Women in politics struggle to shake off stereotypes

The Chronicle

Thandeka Moyo-Ndlovu, Senior Reporter
Thirty-five years ago, Cde Musa Ncube joined politics as an ambitious young girl from Mbanjeni area in Tsholotsho, Matabeleland North Province.

She was oblivious of the dangers and challenges that awaited her in the political field which is still male-dominated in Zimbabwe, but was determined to be the voice of women in her community.

Her journey began in the Zanu-PF Women’s League where she served for as a member before she contested in party primaries in 2008 in Tsholotsho and won, only to lose in the general polls.

For Cde Ncube, the most challenging task before her was to contest fellow party members, mostly men who made it clear that she was not good enough.

Miss Duduzile Mathema

At one time she was labelled a sex worker and verbally attacked just for showing interest in the primary elections.
Despite the setback of failing to go to Parliament, she clung to the belief that women can excel in politics just like their male counterparts.

She failed to make it in the 2013 and 2018 party primaries, but was chosen to represent Zanu-PF in Saturday’s by-elections.

After so many failures, Cde Ncube was eventually elected Tsholotsho South, legislator after a battling it out with three males during the by-elections.

She garnered 4 759 votes defeating Mr Bongani Moyo an independent candidate who had 155 votes, while Mr Leonard Mthombeni another candidate had 868. Mr Nganunu Siyanda Nganunu from the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) had 2 879 votes.

“The biggest challenge that deters most of us from politics is financial constraints and you dare not do politics without funds. We also have a lot of household chores as women and for us to balance our duties and still have time for politics is next to impossible, “ said Cde Ncube.

“Besides these challenges we have a lot of opposition from our parties, men call us prostitutes whenever we try and participate in politics.”

She said the violent political environment is the reason why only a handful of women are willing to participate in politics.

“To go through a primary election is traumatic because men generally feel threatened and will do anything and everything to demean and rip up all of the confidence. They are difficult and need a lot of pushing to support you.” She said the challenges may not vanish overnight, but women should soldier on.

Ms Gladys Mutunami

“We cannot abandon the 50/50 gospel not now, not ever. But it’s a long way to go. I think as women we can change the narrative by uplifting and voting for other women because we are a majority.”

Cde Ncube is part of the 15,5 percent of female candidates who won some of the 28 National Assembly seats over the weekend. Only 72 female candidates were on the ballots out of the 364 candidates contesting 119 council seats during Saturday’s elections.

In Bulawayo Province, 13 female candidates contested against 28 male politicians for two parliamentary and six local authority seats, while in Matabeleland North Province only one female candidate contested. Eight males were vying for two parliamentary and six local authority seats.

In Matabeleland South Province, three female candidates contested against 14 male contenders for six vacant local authority seats, while in Midlands Province four female and 27 male candidates were vying for 13 seats.

The worrying by-election figures could reflect the poor political participation of women to be witnessed during the 2023 general elections.

Zimbabwe has a long way to go in terms of achieving the 50/50 target in terms of women’s political participation. Zimbabwe has progressive gender equality laws to support women’s representation and participation in public administration, politics and decision making, yet they are not fully implemented.

Although important progress has been made in women’s representation in national politics, the results still fall short of international commitments, and progress towards equality is far too slow.

As the 2019 Global Gender Gap report notes, the largest disparity is in women’s political participation. In Sub-Saharan Africa it will take at least 135 years to close the gender gap based on current trends.

Citizens’ Coalition for Change’s Sichelesile Mahlangu, who won the Pumula seat in Bulawayo, said it was disappointing to see that only a handful of women had contested.

She said the achievement of the 50/50 goals need women to rise, campaign and work hard for votes as they cannot always rely on proportional representation to make it to Parliament.

Cde Musa Ncube

“It was not an easy journey and I was discouraged to see that I was the only female candidate contesting for the constituency.

Women should rise and be counted come 2023 because we bear the brunt of service delivery and mismanagement of everything hence the need to have women taking up these political offices,” said Ms Mahlangu.

“I challenge them to rise, we can have a repeat of this by-election. Surely, we cannot relax knowing that we will get a seat through proportional representation. We are doing our best to encourage others to rise so that come 2023 we are many.”

For Ms Gladys Mutunami who contested and lost under the United Zimbabwe Alliance ticket in Mbizo constituency, losing the seat to a man has encouraged her to work harder so that she is elected during the 2023 elections.

“We have a long way to go in reaching 50/50 political representation in Zimbabwe. This is because we have to create a conducive environment for women to participate freely in Zimbabwean politics which is associated with much violence, hate speech and vote buying. It’s not typical of women.

So, most women end up withdrawing or disassociating themselves with politics, but we have to unleash the potential in us,” she said. For her, financial constraints are the greatest challenge hence the need for an organisation to fund women participating in politics until they find their feet.

“Yes, in Mbizo Settlement Chikwinya won and congratulations to him. I accept that it was a race we must have one winner.

However, this is not the end of the road, I am not giving up. In 2023 l am in. I am really proud of myself and my campaigning team. We campaigned for less than 30 days but we did well. Women do have a place in Zimbabwean politics,” she added.

Genderlinks Zimbabwe country director Ms Priscilla Maphios said it was the responsibility of all political parties to support and nominate female candidates as the country now gears up for 2023.

“Women are seemingly not interested in politics because there is less or no support from political parties for starters. We encourage political parties to take seriously the issue of political participation of women because if political parties do not take a stand, women will also take a back step and remain in the terraces,” said Ms Maphosa.

“They cannot just let the opportunity pass by; hence the onus lies on political parties. They should be supportive of women’s political participation.

Yes, we continue with 50/50 which has yielded positive results. I believe there have been improvements although a lot should be done.”

Women in Leadership Development communication officer Miss Duduzile Mathema said the just ended March 26 by-elections recorded a minimal percentage of aspiring women candidates, an indication that women’s participation in politics still remains low.

“Politics remains a male dominated and patriarchal field and this is reflected in the political party structures and leadership. Women seem to play a menial and subsidiary role at the grassroots levels where they keep the party alive, campaigning for candidates.

Political parties that fielded candidates during the by-elections did not seriously take into consideration the commitments to gender balance in their manifestos, Section 17 of the Constitution and National Gender Policy which speaks to equal representation within political parties,” she said.

“The by-elections were a reflection on the importance of policy reforms within political parties that will enable women to willingly find their voices in political leadership as elected officials.

Continuously empowering women through strategic interventions such as mentorship programs that enhance their participation in political processes. Continuous voter education to equip women to know their political rights and gender issues.” – @thamamoe

Article Source: The Chronicle

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