Interactive platform – increasing women’s voices in Zim election

5 April 2018

Today Gender and Media Connect (GMC) Zimbabwe launches its mobile application, SpeakZW.

The launch of the interactive application, compatible with only android devices, is strategically timed for the country’s general election.

Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) Chairperson, Justice Priscilla Chigumba, recently said that the election would be held on any date between July 21 and August 22, 2018. As the nation heads to those elections SpeakZW is an initiative to get citizens, and especially women, to increase their voices around election issues.

Muffling of women by the media

Zimbabwe’s mainstream media continues to muffle women’s voices in the coverage of issues of socio, economic or political importance. This is an unfortunate trend, especially during national events. Women make up a majority of the country’s population of over 16 million, and their full particiapation in a national programme such this election is crucial. According to a March 1 ZEC stakeholder brief, 54.5 percent of Zimbabweans registered under the Biomentric Voter Registration process are women.

During recent GMC training interventions journalists said that besides women not being forthcoming as sources, the lack of prioritisation of women sources by editors remains a major barrier. Editors are known to reject articles with women sources, posing the reflex question, ‘Who is She?’

This application is a reminder that ‘She’ is the majority and that what she thinks matters,” said GMC Director, Abigail Gamanya.

While the GMC recognizes the barriers that contribute to the gender digital divide, a significant number of women are online, and on very basic devices with android operating systems.

Voters and monitors

SpeakZW will help increase the number of women’s voices in the monitoring and documentation of issues around the holding of a free and fair election in Zimbabwe.

“The idea is to popularize the application, especially among women; young, old, rural and urban, so that it becomes a databank of voices that are not usually heard. This will make it difficult for the media to ignore women’s experiences,” Abigail said.

Some of the major barriers to women’s utilisation of the internet as an alternative communication platform that have been mooted include lower levels of digital literacy, no financial independence to buy or prioritise their own devices and the fact that most applications are in English.

Breaking digital literacy barriers

With SpeakZW users will be able to select the use of either of the two local languages, Shona and isiNdebele during their sign up process. To complement use of the application, GMC will partner with women’s organisations working in marginal rural communities across the country’s ten provinces to collate and share experiences of women via a bulk SMS platform.

“Trends of the experiences will be shared with rural women who still use feature phones via a database whose compilation is on-going. We will also identify point people in the communities who will collate and share the experiences of these women on the application,” said Abigail.

The launch of SpeakZW comes a couple of weeks after the Zimbabwe SADC Gender Protocol Barometer 2017. It responds to calls made during the launch for the utilisation of the forthcoming elections as an opportunity for Zimbabwe to promote democracy through the removal of barriers for equal participation at all stages of the electoral process.

While the application comes in time for the election, SpeakZW will remain an important tool that the GMC will continue to promote for gender mainstreamed responses to issues of national, regional and international interest.

To download SpeakZW, visit your Google playstore.