Sithabile A Ndlela and Isheunesu Tirivangani
Using the March 26 by-lection as the lens to explore the state of women participation in political processes, Gokwe residents lament the persisting culture of violence and lack of financial support as hindering increased , active and meaningful participation in political processes , Community Voices Zimbabwe reveals.
Speaking at a community media listening forum organized by Community Voices Zimbabwe, Gokwe residents concurred that the 26 March 2022 by-election was an eye opener on the need for concerted multi-stakeholder efforts to restructure, re-orient and reorganize politics in the country especially rural areas. The statistics for the 26 March 2022 by-elections shows that the vacancies for councilors were 122 with 364 contesting of which 72 of these were women.
Further to that, political parties had very few women contesting for the national assembly, a clear indication of structural and systemic blockages in the country’s political systems.
With women constituting the majority demographically in Zimbabwe, the paltry number of those who contested for the local authority by-lection is an indication of deep seated challenges hindering women participation. It is against this background that Community Voices Zimbabwe convened the discussion forum in Gokwe to dissect emerging issues with developmental and democratic implications for rural areas in Midlands Province , Gokwe included. CVZ is focusing on amplifying muted rural voices as well as infusing the youth and women voices in governances processes of which election constitute a central role.
Maureen Tavengwa, former MDC-T councilor of Gokwe South district, Ward 2 said that women lack courage to participate in politics because of the beliefs of the communities, especially rural areas.
“Our society is a patriarchal where people believe that politics is meant for men only and with women playing are supporting role to men. 70% of women are being abused by their husbands who still hold dear firm ancient beliefs which defines politics is a male domain. Further to that, I have noted from experience that we lack confidence resulting in us not believing in ourselves. The family unity which is supposed to be the bedrock upon which the success of each member spring from, is the greatest stumbling block. One fears to be alienated by family members and the result is just being passive politicians” said Tavengwa.
The former Councilor shared her gory experiences of the 2008 period in which political violence reared its ugly face on the electoral scene in Zimbabwe leading to the consummation of the Government of National Unity through the Global Political Agreement.
“In 2008, I experienced political violence of high magnitude. Our political opponents came to my place of residence singing and hurling threats on my person and family. They did this for 3 consecutive days at midnight and my parents ended up restricting me from doing politics,” added Tavengwa.
Nozipho Dhlamini , a youth from Gokwe, decried the sad reality of women not supporting each other which has become the sustained cancer inhibiting marked representation of women in positions of political leadership.
“Women do not vote for other women, women seem to vote for men instead of supporting each other. We are living in a society where women don’t support each other. I urge my fellow citizens that we need to support each other until our representations in positions of power and influence reflect that we have the largest demographic dividend,” said Dhlamini.
Nozipho advocates for the enactment of laws that protect women from political violence, sexual harrasment and abuse. Government must set laws to protect women who are sexually or emotionally abused in politics to break the bias”, said Dhlamini.
Deputy Mayor for Gokwe Town Council, Councillor Charity Mungwani shared her struggles in the political arena saying that if one is not strong, politics will remain an exclusive space for men.
“I have heard what CVZ is saying about the statistics of weak participation of women in the recent by-election and that’s the general concern in this meeting. Frankly the political scene is not friendly for women. Personally, I am trying to work with everyone irrespective of their political party because I am a councillor elected to serve all but I face so many hurdles. For example, I get so many connections from my networks meant to advance women but my meetings are blocked at times state bureaucracy takes its toll on me maybe because I am a woman.
“I once got any opportunity for women in politics and I shared in WhatsApp groups of those from the ruling party ZANU-PF only to get that same message from the central intelligence people telling me to stop what I was doing. I thought as a leader I must be inclusive and not only work with those from my political party but hey, its tough,” she lamented.
Shammah Gwanzura Junior councilor and Town Secretary of Gokwe Town Council young female leader said that the skewed representation of female candidates in the current council is testimony of the existence of systemic and structural challenges for women.
“Women leaders fear being excluded or rejected, however, respect comes when one’s voice is heard. Make your presence known as a leader. When more and more women take up the challenge to be in elective positions, it will become a role model experience for us young women and together we break the glass ceiling. Stepping in a space where women are not fairly represented presents fear of failure and we backtrack. It is like one is attempting to re-invent the wheel hence spiral of silence continues. Who will then bring development priority issues of women and the youth in such untenable scenarios? Nobody,” rhetorically argued the youth leader.
Locadia Mavhudzi the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Midlands Chapter Chairperson said that, “women’s ideas and vision should be recognized not to be tolerated. Vision 2030 can only be achieved if man and women work together. As our organization we will try to assist by providing more education on women leaders to stand their ground and be vocal.”
“Female leaders have been put down, pushed aside, or told they do not belong at the areas of making critical decisions. It is not easy to be bullied, but there is a way to get past it,” added Mavhudzi.