“Cocktail of barriers still hinder women from taking up political positions”

Leaders of women’s lobby groups have called on the government to join hands with civic society in the development of new and effective legislation to spur the empowerment of women, enhancement of their political participation, as well as their uptake of influential positions in political parties. Statistics at hand show that Zimbabwe has an estimated population of about 14, 65 million people, based on 2019 estimates, where women are said to constitute 52.2 percent of the population.

Analysts have opined that it defies logic why women, with their numbers and being the majority gender in the country, continued to play second fiddle to their male counterparts in leadership positions as well as positions of authority.

According to Logic Shenjere, the public relations manager at the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC), the absence of a clear legislative framework that advances women’s empowerment, coupled with archaic traditional customs and political violence will continue to haunt efforts to empower Zimbabwean women in their bid to wrestle the leadership mantle from their male counterparts.

Shenjere said while the country has a sound constitution that encapsulates women empowerment as an essential element of democracy, there was a need for a new framework that would effectively see more women take up leadership positions in various spheres.

“As the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, we believe that we have a very progressive constitution in Zimbabwe that has tenets of women’s empowerment contained in it. While the constitution is very progressive and unambiguously clear on gender equality, we still need acts (laws) that will operationalise the provisions of the constitution to give us the desired results where, without any shred of doubt or hesitation, we are all able to champion women’s empowerment and rise to influential leadership positions in our political, social, and economic spheres.”

Logic Shenjere, Public Relations Manager – Zimbabwe Gender Commission

He added there was a need to promulgate gender sensitive pieces of legislation and policies whose role would be to spur on the efforts to promote and enhance the participation of women in politics and other decision making and influential positions.

“I think the starting point is adherence to the constitution on issues of gender equality, equity, and justice. We need to have institutions and individuals adhering to the provisions of the constitution because we are saying, basically, that this is a social contract that we agreed to as Zimbabweans that we are going to respect gender equality and that we are going to advance and promote gender equality as it is captured in Sections, 17, 51, and 52 of the constitution, very clearly.”

Logic Shenjere

Shenjere added that the ZGC had realized that socio-cultural and political set-ups in Zimbabwe were also creating lethargy in women’s uptake of positions of influence.

He said those set-ups need to be done away with because they are designed in such a way that they naturally discriminate against women.

“When we talk about socio-cultural structure, socialization and patriarchy, we are indeed talking about a structure that favours masculinity at the expense of femininity. It is a challenge on its own to say that we are dealing with a culture that does not agree entirely with a proposition that women can be equal with men in every other cultural activity,” Shenjere said.

“That is the reason why we have a number of harmful cultural practices in our society, not only in the physical sense but also in the aspirations of women, their dreams, and aspirations to venture into the powerful positions in our society.”

He added: “For example, most of our cultures do not allow our women to hold positions such as traditional leadership in our communities. Our culture is a system that oppresses women. It is a system that denies women opportunities to rise to influential positions.

“The political system and culture does not allow women to progress to bigger leadership and influential positions. For example, there is use of political violence to scare away or chase away women from participating in politics. That is why you see there is a surge in political violence as we move towards election periods. It is a system that is designed to chase away women from the political field,” Shenjere added.

Organization for Rural Associations for Progress (ORAP) director, Mvuselelo Huni told CITE women were eager to take up leadership positions but were being let down by their male counterparts.

She, however, emphasized on the need for a dimensional shift in the society’s views on women and their participation in active politics. “For example, our politics is not necessarily exclusive to men but it is the system that is at play that inhibits women from showing up and standing up to be counted within that space,” she said.

“If a political party is to hold meetings, you will find out that those meetings go up all day or for a couple of weeks. A lot of questions arise for women who have other roles at home as to how they would then participate in such meetings without jeopardising their roles as mothers at family level? How would we expect a mother to leave her family alone for a week to attend a political meeting elsewhere? This does not speak to the legislation but simply to the need for the reform of the political sphere so that it also accommodates women who have other roles to play in the society and community.”

Mvuselelo Huni, Director – ORAP

The ORAP boss said her organisation had tried to inculcate the aspect of 50-50 representation for women in the areas of Matabeleland where most of the organisation’s activities are domiciled.

“At community level, we have tried as an organisation to champion women participation as evidenced by localised policies, though unwritten, where in all the local committees that we work with, we have adopted a position that women should hold 50 percent of positions in those committees,” she said.

“That is, in a way, a decision that has been taken to spur women into action to be able to take up those spaces as they have been reserved specifically to enhance their participation in the running of their affairs at a local level. The game, however, has not been the same in the political sphere, Huni said.

“The challenge is that in politics, space is not safe for women. If you look at what has happened to women political activists, the abuse that those women activists have suffered discourages other women from taking part,” she said.

“Women ask a lot of questions concerning the welfare of their children in the event that they are arrested or killed while involved in political work. Most of them are scared by the fact that their families could suffer should anything happen to them, things such as arrest or death, while they are involved in political activities.”

Fadzai Traquino, the director of Women in Law-Southern Africa added her voice to concerns over the failure of women to rise to leadership positions in the country.

“There is a lack of political will especially by political parties to field women candidates especially in constituencies they know they will win,” she said.

“Top hierarchy positions in the main political parties also have few women yet statistics from ZEC (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) show women as the biggest percentage of voters in the country. The challenge is that there are no incentives in the law or reprisals for political parties which do not field women candidates on equal representation to men,” said Traquino.

She reiterated Huni’s view that women shy away from political contestations where violence is used by candidates to cow those that vote to vote in a particular fashion.

Source: Centre for Innovation and Technology