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Women in Politics

Zimbabwe’s Election Widens Gender Gap in Politics

Women were reduced to cheerleaders in Zimbabwe's recent 2023 general elections. Farai Shawn Matiashe/IPS

Women were reduced to cheerleaders in Zimbabwe's recent 2023 general elections. Credit: Farai Shawn Matiashe/IPS

BULAWAYO, Nov 6 2023 (IPS) - Zimbabwe’s recent election has exposed weak gender policies both at the political party and governmental levels as women were sidelined despite the fact that they make up more than half of the 6.5 million electorate.

Zimbabwe held its presidential, parliamentary and local municipality elections on August 23 and 24.

Only 22 women were elected for the 210 National Assembly seats out of the 70 women contested against 637 male candidates, according to the Election Resource Centre.

The number of women who contested the National Assembly seats shows a decline compared to the previous election in 2018, where the number of women who competed against men was 14 percent.

In the 2023 election, the total number of women was 11 percent.

The 22 women who were successfully duly elected as Members of Parliament represent a meagre 10 percent of women in the National Assembly, meaning only 30 percent of the women who contested won, according to the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE).

This figure has fallen from the 25 women, 11.9 percent, who won seats in the 2018 elections.

“There is a lack of political will on the part of our political leaders to promote gender equality,” says WALPE executive director Sitabile Dewa.

“The political environment in Zimbabwe is characterised by violence, patriarchy, fear, harassment and marginalisation of women in electoral processes. These challenges are some of the major impediments to women’s ascendancy to leadership positions at all levels of government within the country.”

Dewa tells IPS that for Zimbabwe to close the gender gap, political party leaders must walk the talk on equality through genuinely and sincerely levelled the electoral field to allow women, young women and women with disabilities to freely, actively and fully participate as both candidates and voters.

A video went viral recently after a Zanu PF campaigner used derogatory names to refer to Judith Tobaiwa, a female candidate for Kwekwe Central, a constituency located 215 kilometres from Harare, Zimbabwe’s capital.

Expensive nomination fees were also a barrier to many aspiring female candidates.

In the 2023 general polls, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission raised the nomination fees beyond the reach of many women who are already disadvantaged economically as compared to their male counterparts in the country.

Presidential candidates paid USD 20,000 while parliamentary candidates parted away with $1000 and $100 for council candidates.

In contrast, in 2018, presidential candidates paid USD 1,000, while legislators paid USD 50.

Linda Masarira of the opposition party Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD) is one of the aspiring presidential candidates who struggled to raise the USD 20,000 nomination fees needed by ZEC this year.

While seats for the National Assembly were shared between CCC and Zanu PF, those from the smaller parties and female candidates who ran as independents failed to win any seats from the plebiscite, showing difficulties outside the main political parties.

All these figures fall short of the 30 percent minimum threshold set out in the 1997 Southern African Development Community (SADC) Declaration on Gender and Development, Zimbabwe’s Constitution, the United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, which seeks to promote gender equality and empower all women and girls, according to WAPLE.

In June, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) announced 11 presidential candidates, and there were no women.

Two female presidential candidates, Elisabeth Valerio of United Zimbabwe Alliance (UZA) and Masarira, were blocked by ZEC on petty issues of late payment of nomination fees.

Both female presidential candidates took their matters to court.

Valerio won her case, and ZEC was forced to accept her nomination papers.

But Masarira lost the case.

Incumbent Emmerson Mnangagwa of Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (Zanu PF) was controversially declared the winner of the hotly disputed contested election with 52.6 percent against his biggest rival Nelson Chamisa of Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) with 44 percent of the vote.

The opposition has since rejected the election as the polls were marred by voter intimidation, ballot paper delays in opposition strongholds like Harare, Bulawayo and some parts of Manicaland Province and rigging by the electoral body in favour of the ruling Zanu PF.

Multiple observer reports, including SADC, declared the elections not credible, not free, and not fair.

The recently reelected leader has appointed just six women out of 26 cabinet positions.

The gender gap is manifesting in Mnangagwa’s appointment of cabinet ministers.

When Mnangagwa announced his cabinet ministers in September, only six were women out of 26 positions, representing 23 percent.

“It is going to be a mammoth task for Zimbabwe to achieve 50/50 gender balance as enshrined in the Constitution,” says Masarira.

She says this is because the country does not have a “Gender Equality Act to operationalise” some sections of the Constitution.

“Secondly, there is selective application of the Constitution by political parties and the government itself, especially when it comes to issues to do with gender balance, gender equality and non-discrimination,” Masarira says.

Kembo Mohadi, the vice president who was forced to resign in 2021 amid a sex scandal, bounced back as Mnangagwa’s deputy.

Alleged recorded calls of Mohadi soliciting sex from married women who are his subordinates were leaked to the local media. Mohadi has not been charged with any sexual offence and has refuted the audio saying he was a victim of a political plot and voice cloning.

“Mr Mnangagwa is obviously not bothered by Mohadi’s sex scandals or anyone for that matter,” says Gladys Hlatywayo, a CCC senior official.

“In fact, we have always known that the sex scandals were never the reason why he was forced to resign and were a mere cover-up to a political motive. The message that Mr Mnangagwa is sending by reappointing Mohadi is that he does not care at all about women’s rights issues,” she tells IPS.

Dewa says Mahadi’s reappointment as Zimbabwe’s Vice President shows that President Mnangagwa is not willing to consider the welfare and well-being of women.

“Mr Mohadi’s re-appointment stinks in the face of justice for all survivors of sexual abuse by men. It is an indictment on the highest office of the land that women’s rights are of no importance,” she says.

“The office of the Vice President demands the highest levels of integrity and moral probity by its occupants.”

The 2013 Zimbabwean Constitution introduced a women’s quota system, setting aside 60 out of 270 parliamentary seats for women.

This proportional representation provision, which was set to expire in 2023, was extended for two additional electoral cycles by an amendment made to the Constitution by Mnangagwa’s regime last year.

Some women prefer these proportional representation seats as compared to the contested ones.

Dewa says there is a need for a complete overhaul of the current electoral system to promote gender equality in politics.

“The electoral voting system must be changed from the first past the post to proportional representation, with a list in zebra format, as this guarantees gender equality. Citizens must vote for political parties, not individuals, as this also insulates women from political violence and vote buying,” she says.

IPS UN Bureau Report


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