Political violence is a barrier that is preventing women from participating in political processes, says a Bulawayo Metropolitan Proportional Representation legislator, Jasmine Toffa, a victim of political violence.
Toffa and other Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) members were brutally attacked in Insiza’s Ward 4 by suspected Zanu PF members while campaigning for their party’s candidate, Augustine Gumede, before this year’s October 22 by-elections.
She suffered fractures in both of her hands and a metal plate had to be inserted in one of them.
“Violence has affected me and various other women in the past few weeks. Most women are afraid of participating in politics because of violence,” Toffa said in a Twitter Spaces discussion hosted by CCC members based in the diaspora.
“We have been encouraging women to stand up in politics since they make up a higher percentage of the population but when you look at what has happened in the past few weeks in Matobo and Insiza they may not.”
Toffa said the attack was so brazen that even after introducing herself as an MP they still went ahead and assaulted her.
She called on the government and parliament to address the scourge.
“This needs to be looked into by the government. We need to fight against it in Parliament, though not in a violent manner as the ruling party has been doing,” she said, emphasizing that violence was real, topical and currently happening.
“We cannot as a nation carry on in such a barbaric manner. We claim to be one of the most educated but how do educated nationals behave in such a manner? If we are educated, how are we going to encourage women to come into political spaces if they are going to be beaten?”
Toffa added that cultural barriers also affected women’s political participation.
“Especially in rural areas, where women have to seek approval from their families – husbands or mothers-in-law. Due to the cultural way of living, women are not seen to be leaders. They are supposed to take instructions from their husbands,” she said.
“We need to make sure our communities are educated because women in particular need to be capacitated to see themselves as leaders.”
Toffa stated the majority of party mobilisers in Binga ahead of its December 3 by-election are women, and that in itself is a testimony of their ability to take the lead.
“Yet officially people will not want to give women that space to be leaders. So there needs to be a lot of education,” she said.
She also mentioned that Parliament had passed the Electoral Amendment bill which sets a ceiling of thirty percent for women councillors.
“This will address mischief that is taking place. We need to make deliberate efforts so that we see women as very important in the political sphere,” said the legislator.
Toffa went on to say that women were “not financially liquid” culturally and historically.
“A man can do what he wants, sell cows or take from family savings while women cannot. Women also need to be capacitated to be financially liquid,” she said.
According to Toffa’s experience, many women were not documented due to cultural imbalances.
“You will notice the boy child is given preference, parents make sure the son has a birth certificate and an ID, whereas women do not. Non-documentation creates a vicious cycle in which one ends up without citizenship,” she lamented, urging communities to take advantage of the current documentation drive.
“The law has been relaxed for people to be documented. We also need to take advantage of the constitution that talks about equality, proportional representation and make it deliberate for women to get the ‘First Past the Post’ position.”
Toffa also lamented how women are used and or viewed as sex tools, saying it has to stop.
“We hope and trust women in political space will find ways of making sure that this does not continue but demand the place and respect they rightfully deserve,” she said.