By-elections expose poor participation by women in politics

HARARE – A lack of female representation in by-elections held on March 26 has triggered calls for reforming the political system.

The Zimbabwe Council of Churches, which monitored the elections, said “limited representation of women in leadership positions was noted as a concern for the church.”

Statistics showed that 118 candidates, of which 102 were males and 16 females were successfully nominated for the 28 National Assembly vacant seats.

In 122 by-elections for municipal seats, 15.5 percent were female and 84.5 percent male.

The gladiatorial nature of Zimbabwean politics is being cited for causing women to shun politics, even though they constitute the majority of voters.

“There is an unspoken narrative that dictates that politics is for men in Zimbabwe. Women are not taken seriously and they are subjected to a lot of physical and political abuse particularly in political parties,” Election Resource Centre (ERC) spokesperson Rudo Motsi opined.

“Women need to remain resilient and not give up. No-one will create space for women. Women have to take up spaces for themselves.”

Motsi said political parties need to create internal mechanisms that promote women participation.

Victoria Falls deputy mayor Patricia Mwale decried the cultural challenges that deprived women of recognition in political parties.

“Women are still battling traditional norms that the right place for a woman is in the kitchen, and decision-making power is in the hands of males,” Mwale said.

“The roles of a woman are structured in a way that makes it difficult to leave their traditional domestic roles and attend public roles.”

Mwale added that religion has been another stumbling block limiting women’s participation in politics.

Women also take up other tasks which society has imposed on them through the gendered political economy of society, Mwale said.

Idirashe Dongo, the Midlands provincial chairperson for the Women in Local Government Forum, recommended grassroots awareness campaigns to encourage more women to step up and fight for leadership positions.

“Our societies are not yet there to really accept a woman as a leader in communities. In-laws feel threatened to allow their daughter-in-law to be an active leader in politics,” Dongo said.

“Our societies still need awareness, starting from traditional leaders like chiefs to the grassroot males, for them to understand and start seeing the positives in the work done by women.

“If women today make a decision to come out of these traditional norms and break the bias of a designed system that accommodates more men in positions of influence, women would be 60 percent in political leadership.”

Political analyst Pride Mukono says Zimbabwe’s politics needs to “detox” from violence and hate speech while applying constitutional remedies to increase women’s participation in politics.

“Our politics is characterised by violence, hate speech and intimidation. Even if you go online, women are victims of the most vile insults when they stand as candidates for elected positions,” Mukono said.

“Zimbabwe needs to align its laws particularly section 17 and 80 of the constitution which advocate for gender equality in elected and appointed positions so that women can actively and effectively participate in politics.”

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