With national elections expected in 2023, electoral stakeholders have already turned their attention to women’s inclusion in those electoral processes, as a means to achieve more female inclusion in political positions.
To map the gendered landscape of the country’s electoral environment, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) hosted an inception meeting Thursday where it was observed that despite the presence of legal instruments, which promoted gender parity, women still faced ‘well-known’ obstacles.
Equally well known was the resistance of political elites to removing these obstacles and other issues that emerged were women’s supposed lack of confidence and Zimbabwe’s volatile political culture.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC)’s Voter Education Coordinator, Silas Silaigwana, said the commission had come up with a Gender and Inclusion Policy after realising that beyond binaries of either male or female, there were some gender issues that impeded women’s participation in electoral processes.
“These are issues to do with disability, gender roles associated with that kind of a situation and also the general environment, the economic and socio-political reality that may actually impede women from participating in the electoral process and as such, in our policies we coined the Gender and Inclusion Policy,” he said.
Silaigwana emphasised ZEC was also alive to the challenges women faced and it would be naïve for people to call for a 50/50 parity in parliament or elsewhere, without interrogating the impediments.
ZEC District Elections Officer, Sithembiso Khuphe, added that stakeholders must study hindrances to women’s participation in politics.
“You can’t address what you don’t know. We may think it’s violence but some men have faced that violence but still go ahead to contest, so what specifically is holding women back from contesting,” she said.
Khuphe added that women must start campaigning now, “introducing themselves in their communities and community projects, if they wanted to make into the 2023 electoral field.”
Thembelihle Sibanda from WCoZ argued that in Zimbabwe, people had developed a culture where they voted according to ‘politics of their belly’ or for a favourite political party without regard to a candidate’s merit.
“People don’t vote for ubuntu or what they believe in. They vote for political parties, as an individual you can introduce programmes but if you are not from a certain political party, people will not vote for you. People vote according to that and their stomachs,” she said.
“During voter education, people will complain that we don’t see our representative anymore, yet the truth is you never saw them before except for the time they only came to buy you. This is the politics we are living on in Zimbabwe. Perhaps we have to study the criteria on how people vote.”
Sibanda also lamented that women were financially incapacitated to run their electoral campaigns.
“We went to the Women’s bank but their demands are outrageous as women didn’t have those requirements leaving them disheartened. We then questioned whether the women’s bank was really for women or for a particular grouping,” she said.
Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) Bulawayo Field Officer, Ndodana Ndhlovu noted that to enhance women’s participation in electoral issues, laws on regulation had to be tightened and call for political will.
“Women will need to fight this war on two fronts, that is tighten laws on regulation. Why are laws not domesticated and woven into our daily practices. We must also put necessary pressure on political parties to behave in a manner that women want and also invest energy in calling for political will. Importantly, we have to support women’s initiatives,” he said.
Ndlovu added that the culture of political parties had to be dealt with as well, for them to include women in their party lists.
“For example, South Africa makes use of the Zebra list, where you find a man, woman, man, woman. It’s a policy that is enforced and women need to make sure they conduct a serious conversation to regulate political parties to do this. Without laws that force political parties to behave in a certain way, men won’t do anything to hand over power to women,” said the ZESN official.