Female Councilors in Chipinge District Adopt Social Media as Tool to Raise Awareness on Devolution

Platform for Youth and Community Development (PYCD) in conjunction with Vemuganga Community Radio (VemugangaFM) held a training workshop for female councilors in Chipinge District to sensitize and capacitate them on the use of social media and the constitution.

Chipinge District has 38 wards with 30 of them being under Chipinge Rural District Council whilst 8 are from Chipinge Town. Out of the 38 councilors in Chipinge District, only 9 are female councilors. The training workshop succeeded to capacitate female councilors with knowledge and understanding of the legal and policy framework guiding local government systems, with special focus on Chapter 4 & 14 of the Zimbabwean Constitution.

In our socio – political culture, there is prevalent gender inequalities in bargaining power and access to resources. Therefore, in targeting female councilors, PYCD and Vemuganga FM endeavor to enhance women’s status in the district through empowering female councilors against social norms within the community. Thus, the training process promoted Female councilors’ effective participation, influence and leadership in the devolution implementation framework.

Chapter 14 of the Zimbabwean constitution outlines the idea of devolution, and it is envisaged that it will go a long way in repealing the erstwhile centralized system of governance. Devolution allows local authorities to execute local affairs, steer socio-economic development and promote citizen participation for effective democratic processes. The female councilors also gained an insight into the Bill of Rights as pronounced in Chapter 4 of the Zimbabwean constitution. A session on Chapter 4 enhances their greater knowledge on social, economic, cultural, civil and political rights. The Bill of Rights form part of the broader right to livelihood and has significant implications for incorporating into the policy framework of the local government system.

The 9 female councilors were taken through the basics of sustainable community development which has ecological integrity, economic security and social cohesion as the main components. Gender power relations influence the impact of people on sustainable development and can in turn bear great effect on social cohesion. From a policy stand point, it is essential for the 9 female councilors to have an overview of the relationship between gender and sustainable community development so as to facilitate a more sustainable use of local resources while empowering women at the same time. The Chairperson of Chipinge Rural District Council, Patience Mlambo, who was also among the participants, applauded the training. She pointed out that the greatest challenge being experienced by female councilors in Chipinge, emanatines from lack of access to empowering information due to the lack of resources from central government.

“This training is an eye opener and can go a long way if there will be increased support and funding to ensure that we have the gadgets (smart phones) and an Information Centre in Chipinge, where we will be able to access internet facilities to support our social media operations. I admit that those councilors with access to social media, have better capacity ” said Councilor Patience Mlambo of ward 18 in Chipinge East Constituency.

The words of councilor Patience Mlambo were supported by Wishes Hama, who is councilor for ward 24 in Chipinge South Constituency.

“As female councilors we face a lot of criticism that is sometimes unjustified, simply because we are women and lack the tenacity to defend ourselves by providing evidence of our work. This training on social media will go a long way in providing evidence to the public on community development we are involved”

Social media has become an integral part of the communities and can no longer be ignored in the community development trajectory. It has proven to be an interactive tool that bring members of the ward together and encourage them to discuss and explore the underlying issues within their respective wards. One of the outstanding features of the training process is the realization that the female councilors are knowledgeable about their respective wards.

Ethel Toungana of ward 17 pointed out that she is using bulk sms as a form communication in addition to periodic meetings she holds in her ward. However, the use of social media is being hampered by the cost of social media bundles as well as lack of gadgets that are compliant to social media. Access to information on local government system, community needs and devolution can make female councilors more competitive.

Information is highly regarded as power in itself and communication tools can channel power instantaneously to members of wards. In addition to making wards more effective, social media has been identified as a means to improve the quality of engagement and the subsequent decisions. However, there is need to address the economic environment that is undermining the advancement of affordable and access to the full range of communication services.

One of the facilitators Cynthia Gwenzi, who is the Gender Wellness and Advocacy Officer for the Platform for Youth and Community Development (PYCD), admitted that female councilors faced a lot of challenges.

“These female councilors are mothers, spouses and daughters who are expected to behave in a particular way that conforms to the stereotypes and patriarchal beliefs of their communities in Chipinge. It is therefore important that we profile them as a way of strengthening their leadership to overcome these challenges” Cynthia Gwenzi reiterated.

The training process brought out the salient features of women in politics. All the 9 female councilors were elected on the first past the post principle. The electoral field in the district is highly contentious and these female councilors provided a different perspective to politics. The councilors promised to address harmful cultural practices prevalent in the district. These include child marriages and gender based violence.

Source: Platform for Youth and Community Development Trust (PYCD)