Activity Highlight of the Public Webinar on Effective Participation and Representation of Women in Zimbabwe’s Electoral Democracy

The Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted a virtual public meeting on the topic; “Effective Participation and Representation of Women in Zimbabwe’s Electoral Democracy” on Wednesday 13 October 2021. Panelists at this meeting were Commissioner Joyce Laetitia Kazembe, Shamiso Chahuruva and Rejoice Sibanda, all drawn from the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), Jonathan Chindewere of Padare/ Enkundleni Men’s Forum, Namatai Kwekweza from WeLEAD Trust, Ronica Mumbire from the National Association of Non Governmental Organisations (NANGO) and the Women’s Bureau and Virginia Muwanigwa from the Zimbabwe Gender Commission.

The virtual meeting was held against the backdrop that the demographic of women voters is not reflective in terms of their participation in leadership and decision making in elections and governance processes. Women in Zimbabwe continue to suffer from historical marginalization and structural inequalities that exist in all spheres of life, including the governance arena. Even though some progress has been made in legislating the participation of women in elections and decision-making in Zimbabwe, including adopting a quota system in Parliament; women’s participation in government at all levels, from local to the national, remains extremely low and in some cases, has regressed. The discussion was based on a Question/Answer approach and focused on answering key questions on the electoral environment, Electoral Laws and electoral administration in relation to women participation.

One of the panelists, Commissioner Kazembe noted that issues that continue to be problematic include violence and patriarchy. She argued that even though we have legal provisions promoting the participation of women, the implementation leaves a lot to be desired. She also noted the need to promote women participation in electoral processes through incentivizing them and creating structures that safeguard them from all forms of violence. Commissioner Kazembe recommended that perpetrators of violence must be arrested and also called for a more holistic and expanded legal framework with more ‘teeth” to deal with perpetrators of violence. She called for more sanctions for individuals and institutions who denigrate women and abuse their political rights.

Virginia Muwanigwa highlighted that patriarchal culture has denied women a voice in electoral issues, with political parties only catering for women on paper but not in practice.

Namatai Kwekweza outlined the different types of violence that women encounter. She noted that violence against women is often perpetrated physically, emotionally, psychologically, socially, mentally and culturally. She explained that women, including young women belong to communities, cultures, families and groups before they participate in electoral processes. In these groups, women are often treated differently in a way that disadvantages them. Religion and culture are used as weapons against women, particularly young women. Women are humiliated for being powerful and refrain from participation in electoral processes because they do not want to be misfits or outliers in society. She also spoke on the need to deal with the voter apathy that is rampant among young people and to ensure that they get the necessary documentation that they need to register to vote, particularly National Identification documents.

Jonathan Chindewere explained the systematic violence that women face. This includes resource violence since they do not have equal access to resources as men, physical violence, and sexual harassment. He noted that women who desire to participate in politics are often branded as prostitutes which discourages most women from participating in electoral processes. On the participation of young people, including young women, Chindewere noted that they must be encouraged to be in charge of their own decisions to participate, and not be guided by the older generations.

Chindewere also noted that the desired 50/50 approach to gender balance in electoral processes and leadership positions is not only aspirational but can be a reality. He informed the meeting that he is not a subscriber of the 60 seats quota system for women, but believes that a 50/50 scenario of having 105 women and 105 men in the National Assembly can be achieved.

Asked about whether there is a need to look at the “quality” of women that participate in electoral processes and get into leadership positions, Ronika Mumbire noted that there is a pool of women who are capable of good leadership, and that many institutions have been investing in upgrading women and empowering them to take leadership positions. Virginia Muwanigwa further buttressed on this point and expressed concern that men are not held up to a quality assessment like women when it comes to leadership positions. Another panelist, Namatai Kwekweza concurred that there is no scientific proof that if a person is a man or older, they are more competent at leadership.

Shamiso Chahuruva from the ZEC gave an analysis of the legal framework and the extent to which it promotes or hinders effective participation of women in electoral processes. She noted that the legal framework in the form of the Constitution and Electoral Laws give a sound basis for women participation but there are problems with the enforcement and implementation of those laws. She cited Sections 17, 56 and 80 as providing a sound base for the participation of women but regretted that the situation on the ground has not reflected the letter and spirit of those constitutional provisions. She also called on political parties to have mechanisms that promote the participation of women in electoral processes.

ZEC’s Rejoice Sibanda propounded the need to get political parties to balance gender on the candidate lists that they submit to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission since currently there is no law to enforce that. She added that ZEC does not have the power to coerce political parties to do so, they will not conform to the prescribed format.

Several recommendations were proffered by panelists on how to improve the participation and representation of women in electoral issues. Namatai Kwekweza spoke of the need to feminize political systems because they were originally designed by men in the absence of women. She noted that women must take advantage of the fact that patriarchy is dying therefore they must be in position to build political literacy and power. Jonathan Chindewere recommended that there be a genuine conversation with key stakeholders like religious leaders and traditionalists, to challenge patriarchy and make them understand that women can also be capable leaders.

When the debate was opened to the floor, several participants also expressed their opinions on the subject. One participant expressed concern that more often than not, women do not support each other for political offices, and tend to pull one another down by voting for men instead. There was also consensus among most participants that most women do not participate in electoral and other political processes for fear of victimization and abuse, and called for stiffer penalties against perpetrators of all forms of abuse against women, including name calling and body shaming. Participants also called for electoral reforms that promote the participation and representation of women, including enforcing political parties to adopt a gender balanced approach in fielding their candidates for political posts.

In conclusion, the meeting was a great success as it stimulated a great discussion on women participation and representation in electoral processes. The meeting laid a solid foundation for future debates on the topic. The meeting which was live streamed on the ZESN, and co-streamed on the Sly Media and WIPSU Facebook Pages was attended by about 70 people on the ZOOM platform and garnered more than 20 000 views on Facebook.

Source: Zimbabwe Election Support Network

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