WOMEN have been listed among the special interest groups that face a lot of barriers in accessing civil registration documents such as birth certificates and identity cards, limiting their chances of voting.
According to the 2020 Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) report on the National Inquiry on Access to Documentation in Zimbabwe, undocumented women face a lot of challenges, including the violation of their political rights.
A previous investigation by The NewsHawks on electoral participation in mining hubs, particularly Zvishavane in the Midlands province, revealed that lack of documentation was one of the major factors which hindered women from exercising their electoral rights in the 23-24 August 2023 general elections.
Some women did not have documentation or had temporary documents which could not be used to register to vote.
Section 67 of the constitution of Zimbabwe clearly states that every citizen has political rights.
According to the ZHRC report, 6.1% of the total population fails to vote due to lack of documentation, and women carry much of the burden because of socio-cultural factors.
This has prompted traditional leaders presiding over rural parts of Zvishavane to express their concerns over the lack of access to civil registration documentation, especially for populations in remote areas.
“There is a huge gap between government, policymakers and people in rural areas when it comes to issuance of civil registration documents, and there is very little engagement to educate these populations on their civic rights,” said Chief Mapanzure in an interview.
As a result of the non-registration, Chief Mapanzure said many of his subjects have failed to enjoy their rights.
“Sometimes our people are presented with opportunities, but they fail to grab them because they cannot prove their identity and that is worrisome,” he said.
Chief Mapanzure said traditional leaders could be used to make sure the process of getting documentation is less cumbersome in rural areas.
“As chiefs we could bridge this gap, but most stakeholders do not have an appreciation of our roles and responsibilities. Given the resources, we could play a significant role in decentralising such services and making them easily accessible to people in rural areas. If we can be trained to officiate marriages, we can also issue documentation to our people. Of course we do our best to write referral letters for our people in the meantime,” said Chief Mapanzure.
Chief Masunda echoed similar sentiments, saying the negative attitudes and discrimination by some officers at the Registrar-General’s offices have led to the avoidance of the offices, hence most people end up without documentation.
“Most of these officers fail to treat people with dignity and respect yet they are there to serve them. Documentation is everyone’s right,” Chief Masunda said.
He added that as traditional leaders they handle a lot of cases where social and cultural norms hinder some people from obtaining identity documents.
“I once presided over a case where a member of the apostolic sect was denying his family their rights to documentation which, in turn, affected their right to education and healthcare. Such issues are of great concern as they mirror the challenges faced in rural communities when it comes to obtaining documents,” Chief Masunda said.
Lack of documentation is a violation of chapter three of the constitution. The ZHRC lists birth certificates and identity documents as the hardest to obtain, although people also face challenges in obtaining passports, death certificates, as well as citizenship documents.
Gender dynamics play a huge role in most rural communities because of patriarchy. According to the inquiry report, 64.4% of women experience economic challenges in accessing documentation, not only for themselves but also for their children.
Other challenges listed include socio-cultural barriers, lack of knowledge, negligence as well as negative perceptions towards the RG’s office.
Women also fail to enjoy their political rights such as voting, contesting for public office, forming their own political party or participating as elections agents, thereby stoking calls for the RG to relax registration requirements.
*This article was supported by the Canadian Embassy in Zimbabwe in partnership with the Centre for Public Interest Journalism (The NewsHawks)