Women the big­gest losers in Zim elec­tion

This brazen dis­re­gard for the ba­sic tenets of democ­racy is de­plorable 38 years af­ter in­de­pen­dence

Mail & Guardian - - Comment & Analysis - Colleen Lowe Morna & Tapiwa Zvaraya

The res­ig­na­tion of Robert Mu­gabe in Novem­ber last year has brought a glim­mer of hope for cred­i­ble elec­tions in Zim­babwe on July 30 af­ter the many mis­car­riages of jus­tice in the past three elec­tions.

But, de­spite a great deal of ad­vo­cacy and a much-pub­li­cised meet­ing by women from all walks of life with Pres­i­dent Em­mer­son Mnan­gagwa in May, women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in Par­lia­ment and lo­cal gov­ern­ment will at best re­main the same and, at worst, de­cline.

The un­prece­dented can­di­da­ture of four women for pres­i­dent has been met with a sex­ist back­lash and mud­sling­ing, a re­minder of the un­der­ly­ing pa­tri­ar­chal norms that de­fine Zim­babwe’s age­ing lead­er­ship.

For­mer vice-pres­i­dent Joice Mu­juru, who fell out of favour with Mu­gabe and now leads the Peo­ple’s Rain­bow Coali­tion, has been called a witch. Move­ment for Demo­cratic Change — Ts­van­gi­rai (MDC-T) leader Thokozani Khupe has de­fi­antly stood her ground, main­tain­ing that she is the con­sti­tu­tion­ally elected suc­ces­sor to the late Mor­gan Ts­van­gi­rai and not Nel­son Chamisa, who leads the MDC Al­liance. She has been sub­jected to a storm of so­cial me­dia in­sults, in­clud­ing be­ing called a “hure” — Shona slang for a pros­ti­tute.

Rid­ing the tide of the re­cent global fem­i­nist fer­vour, her right-hand woman and MP for Mata­bele­land South, Priscilla Misi­hairab­wiMushonga, wore a jumper in­scribed “Hure, #MeToo!” when she went to hand in her nomination papers be­fore the June 22 dead­line.

Blazing the trail for a new brand of young fe­male lead­er­ship, in­de­pen­dent can­di­date for the Mount Pleas­ant sub­urb in Harare and Cam­brid­getrained bar­ris­ter Fadzayi Ma­here has fought back so­cial me­dia de­ri­sion about her not be­ing mar­ried with tweets such as: “Mar­riage, though of­ten a beau­ti­ful thing, is not an achieve­ment. It does not qual­ify one for pub­lic of­fice. It’s an ir­rel­e­vant fac­tor when we as­sess whether one will or won’t suc­ceed. In­di­vid­ual char­ac­ter is the true test. Grace [Mu­gabe], af­ter all, was mar­ried.”

A prom­i­nent mem­ber of the #ThisFlag Move­ment that gal­vanised pub­lic opin­ion against Mu­gabe, Ma­here’s strapline is that “Africa’s fu­ture is bright and it is young.” Chal­leng­ing the old boys net­work through pro­lific use of so­cial me­dia, she is run­ning a re­fresh­ingly mod­ern cam­paign call­ing for clean gov­er­nance un­der her hash­tag #Bethechange.

This year’s elec­tion, how­ever, will go down as one in which Zim­bab­wean women spoke out but made lit­tle elec­toral head­way.

Ar­ti­cle 17 of the Zim­bab­wean Con­sti­tu­tion adopted in 2013 guar­an­tees gen­der equal­ity in all ar­eas of de­ci­sion-mak­ing but the Con­sti­tu­tion only spells out a quota for women in Par­lia­ment and not in any other ar­eas, in­clud­ing lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

Like most South­ern African coun­tries, Zim­babwe has a “first past the post” or con­stituency elec­toral sys­tem. The na­tional quota, which borrows from a model honed in Tan­za­nia, al­lows women to com­pete freely for these seats but re­serves an ad­di­tional 30% of seats for women only, dis­trib­uted among par­ties on a pro­por­tional ba­sis. This led to the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in Par­lia­ment in­creas­ing from 18% to 35% in 2013.

The “tem­po­rary spe­cial mea­sure” re­mains valid un­til 2023, so women are guar­an­teed 30% of par­lia­men­tary seats in the com­ing elec­tion. But the lit­mus test in the run-up to the ex­piry date in the next elec­tions is whether more women can get into Par­lia­ment through the rough and tum­ble of cam­paign pol­i­tics. In this, women have lost be­fore the elec­tion is even held.

Anal­y­sis of party lists by the Women in Pol­i­tics Sup­port Unit shows that nei­ther the rul­ing Zanu-PF, which has a 30% quota for women, nor the main op­po­si­tion MDC Al­liance, which boasted a 50% quota for women, have lived up to their man­i­festos.

Ac­cord­ing to the sup­port unit, in the Na­tional Assem­bly, 47 po­lit­i­cal par­ties fielded can­di­dates; 20 of these did not field any women can­di­dates at all and two par­ties fielded only one woman each. In to­tal, women com­prise a mere 15% of can­di­dates. Eighty-four out of 210 con­stituen­cies will be con­tested by men only. In the dog-eat-dog con­tests where women are stand­ing, there is no guar­an­tee of them win­ning.

“We are deeply con­cerned that, at this point, it ap­pears that the only women that will be in Par­lia­ment are the 91 that are re­quired by law. This brazen dis­re­gard for the ba­sic tenets of democ­racy is de­plorable 38 years af­ter in­de­pen­dence,” the sup­port unit said in a state­ment last week.

Fran­tic ad­vo­cacy ef­forts led by the Women’s Na­tional Coali­tion have been di­verted to a con­sti­tu­tional amend­ment to pre­serve the quota beyond 2023. These ef­forts over­shadow the fact that at the lo­cal level, ar­guably an even more im­por­tant area for chal­leng­ing so­cial norms, there is still no quota at all. In 2013, the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women in lo­cal gov­ern­ment in Zim­babwe dropped from 18% to 16%, a down­ward spi­ral that seems likely to con­tinue in 2018.

Ac­cord­ing to the sup­port unit anal­y­sis, 40 po­lit­i­cal par­ties fielded can­di­dates for the lo­cal au­thor­ity elec­tions. Of these, 12 fielded men only. Women con­sti­tute a mere 17% of the 6 796 can­di­dates.

As the chances of all these women win­ning their seats are slim, the like­li­hood of women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion slip­ping be­low even the 2013 fig­ure of 16% is high.

This blow is all the more dev­as­tat­ing be­cause of the con­certed cam­paign over the past five years to press home the point that the ab­sence of spe­cial mea­sures at the lo­cal level is in vi­o­la­tion of ar­ti­cle 17 of the Con­sti­tu­tion. In 2016, rep­re­sen­ta­tives of the min­istry of lo­cal gov­ern­ment, jus­tice and par­lia­men­tary and le­gal af­fairs and the Zim­babwe Elec­toral Com­mis­sion went on a study visit to Mau­ri­tius to learn how the gov­ern­ment there in­creased women’s par­tic­i­pa­tion at the lo­cal level four­fold (from 6% to 28%) thanks to a gen­der-neu­tral quota.

With tech­ni­cal sup­port from Gen­der Links and UN Women, they made a sub­mis­sion to Par­lia­ment, fol­lowed up by the Women in Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Fo­rum.

In March 2018, the Zim­babwe women’s par­lia­men­tary cau­cus in part­ner­ship with civil so­ci­ety launched the Women’s Man­i­festo with five pri­or­i­ties: eco­nomic de­vel­op­ment, so­cial services, trans­port and in­fra­struc­ture, ac­cess to jus­tice and equal ben­e­fit of the law, and women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in gov­er­nance.

Women from all walks of life con­verged to share their is­sues and con­cerns. An ex­ten­sion of the quota at na­tional level beyond 2023 be­came the ma­jor fo­cus, with the Women in Lo­cal Gov­ern­ment Fo­rum call­ing for the quota to be ex­tended to lo­cal gov­ern­ment.

In May this year, Zim­bab­wean women got the chance to meet Mnan­gagwa to dis­cuss the dif­fi­cul­ties they face. Women’s rep­re­sen­ta­tion in lo­cal gov­ern­ment took cen­tre stage.

He re­it­er­ated the gov­ern­ment’s com­mit­ment to the African Union Char­ter, which re­quires that mem­ber states have equal rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women across the board. De­spite his ac­ces­si­bil­ity and more de­bonair ap­proach com­pared with Mu­gabe, Mnan­gagwa has not walked the talk of gen­der equal­ity where he has the most ob­vi­ous power to do so — in his Cab­i­net. Women con­sti­tute five out of 30 (17%) of Cab­i­net min­is­ters, and none are deputy min­is­ters. Many of the most senior Cab­i­net posts went to ap­peas­ing army gen­er­als who helped Mnan­gagwa to un­seat Mu­gabe in what some an­a­lysts have called a coup in all but name.

A high­light of the 2018 Zim­babwe elec­tions is the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, which have wit­nessed a record 23 can­di­dates, of whom four are women. At 17%, it is the largest num­ber of women to ever have com­peted for the high­est of­fice in the land. The can­di­dates are Mel­bah Dza­pasi (#1980 Free­dom Move­ment Zim­babwe), Khupe (MDC-T), Vi­o­let Mariy­acha (United Demo­cratic Move­ment) and Mu­juru (Peo­ple’s Rain­bow Coali­tion).

Khupe and Mu­juru are house­hold names in Zim­babwe. Mu­juru will bank on her con­tacts and ex­pe­ri­ence as a for­mer Zanu-PF leg­is­la­tor and pos­si­bly steal some votes from Zanu-PF as well as gar­ner sup­port from other sec­tors in Zim­babwe, though she has not been so vis­i­ble on the cam­paign trail.

Khupe has her fol­low­ing from the MDC fac­tions, which will also have a bear­ing on the road to State House. But the bets are for a run-off be­tween the top two can­di­dates, Mnan­gagwa and Chamisa, or the for­ma­tion of a gov­ern­ment of na­tional unity.

The chances of a woman pres­i­dent are al­most nil but the race it­self has given women vis­i­ble plat­forms to take a de­fi­ant stance. Misi­hairab­wiMushonga vowed to re­sist threats by the party’s top lead­er­ship to re­call her from Par­lia­ment owing to her sup­port for the ex­pelled Khupe’s break­away fac­tion.

“I am chair­per­son of the par­lia­men­tary com­mit­tee on gen­der and youth af­fairs and‚ there­fore‚ can­not be per­se­cuted for at­tend­ing a sol­i­dar­ity tea for a woman who is ba­si­cally un­der siege from male chau­vin­ists. I am a women’s ac­tivist and that de­fines who Priscilla Misi­hairab­wiMushonga is. No­body will take that away from me and not even a party can do that‚” she said.

In an­other in­ter­est­ing twist that car­ries hope for the fu­ture, young women have found their voices and are de­mand­ing a 25% quota for young women in pol­i­tics. De­cry­ing the likely back­track­ing for women in the com­ing elec­tions, the In­sti­tute for Young Women De­vel­op­ment aired their frus­tra­tion with sti­fling pa­tri­ar­chal norms in an open let­ter to po­lit­i­cal lead­ers.

“We be­lieve that more young women in lead­er­ship, es­pe­cially at lo­cal gov­ern­ment level, will pro­mote gen­der-re­spon­sive ser­vice de­liv­ery be­cause young women are pri­mary con­sumers of these services,” they de­clared. Their clar­ion call — “noth­ing for us with­out us”, build­ing a so­ci­ety inclusive of women and youth — will be one of Zim­babwe’s big­gest chal­lenges long af­ter the elec­tion re­sults are an­nounced.

Fight­ing back: Leader of Peo­ple’s Rain­bow Coali­tion party Joice Mu­juru (top) ad­dresses a pres­i­den­tial cam­paign meet­ing in Bu­l­awayo in June, and Priscilla Misi­hairabwi-Mushonga (left) wears a ‘Hure’ T-shirt in sup­port of the MDC’s Thokozane Khupe.

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