Women continue to be sidelined

Female politicians’ capabilities are doubted. As of 2015, women had the right to vote, globally.

EVEN though it is a widely accepted development, peace and prosperity cannot be achieved without half the world population participating, women continue to be side-lined.

In politics, stigma against women continues, according to experts.

Women face structural, socio-economic, institutional and cultural barriers, and they are underrepresented in politics and public life. Globally, women make up less than 23% of parliamentarians.

Female politicians’ capabilities are doubted. As of 2015, women had the right to vote, globally. The first nation to grant female suffrage was New Zealand in 1893.

Saudi Arabia was the last in 2015.

Today, several countries are led by women. In countries like Finland, the cabinet is dominated by women, following the implementation of measures to improve gender equality.

Progress in Zimbabwe has been slow.

But the adoption of a quota system in 2021 helped increase the percentage of female legislators.

Yeukai Simbanegavi, deputy minister of National Housing and Social Amenities, said lack of funding was one of the major factors leading to women’s exclusion is politics.

 “If you are not a strong woman in this country, you will not take part in anything even at church or village structures,” Simbanegavi said.

“The problem is, men are intimidated by women. They know that women are very capable, accountable, reliable and hardworking so they use their political and financial muscles to intimidate them.

“They use social media to spread lies, which tarnish women’s reputation. Sometimes women are labelled prostitutes.

“Because women want to protect their reputation, they choose not to participate in anything,” she noted.

Simbanegavi said society was patriarchal, and this was a disadvantage to women.

At the same time women do not believe in other women’s capacity to lead, she added.

The legislator said many women were not aware of their constitutional rights.

“The constitution is very accommodating, especially in this Second Republic,” Simbanegavi said.“Women and youth quotas encourage them to participate and take leadership roles. But the problem is, women are not aware of opportunities offered to them.

“The women quota gave them more room to participate. But women think it is only a men’s game. We do have women in powerful ministries now like Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri in Defence holding strategic ministries, which was impossible in the First Republic.

“This should encourage more women to participate. Women in ministries should help in empowering fellow women.

“It is also important for women to unite if they want to end marginalisation,” Simbanegavi added.

Linda Masararira, Zimbabwe Women in Politics Alliance president said sexism, misogyny and gender stereotyping were major challenges. “Historically, colonisers made sure women stayed in rural areas while men were in towns. This strengthened the patriarchal system and gender inequalities,” Masarira said.

“The structural deformities in our society have subjected women to societal discrimination whenever they want to participate in politics or challenge anyone masculine in the political arena. “A proper Zimbabwean woman is expected to be married, submissive, dependent and hardworking. The moment she becomes aggressive, independent, ambitious and economically independent a lot of tags are attached to her,” she said.

Masarira said more women, who have ventured into politics, had suffered from name-calling, which has tarnished their images.

She said the curriculum must be reviewed to incorporate gender mainstreaming.

“Government has failed to influence change in social, religious and cultural attitudes,” Masarira said.

“Women continue to suffer, yet we have a law, which prohibits discrimination,” she said.

“It is imperative for the gender commission to put recommendation to parliament to come up with strict penalties on any individual, political party or institution that violets Section 17, 56, 80 and 104 of the Zimbabwean constitution.

“The media should also provide gender sensitive coverage of elections, avoiding negative stereotyping and present positive images of women as leaders.

“It is time that women from all walks of life, political parties and churches converge and start addressing issues of gender equality, discrimination, abuse, sexual harassment and women empowerment,” Masarira said.

Samuel Wadzai, Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET) leader, said: “As VISET, we understand the central role women play in the informal economy. As such, we decided to establish the Informal Economy Women’s Hub, which  shines the spotlight on challenges they encounter in the course of their daily lives. “We are also currently having conversations on the importance of women’s participation in political processes”.

  • Rasa is a 2023 Womentorship fellow. This article was published with support from Friedrich Naumann Foundation through its Womentorship Fellowship Programme targeting young and upcoming female journalists. The programme was designed in 2021 after a realisation that female journalists occupy a few leadership positions. Its objective is to capacitate female journalists to ensure gender balance in the newsrooms, while creating a safe space for them.


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