“An important area which require urgent reforms in our elections is that of violence, especially violence against us women. I do not feel safe as a voter and candidate during elections and the police, ZEC and political parties need to find urgent and sustainable solutions to this serious problem,” said an aspiring women leader in Wedza during a sensitization and awareness raising meeting.
Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) in partnership with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) is currently implementing a “Women Empowered for Participation in Electoral Processes (WEPEP)” project. The initiative comes against a backdrop of outstanding electoral reforms which have inhibited women’s effective, active and full participation in electoral cycles and processes, including in leadership, developmental and democratic processes. The project is being implemented in Chitungwiza and Epworth (Harare province), and in Murehwa, Wedza and Marondera districts (Mashonaland East province).
Women have been sidelined and seldom consulted around the electoral reform agenda hence the need to engage them in actively advocating for the full implementation of the specific reforms that have limited their participation in democratic processes. The Government through the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs publicly indicated that they are working on putting outstanding electoral reforms in place as suggested by organizations such as Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), Election Resource Centre (ERC), observer missions such as the IRI/NDI report on the 2018 elections as well as local observers. This has necessitated the need to mobilize women to push for reforms that will allow them to freely participate in elections as voters, candidates and election administrators.
In the month of January 2020, the consortium implemented the following activities in a niche to amplify the voices of women in demanding comprehensive electoral reforms that improve the electoral environment:
i) Women led safe spaces for awareness-raising and sensitization on outstanding electoral reforms
The consortium held two awareness raising meetings in Wedza which were attended by a total of 100 women. During the meetings, it was noted that women are underrepresented in key decision making bodies such as local authorities and Parliament and this is due to the fact that the electoral act has not been fully aligned to sections 17, 56 and 80 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which provides for gender parity.
One participant also indicated that: “…As part of electoral reforms, the Government must put in place laws to guard against sexual harassment and related violence. I was called ‘hure’ (prostitute) by my fellow party members when I indicated that I wanted to contest in primary elections. Such issues make many women shy away from contesting and there is need to change such conduct,” decried an aspiring women leader. Her concern was widely shared and the women strongly felt that issues of sexual harassment were limiting their active and effective participation in elections. They also appealed to relevant authorities especially the police to address the issue of political violence throughout the electoral cycle.
Other reforms which were discussed included the need for traditional and church leaders to remain non-partisan and professional throughout the electoral cycle. They also called for the setting up of an effective and accountable election dispute resolution mechanism that swiftly and impartially addresses all election related disputes.
ii) Women training and educational programme on the Electoral Law and reforms
On 21 January, the consortium trained 43 women in Chitungwiza on electoral law, reforms and constitutionalism. The women were drawn from all the wards in Chitungwiza. The core of the training was on electoral reforms and the content included understanding the structure of elections in Zimbabwe, unpacking the electoral act, election administration and management, importance of electoral reforms, institutions targeted by reforms, conduct targeted by reforms and the outstanding electoral reforms.
Giving feedback, most women appealed to the state to spearhead the election reform agenda as credible elections promote stability and development of society.
iii) Women capacity building training, intergenerational coaching and mentorship sessions
The two organizations also convened a two-day Transformative Feminist Leadership training of 200 aspiring women leaders drawn from all the nine wards in Epworth. These women are aspiring to different posts such as school development committees (SDCs), council and parliamentary seats. Some of the topics covered in the training programme were constitution and constitutionalism, electoral reforms, non-violent Campaign strategies, political career development, public speaking and mastering the art of convincing, resilience building and social accountability, constituency outreach, voter mobilization strategies, introduction to feminism, etiquette and confidence building. After the training, the aspiring leaders were awarded certificates of accomplishment which they will use to strengthen their political profiles when they want to run for public office.
For some of the women, the certificate of accomplishment was the first certificate they had obtained in their lives and they cherished it as it shows that regardless of socio-economic and educational status, women can also make strides to lead. The use of participatory methodology which included dramas allowed women to creatively explore topics such as campaign strategies and gender equality using their own experiences. This allowed the participants to be active learners and to take ownership of the programme which is critical for sustainability.
iv) Male engagement to support gender equality in electoral reforms
Lastly, the consortium hosted an oversubscribed male engagement programme in Epworth where 150 men of the expected 100 took part. The male engagement was part of raising awareness on the need for men to support women leadership in their communities and to also support the call for electoral reforms. The men were engaged formally in a meeting set up and also in informal settings such as at sporting events like pool tournaments.
Key issues which men identified as adversely affecting effective women participation was the violent nature of electoral contests, negative cultural practices, poverty and patriarchy. Some of the men also identified religious beliefs as a challenge because women are stereotyped in certain religious beliefs. Subsequently, the men also proposed that as a solution to these challenges there was need to engage traditional and church leaders to also promote women leadership in their spaces. The men also suggested that opportunities which were available for women to take up leadership included positive community beliefs that women are more approachable than men and are better at financial management. They suggested that these could be leveraged in the work of promoting women leadership.
Source: Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE)