Zimbabwe’s young female voter has this time round, demonstrated willingness to participate in the elections with energy, confidence and passion, but sadly, not enough to support women candidates.
This is unfortunate given that the Biometric Voter’s Registration (BVR) provisional statistics provided by Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) for the election show that 54,5 percent of the country’s registered voters are women. Zimbabwean women will determine the result of this election.
Last month, young women shared their lived realities, challenges, hopes and aspirations for the country at in a dialogue facilitated by the Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT) in Harare on 13 June 2018. They are desperate for political, economic and social change in their country.
During the debate, held under the topic, Prospects and challenges for young women in politics, it was clear that women, both young and old, are not ready to push for women’s representation in both national and local government in the country’s 2018’s harmonized election. This is unfortunate as youth and women’s organizations have put in a lot of work to try and promote young women’s participation in political processes. They have also advocated for gender equality through a zebra nomination of candidates by political parties.
This election has four women presidential candidates, evidence that women have stepped up to take leadership positions. Unfortunately, Zimbabwe has not yet reached 30% gender equality. According to the statistics shared by Women in Politics Support Unit (WIPSU) Facebook page on Women’s representation post nomination Court, National Assembly candidates are at 15 percent for parliament and 17 percent in local government.
An interesting phenomenon in this election is the emergence of independent female candidates aspiring to be councilors and members of parliament. Some of the prominent candidates include Kudzai Mubaiwa who aspires to represent Harare’s Ward 6 in local government, Fadzayi Mahere running for Mt. Pleasant’s parliamentary seat and Joana Mamombe campaigning to be Member of Parliament for Harare West. The status of women in political parties in Zimbabwe is demonstrated by the results of political party primary elections for this election. We have concluded that the emergence of independent women politicians is an indication that political parties in Zimbabwe are unfriendly to women.
During the political debate, it was clear that the young women lacked confidence in the political candidacy of the women presidential candidates that include well-established politicians, Joyce Mujuru and Thokozani Khupe. But, should women be voted in for the simple reason that they are women or because they are competent and have a clear plan to turn around the country’s economic, social and political narrative.
By simply observing the reaction from the young women who attended that meeting, one can conclude that not enough has been done to support women running in the current race. This support would include building confidence in the voters that woman candidates are worth considering. The nation still has a long way to go in closing the gender gap in political representation – beginning from the political party level to local, and national governance.
Unfortunately, the majority of women voters have not engaged with the women candidates enough to evaluate their candidature beyond their appearance, the size and colours of their campaigns. It is fact that most women candidates do not have financial resources to carry out campaigns and engage critically with the constituency they want to serve. For example, MDC Alliance aspiring Member of Parliament for Mazowe, Thamarie Chimanzi, on 2 July 2018 made a call on Facebook for donations towards her rallies, meetings, regalia and transport. While this has been the case with most political candidates, one cannot help but wonder to what extent the party was assisting especially female candidates.
In some instances, women candidates’ have been accused of not being prepared for the election. An example of such an interview is the interview of presidential candidate, Melba Dzapasi on Public broadcaster, ZBC’s election series, The Candidate. The interview received attention on Twitter, YouTube and Facebook, but for all the wrong reasons. In the interview, she had, in our considered view, a slip of the tongue, and she said she would ensure that breast, instead of formulae milk, was made available for free. Social media enthusiasts did not take this very lightly, and immediately used the error to put her preparedness for presidency in doubt.
As long as women are not given the opportunity to lead, and supported should they make it to public office, the gains of the quota system will not be realised. The participation and promotion of women in the public and political space is everyone’s responsibility. While, it is important for people to vote for candidates based on merit, there is need to ensure that women who seek public office are empowered enough to stand in the elections and lead capably if given the opportunity. What society should also consider is that gender inequalities and prejudices continue to exist in our society, and the levelling the playing field is important now more than ever before and it is more than a day’s work.
We need to push for gender equality and equity at all levels of decision-making. The ballot should be the first step for us to do so.
About the Authors:
Patience Thauzeni Charity Chaturuka
Charity and Patience are gender equality activist. Patience is the Programme Manager and Charity is the Programme They are both programme officers at the Zimbabwe Young Womens Network for Peacebuilding.