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Zimbabwe Lags Behind In Women’s Political Participation

Zimbabwe is set to hold its general elections on August 23, but no woman will be on the ballot for the presidential race. Out of the 21 candidates who submitted their nominations, only 11 were cleared by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), and all of them are men.

The two women who had expressed interest in running for president, Linda Masarira of the Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD) party and Elisabeth Valerio of the United Alliance of Zimbabwe (UZA), failed to pay the US$20 000 nomination fee required by ZEC.

This situation reflects the low representation of women in political decision-making in Zimbabwe, which is far from achieving the 50% target set by the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development of 2008.

According to the Women’s Political Participation: Africa Barometer 2021, published by International IDEA, women constitute only 24% of the 12,113 parliamentarians in Africa, and only 21% of local councillors in the 19 countries with complete data. In Zimbabwe, women make up 31.5% of the lower house of parliament and 47.5% of the upper house, but only 14.9% of local councillors.

The Barometer also shows that Zimbabwe ranks below the regional average in terms of women’s political participation index, which measures various factors such as electoral systems, affirmative action, political parties, electoral laws and management, media, civil society and effective participation.

The low participation of women in politics in Zimbabwe and other SADC countries is influenced by several factors, such as patriarchal culture, lack of resources, violence, discrimination and limited access to education and information.

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Masarira, who was rejected by ZEC, said that there is a need to change the way women and girls are socialized and to empower them to understand their rights and roles in leadership. She also called for a women’s revolution to challenge the status quo and advance gender equality.

“We cannot have an egalitarian society without women, there is no democracy without women, we still have a long way to go and we need dedicated and committed people to be able to advance the full participation of women in politics regardless of which political party they are coming from,” she said.

United Zimbabwe Alliance president Elisabeth Valerio said her local currency nomination payment was rejected by the ZEC. The electoral commission wanted a payment of $20,000 cash.

“I filed my papers with the nomination court on June 21 as a presidential candidate. My application was approved but when we submitted the proof of payment which was bank stamped by our branch, the proof of payment was rejected. We submitted to the ZEC but they rejected our payment and said I would have to pay $20,000 cash before midnight June 21 although I had already submitted full payment in local currency,” Valerio said.

“Several of our MP candidates are affected in the same way and were rejected. Some were told the court could process US dollar payments as the local currency swipe machines were not working,” said Valerio.

Prior to the nomination court sitting, the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN), a civil society organization that monitors elections, had raised concerns about the high nomination fees that deter women and other marginalized groups from contesting elections.

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ZESN said that the fees are not proportional to the economic situation in the country and that they violate the constitutional rights of citizens to participate in governance.

ZESN urged the government and ZEC to review the fees and to implement measures to promote the inclusion and representation of women in politics, such as quotas, reserved seats, proportional representation and public funding.

Another organisation, the Institute for Young Women’s Development (IYWD), petitioned the Parliament of Zimbabwe to reduce the high nomination fees for candidates in the upcoming elections.

The group argued that the fees are discriminatory and unconstitutional and that they hinder the participation and representation of women, youth, and people with disabilities in the political arena.

Zimbabwe can also learn from other SADC countries that have made progress in increasing women’s political participation through various strategies.

For example, Rwanda has achieved a world record of 61.3% of women in parliament through a constitutional quota system. Namibia has adopted a voluntary party quota system that has resulted in 46.2% of women in parliament. South Africa has implemented a mixed electoral system that has enabled 46.3% of women in parliament.

These examples show that it is possible to achieve gender parity in political decision-making if there is political will, legal frameworks and social mobilization. Zimbabwe needs to take urgent steps to ensure that women are not left behind in its democratic processes and development agenda.

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Multi-award winning journalist/photojournalist with keen interests in politics, youth, child rights, women and development issues. Follow Lovejoy On Twitter @L_JayMut

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