On 15 January 2022, the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) with support from Free Fund hosted a talk-show on BUSTOP TV to reflect on the state of women’s preparedness ahead of the national by-elections scheduled for 26 March this year.
The by-elections have been proclaimed to fill the vacant seats in the National Assembly and Local Government and there are various members of WALPE’s Women Leadership Networks (WALANs) across the country who are billed to contest in the polls. During the talk-show, WALANs from Mufakose-Harare and rural Zhombe- Kwekwe district bemoaned the lack of resources, civic and voter education and minimal support that women are getting from their political parties during this phase.
WALPE notes with concern the large sums of money that women aspiring leaders are being asked to part with within their political parties in order to submit their applications to be considered as candidates. Those who want to contest as MPs are being required to pay $100usd and $50usd for those who want to be councillors. Considering the current economic challenges exacerbated by the COVID19 pandemic, the fees are too hefty especially for women aspiring leaders most of whom are at the receiving end of poverty in Zimbabwe. This has negatively impacted their participation in the electoral process to the extent of having some of them withdraw from contesting in the by-elections.
WALPE has engaged some of the political parties that have imposed the hefty fees to put in place conditions that allow for the full participation of women candidates, including those that are economically disadvantaged.
Another television program was broadcasted on 17 December 2021 by WALPE in partnership with WLSA on preparedness of women voters and candidates to participate in the 2023 elections. Women aspiring leaders from Chinhoyi, Hurungwe, Goromonzi, and Mutoko shared various strategies they are putting in place in their communities to gear up for the polls. Some of the strategies include door to door voter education, mobilising first time voters to register to vote and assisting fellow women to amplify their leadership campaigns. The program was supported by the Netherlands Embassy.
The WALPE recorded significant progress in Mabvuku, Gwanda and Masvingo in 2021 where the #LetsGo5050 Gender Equality Project was being implemented with support from Diakonia. During annual stakeholders’ reflection and assessment meetings held between 27 November to 10 December 2021, the stakeholders expressed gratitude for the transformation they are witnessing in their communities after capacity building trainings of aspiring women leaders by the organisation.
Some of the leadership development exercises that were implemented under the project included Transformative Feminist Leadership trainings, Capacity Building in Social Entrepreneurship, Value Addition and Access to Markets and the disbursement of Income Generating Projects Seed Funds to women aspiring leaders.
The stakeholders testified during the meetings that there was notable eagerness on the part of women aspiring leaders to take up leadership positions. There was also an increase in awareness raising on the ills of gender based violence especially violence against women in politics. Community members engaged during the implementation year appreciated the importance of supporting women leadership and promised to engage more people especially men and boys in the area to change their negative perceptions against women vying for public office. Small Income Generating projects IGPs being administered by the women leaders have also contributed to an increase in market products.
The aspiring women leaders that benefited from the income generating projects in the three areas are doing various projects that include poultry, aqua culture, baking, and sale of various products that include fruits, vegetables, clothes and kitchen ware. Proceeds from the sales will boost their financial capacities to effectively manage their leadership campaigns ahead of the 2023 elections.
To mark the commemoration of the International Human Rights Day on 10 December 2021, WALPE through the Women Reform Network (WRN) held an online protest highlighting outstanding electoral reforms that are inhibiting the full participation of women in electoral processes.
The protest was held on the Women Reform Network Twitter and Facebook pages and photos of the network members holding placards embedded with messages on outstanding electoral reforms were posted.
The posts were brought to the attention of President Emmerson Mnangagwa, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Parliament of Zimbabwe and various public and private institutions with an interest in electoral processes. The protest came about after the President had indicated that he was not aware of the outstanding electoral reforms needed to be put in place in order to guarantee a level playing field in the upcoming plebiscites and beyond. Up to 100 messages in different languages were shared on the day.
From 14 to 20 December 2021, the WALPE trained 400 aspiring women leaders from Zhombe and Mufakose in Transformative Feminist Leadership supported by the Free Fund. The women were drawn from various political, social and economic backgrounds and were equipped with necessary skills and knowledge to prepare them for the various leadership positions from community to national level.
Some of the topics that they were trained in include Political Career Development, Building and Managing a Campaign, Public Service and Volunteerism, Constituency Outreach and Voter Mobilisation Strategies, Introduction to Climate Change, Grooming and Etiquette. The women leaders shall further receive training in social entrepreneurship in a niche to enhance their skills and knowledge in business management, value addition, packaging and branding. The programme will help them boost their economic function and make them self-reliant and independent to run successful political campaigns.
From 18 to 24 December 2021, the WALPE successfully launched the WCLP in eight districts of Binga, Hwange, Gutu, Zvishavane, Mberengwa, Hopely, Makoni and Nyanga with 160 community leaders that included councillors, various village and ward committees and traditional leaders in attendance.
The program is being supported by the Citizen Engagement for Accountability Activity (CEAA) and is aimed at enhancing capacities of aspiring women leaders to facilitate civic engagement that is gender responsive and in line with WALPE’s broader objective of increasing women participation in leadership and decision making processes.
The key stakeholders that graced the meetings were very enthusiastic about the program and promised to organize vibrate women to participate in leadership. The stakeholders present identified some of the factors inhibiting aspiring women leaders such as patriarchy, access to information, politically motivated violence, illiteracy and lack of identification documents. The five-year program aims to increase the number and quality of women taking up community leadership positions such as School Development Committees, Health Centre Committees, Village and Ward Development Committees and councillors in line with section 17, 56 and 80 of the constitution that call for gender equality in all leadership positions.