WOMEN in Zimbabwe constitute about 54% of the population of about 14 million people. In the just-ended 2018 harmonised elections, statistics compiled by Women In Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) indicate that there were 1 176 women out of 5 620 candidates that were nominated to run for local government council seats yet only 261 women were actually elected as councillors out 1 958 wards, which is 13,3% of all the council seats.
guest column: Linda Masarira
In 2013, we had 16,2% women councillors and this year’s results indicate a drop of 2,9% in the number of women councillors. A total of 243 women out of 1 405 men were nominated as candidates and only 26 women were directly elected into Parliament out of the 210 elective seats available in Parliament.
For the first time in Zimbabwean elections, we had four women presidential candidates who unfortunately suffered from negative publicity and didn’t receive enough support from the electorate which still thinks that women are incapable of leading at presidential level, which is a narrative that needs to be changed.
The final result of duly-elected public officials show a completely different result in relation with population demographics due to a number of factors which include patriarchal dominance, ignorance on the importance of voting for women candidates, toxicity of the electoral playing field, polarisation and manipulation of the political economy.
The new Constitution of Zimbabwe (2013) provides a strong legal framework for the promotion of gender equality and women empowerment at every level of governance in all institutions and agencies of government. Section 56 of the Constitution clearly provides legislation for equality and non-discrimination of any person.
Section 56(2) reads, “Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.” Section 17 lays the provision of gender balance in Zimbabwean society and promotion of women participation by the State in all spheres on the basis of equality with men.
Zimbabwe is also signatory to key regional and international human rights instruments such as the Committee on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003), Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development, yet we are still failing to comply with these international instruments and constitutional provisions with regards to gender equality.
The State must take positive measures to rectify gender discrimination and imbalances resulting from past practices and policies and must take practical measures to ensure that women have equal opportunities and access to land and natural resources as enshrined in section 17 of the Constitution. Section 17 (1b) is continuously violated by the State, political parties, institutions and agencies of government as they fail to comply with its provision to ensure that both genders are equally represented and that women constitute at least half the membership of all commissions, elected and appointed governmental bodies established by the Constitution or any Act of Parliament.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe remains the supreme law of this land as enshrined in Section 2 which speaks to the superiority of the Constitution and how any law, practice, custom and conduct which is inconsistent with it is invalid. It is high time women of Zimbabwe take legal action against the State and political parties for failure to adhere to constitutional provisions if we are truly sincere about the issue of gender equality.
No one is above the law and no woman should continue being prejudiced of their rights because of selective application of the law and patriarchal dominance. In short, no one is more Zimbabwean than the other.
Women in Zimbabwe continue to face a myriad of challenges in the political, social and economic spheres due to historical marginalisation, gender inequalities and imbalances.
Harmful cultural and religious practices have negatively impacted on women’s rights including power imbalances, patriarchal attitudes, ignorance of constitutional provisions regarding gender equality and high levels of misogyny in the political economy. Women are still viewed as tokens in the political arena were they are used as pawns in a game of chess to settle cheap political scores and organise support for male chauvinistic leaders who hardly give women space at the dining table, which has led to most women hardly occupying key decision-making positions in political parties.
The buck stops with women because there is nothing for women without women, and no power is ever delivered on a silver platter. It’s not easy to break barriers, but it’s important for the barriers to be broken for posterity so that the upcoming generation of young women leaders won’t be verbally and sexually harassed and abused in political parties. If we do not fight to end abuse of women in political parties as women, we will continue swimming in the same dark, murky waters.
The only party which made an attempt to achieve gender equality in its structures from the standing committee right down to the ward structures is the MDC-T led by Thokozani Khupe which has seven women and seven men, including 40% youth, in its standing committee, which is a first in Zimbabwe and Africa as a whole.
Low representation of women in leadership and decision-making positions has led to low levels of participation by women and manifestation of gender inequalities and imbalances. If women are not on the dining table, they are definitely the menu. Strides should be made to ensure that more women occupy public leadership positions so as to tackle pertinent issues that affect them.
High prevalence of violence in the political terrain has posed major challenges to the advancement and empowerment of women. When women are not adequately represented in public and private spheres, it leads to high maternal mortality rates and low representation of women issues in Parliament and council chambers. Harare Hospital has not had running water for years, and the most affected are women and I have never heard any MP raising that issue, even though I have protested about it and wrote about it several times. There is just lack of political will to ensure that the issue is rectified.
Lack of running water affects the woman in labour more because they are made to carry several buckets of water before delivery and these are issues that could be dealt with once and for all if we had more women in Parliament.
There are a lot of issues that need a woman’s touch at policy level which include how to deal with child pregnancies and marriages, vulnerability of women to HIV, sexual reproductive rights, gender-based violence, effects of climate change on women, lack of access to natural resources and police brutality on women. These are issues that need urgent attention and can only be raised by men with feminist lenses and we hardly have any of those in the Ninth Parliament.
Most policies in Zimbabwe have remained gender blind and unresponsive to the needs of women. It is not a secret that lack of adherence to constitutional provisions and prioritisation of gender issues has resulted in poverty, food insecurity, economic disenfranchisement of women and prostitution. A genuine desire to address these issues is needed from the State, all the Executive, Legislature, Judiciary and all agencies of government right down to the common woman in Malipati. Lack of political will to address these challenges is a tragedy. Women of Zimbabwe, arise for posterity and save yourselves from doom.
Zanu PF fielded 23 women out of 210 parliamentary candidates instead of 105 out of 210 as per provisions of section 17 of the Constitution. Failure by all political parties to fail to comply with the constitutional provisions in section 17, 56 and 80 is a clear indication of lack of political will to adhere to the supreme law of this land.
Failure to implement 50/50 gender representation is evident in the public sector and parastatal boards which have remained male-dominated. There is need for legislation to compel political parties to comply with constitutional provisions regarding gender balance.
Stiffer penalties should be put in place to deal with any organ of government, political party, public, private or civic organisations that do not comply with constitutional provisions on gender equality and full promotion of equal rights. There is no democracy without women. Women in political parties should stop being used as patriarchal gatekeepers of misogynistic men who do not practise what they preach. It is folly to think that a political party with seven women candidates out of 209 in the 2018 harmonised elections values women participation in politics. There is need for a paradigm shift of the mindsets of women if they truly want patriachy to be untangled. It is a collective responsibility and not just the responsibility of women in politics.
The 2018 harmonised elections were characterised by high levels of misogyny, sexism, ageism, hate speech and intolerance of divergent views. I was not spared the vitriol of sexist and derogatory statements for exercising my constitutional right to freedom of assembly and association as enshrined in section 58 of the Constitution. I am an adult with a sane mind who makes critical independent decisions not based on artificial perceptions of manipulating the masses using 48 laws of power. My convictions led me to stand for the truth even if it made me unpopular and I always sleep with a good conscience knowing that I did what was right and stood firm for what I believed in. Every woman in politics who has dared challenge the so-called popular status quo of a certain political party was labelled “prostitute”, “traitor” or “sellout”. It’s rather unfortunate that for a country that prides itself in being very educated, the levels of intolerance and misogyny exhibited speaks otherwise.
I have always been a strong advocate for gender justice, labour justice, constitutionalism, socio-economic and political rights, but and the levels of intolerance that was exhibited towards women who had divergent views from our erstwhile comrades in certain political parties was contrary to the values they speak of as a party. It is rather unfortunate that instead of upholding democracy, they manifested into a culture of violence, intolerance and dictatorship.
In conclusion, it is imperative for the Ninth Parliament to ensure that there is adequate electoral reform to address women representation issues, gender delimitation of constituencies and strict sanctions for hate speech and politically-motivated violence towards women. There is need to start redefining how we do politics in Zimbabwe and to completely move away from politics of patronage and personalities.
We need a more gender sensitive, inclusive and holistic approach of selecting public officials with the capacity to develop and transform Zimbabwe.
Linda Tsungirirai Masarira is director of Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance andwrites in her personal capacity