation or consultation with her.
“Winning an election is a tough job, it involves being a mother to the people in the constituency, meeting their needs and solving their problems . . . you use your resources and therefore you guard your space jealously,” she said.
Women lamented that the current nomination system for women quotas in Parliament was also open to abuse in male-dominated political parties with some saying the male leaders were more likely to second their girlfriends into the seats.
Rejoice Ngwenya Sibanda, who was facilitating the meeting, noted that the Electoral Amendment Bill in its current state gave political leaders the powers to nominate a woman from the party who would fill a proportional representation seat that is left vacant during the course of the life of the Parliament.
The ZESN director Rindai Vava Chipfunde also retraced how violence had affected civil society and general participation of women in the political system of Zimbabwe.
Chipfunde said in 2008 her home was ransacked by police and other government agencies who thought that since ZESN had observers around the country she had election results.
“My children are now even afraid when they see signs that Zimbabwe could be going for general elections . . . that time we faced serious challenges staying at relatives and friends’ houses for security reasons and as a mother that sort of tells you to get out of the electoral space,” she said.
ZESN observers according to the organisation were beaten up and others killed in Mashonaland West as tempers flared during the 2008 elections won by the MDC-T and its leader Morgan Tsvangirai also he failed to get an absolute majority.
A Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) official also told the workshop that they were also not safe from electoral violence.
“Whichever party loses the election thinks Zec would have helped rig the results and they get angry at us sometimes turning violent . . . a colleague who just went missing turned up dead after three months,” she said.
Zec spent over two months before they could release Presidential results for the 2008 elections with polling officers being ordered to do recounts in hostile conditions while others were arrested.
MDC-T MP Evelyn Masaiti accused Zanu PF of using members of the police force to harass and intimidate political opponents, forcing women to stay out of politics.
“You suffer psychologically and physically to the point that even your in-laws and children just want nothing to do with you, it would really take a strong person to stay in the race otherwise some just buckle under the pressure,” she said.
Women also lamented the lack of campaign resources saying their male counterparts were loaded with cash and could afford expensive campaigns.
President Robert Mugabe’s government which has a bloated Cabinet of 21 ministers only has three women entrenching the belief that politics is a male domain.
Zimbabwe is currently ranked 30 on a list topped by Rwanda in the world in terms of women representation in Parliament with 31,5%.
The media was not spared with women parliamentarians saying the unofficial fourth estate which is male dominated chose to flag negatives about women while praise singing or ignoring the mistakes by male politicians.
Former Copac co-chairperson Paul Mangwana while addressing journalists in Mutare in 2012 encouraged women to form their own political parties and field 100% women candidates in all 210 constituencies on offer.
“The women always complain that political parties are male-dominated and that they want to have more seats allocated to them, but they can just form a political party of their own and have 100% candidates in all constituencies,” said Mangwana then.