Women’s representation in parliament and local government declined steeply from 35% in 2013 to 17% in 2018.
The first post-Robert Mugabe election gave women a platform to challenge for local, parliamentary and presidential elections on an equal footing with men but women performed poorly.
For the first time four women threw their hats in the ring for the presidential election while dozens of others ran for parliamentary and council seats with differing degrees of success drawing mixed feelings.
According to UN Women-United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women website, in 2013 there were 124 women out of 350 Members of Parliament comprising 86 in the National Assembly and 38 in the Senate. But for 2018, according to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, only 25 women won seats in the National Assembly while only 35 made it to the Senate, giving a total of only 60 women out of 350 parliamentarians.
“Although women were beaten, they were not shamed, those who failed to make it put up a good fight and showed women’s potential to hold their own,” said Linda Masarira losing MDC-T candidate for Harare Central.
She said women’s participation, despite most of them being subjected to social media insults, was greatly appreciated and encapsulated in the now-famous adage: It’s either you win or you learn, which showed the undying spirit of those who ran the race.
“I concede defeat with dignity because I ran a clean race,” said Masarira explaining what it was like to challenge stereotypes that perpetuate gender discrimination.
“I went on the ground and I campaigned. I met the people and we were on the same page and same level but when they got to the ballot they decided to vote differently.”
She said she lost because voters chose to vote for a political party rather than the integrity of the individual contestant.
She said Zimbabweans had the right to choose the person they wished to be represented by but that should be done on the ability of the candidate to deliver when elected into office.
“Our politics in Zimbabwe should mature so that people vote for a candidate on merit rather than a faceless candidate representing a popular political party,” she said adding, “I respect the choice of the people of Harare Central, I hope in the future they will change their mindset and vote on merit.”
Despite the government’s commitment to the African Union’s charter which requires equal representation of women across the board, the struggle for Zimbabwean women continues unabated.
“This is going to be the worst Parliament with very few women; it’s actually a tragedy for the women’s struggle in Zimbabwe,” said Masarira.
The elections also raised a nagging question, according to women contestants, “Is the Zimbabwean political environment conducive for women to participate in politics faced with the rampant sex discrimination?”
“The political environment is still rather repressive towards women participants,” said Zanu PF councilor for Budiriro Ward 33 Rudo Mazhandu.
“For starters, on the requirements of married women participants, one had to produce a marriage certificate yet the same was not required of the married male counterparts. This means that customarily married women did not enjoy the same political recourse their customarily married male counterparts did.”
She said although women voters, who mostly make the majority of voters, seemed to appreciate her effort to represent them, they mostly voted for her male rivals.
“The notion that women would vote for other women didn’t follow through on the voting patterns,” she said. “Political affiliation took precedence over the question of gender, but with the number of males who voted equaling and at times superseding that of women who voted, one wonders whether or not men can accept being led by women,” she said.
Gweru Ward 13 councillor(MDC Alliance), Catherine Mhondiwa said the political environment was not good enough for women participation since only a few women managed to be elected. People still looked down upon women and women themselves did not support women candidates.
“Sensitization and advocacy is needed for all women,” Mhondiwa said. “As we have ended the elections, we should start now to prepare for the 2023 elections. Women should not be afraid to say out what they think.”
She cited lack confidence or easily giving in to criticism from men and fellow women as the major weakness of women candidates.
“That should be a thing of the past,” she said adding culture and religion should not affect women.
She said although the race was over for this year, women could still take the courage and come out in their numbers and embrace the opportunity in the 2023 elections.
“This is not the end of the road but a learning process as I would put it across to the aspiring leaders.”
Mandy Kanyemba is a freelance journalist who is passionate about Gender issues. The opinion or views expressed on this platform are those of the contributing Authors or organisation . They do not necessarily reflect the views and policies or the position of Gender and Media Connect.