Today, 31 July 2018, Zimbabwe will hold elections.
However, women are not fairly represented in these elections – clearly demonstrating that even in Parliament, men continue to dominate. I want to highlight some of the critical issues which I feel act as a bottleneck and prevent women from entering politics, as well as what this means for women and girls in general.
Political parties don’t seem to be doing enough to promote and support women as candidates. In fact, they seem to be actively standing in their way. This is being done through naming and shaming of women who want to run as councillors, members of parliament or presidential candidates. Men use vulgar language and focus on physical appearance to silence women, especially those who try to be vocal.
Such harassment has caused understandable frustrations and in the past, female candidates have been intimidated and forced to back down – leaving the path clear for male candidates. It disgusts me that even in 2018, these denigrating tactics have been used by male candidates to silence women.
Research carried out by the Department of Political and Adminstrative Studies at the University of Zimbabwe – The Implications of the Quota System in Promoting Gender Equality in Zimbabwean Politics – found that sexual harassment of women is a weapons used to silence women at constituency, party and parliamentary level. This, of course, impacts negatively on the fair representation of all genders in Parliament.
Since 1980, when Zimbabwe attainted it’s independence, the representation of women in Parliament has always been lower than 33%. In this forthcoming election, representation of women in parliament raises a lot of questions regarding the country’s seriousness when it comes to promoting and effectively supporting women as equal citizens.
In my opinion, democracy is non-existent if there is absence of equal participation of men and women in politics. Equal representation in parliament is pivotal as it allows all genders to present their issues. For instance, women’s issues, desires and goals are not identical to those of men. There is need for more women to be in Parliament to advocate meaningfully for girls and women’s rights, including reproductive health and rights, socio-economic independence and political freedom.
The quota system has been helpful in making sure certain percentage of seats in parliament are reserved for women, however, running for office is very costly and women often don’t have the same access to loans to finance their campaigns. For many women, actually making it to parliament remains a pie in the sky dream.
In Zimbabwe, the level of progress towards achieving gender equality is not satisfying. In fact, women are viewing politics as a dirty game which they need not involve themselves in for safety reasons. This is problematic in many ways, and we’re getting further away from closing the gender gap as more and more women continue to shun politics.
The fact that Zimbabwe has a proportion of 16% women in local parliament is pathetic. It shows that very little progress has been made in allowing women political space for representation in parliament, and clearly shows that old habits die hard! Without real change in this year’s elections, women and girls will continue to have to fight hard for their voices to be over the next five years.
I believe that in Zimbabwe, the representation of women in parliament can improve only if there is financial support. As it stands, running in an election is increasingly costly and women are greatly affected by a shortage of available financing and campaign support. Quota systems have been helpful, but more needs to be done and political parties also should shun the harassment of women as these factors are seriously hindering women’s representation in parliament.