Women face a plethora of challenges including poverty, illiteracy and limited access to education, not to mention domestic violence—but is a legislated quota in parliament the ultimate solution to their growing problems?
As the country enters election season, focus has also turned into women political participation to achieve 50/50 representation. Women constitute the country’s majority at 52.1% of the national population. But women political participation remains low in rural Hwange East because of poverty, cultural and religious backgrounds and illiteracy. Their passivity in decision making forums which includes conflict prevention and local governance structures result in them being underrepresented.
Gloria Shoko, a villager from Ward 17 in Mabale in Hwange East, sees no benefit in active politics. “Most of the women are unaware of the benefits of being a Member of Parliament of the community,” Shoko says. “Information by those in power is not well distributed to us who are in the village, therefore at the end of the day I believe that politics is for those who are already in power.”
Recently, Mabale hosted a community awareness meeting on women political participation where Shoko was an attendee and it was brought to light that women in the area have no interest in politics. Chairperson of Women Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) for Hwange Chapter Catherine Madondo says rural women hesitate participating in politics because they fear being body shamed. “The body shaming of female politicians and females who hold public offices has to an extent contributed to their failure to participate in political spaces,” Madondo says.
Former Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe and other female politicians often complain of a hostile environment in which sexual harassment is common. “Male counterparts use shame and shaming processes to intimidate women intending to participate in politics, women in the August house are called names and this also creates a negative mindset to them participating in politics,” Madondo says. In 2019, former legislator Joana Mamombe was targeted for sexual harassment in Parliament by some unidentified Zanu PF legislator who shouted ‘hure’, meaning prostitute. “Women need to know that participating in politics also means voting. One’s vote is their right and secret,” Madondo adds.
According to a research done by Gender Lens Journal, violence against women and their marginalisation in decision making is on the rise in Zimbabwe. “Marginalisation, violence and exclusion are affecting their efficacy in economic, social and political spheres, leading to their underrepresentation,” the Gender Lens journal notes.
Hwange based lawyer Linda Mthombeni says women feel unsafe to engage in active politics. “Issues relating to violent attitudes, behaviours and context (norms, systems, structures and policies) make it insecure and unsafe for women and girls to freely and actively participate in politics, economic, social and religious life in their communities,” she adds.
Since the adoption of a new constitution in 2013, the country had a legislated quota of 60 seats distributed among parties on a proportional representation basis. This clause was valid for 10 years, and was supposed to expire in 2023. Constitutional Amendment 2 now extends the clause by a further 10 years. This means that apart from getting more women in Parliament generally, the Constitution now specifically gives space for young women in the legislature.
Mthombeni says women need ‘protection’ from their male counterparts for them to fully enjoy the legislated quotas in the coming elections. “In many occasions, the legal, social, economic, health, political, community and environmental security of women and girls is compromised, that is why as legal practitioners, we want to assure women of their protection,” Mthombeni says.
“Exclusion is a form of discrimination, and is discouraged world over.”
Source: The Citizen Bulletin