THE two female candidates in Kwekwe District, Midlands Province, who contested for the parliamentary and local government seat were victorious, despite the odds being heavily stacked against them.
Melody Chingarande, the only female council candidate, retained her ward 5 seat in Mbizo while Judith Tobaiwa retained her seat as the member of Assembly for Kwekwe Central.
They both stood under the banner of the main opposition political party, Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC).
According to Kwekwe central constituency Chief Elections officer Willard Fazhe Judith Tobaiwa garnered 10 933 votes to beat Energy Dhala Ncube of ZANU PF who received 6 541 votes.
Chingarande got 2 657 while Zanu PF’s Tapiwa Muganhu receiving 908 votes.
“Thank you to the citizens for remaining vigilant against all odds. The people have spoken and shown who they want to lead them. Campaigning was pretty hard and even the day of voting there was a lot of intimidation but citizens remained strong and firm. You chose me to represent you and for the next five years I shall be your servant,” said Tobaiwa. Chingarande, who was recalled from council by MDC-T leader Douglas Mwonzora and was not able to fulfil her term, was ecstatic at being given another chance.
“I’m happy to be back in council. It wasn’t an easy road to these elections. I stood against five males who had better resources at their disposal but the citizens have spoken,” she said.
The number of women taking part in active politics has been dwindling. Only one female candidate participated in the presidential election, Elisabeth Valerio.
Parliamentary candidates dropped from 14% to 11% while local government candidates fell from 17% to the current 15%.
“I really wanted more women in council so that we could collectively represent the needs of women.
The women’s quota will be a plus for us but more women really need to rise up,” she said.
The drastic drop in women’s political participation has been attributed to a number of factors which include the cost of nomination fees, verbal and sexual abuse of female candidates and an unfavourable environment characterised by patriarchy.
“Campaigning for this election hasn’t been easy; the environment is very toxic. I was vicitmised daily and some people had the audacity to come chant slogans by my gate calling me all sorts of names,” she said.
“My family and I live in constant fear but I persevered because it is my desire to see political change in my generation. Women’s organisations, lobby groups, and the government need to take appropriate action as there is need for intensified advocacy for 50-50 participation and representation in all positions.”
Challenges women face are the same across political parties. Yeukai Paradza, the ZANU PF council candidate for Vungu Rural District says that women in politics aren’t valued much as people prefer men as they have more resources and power within communities.
“Men in politics use their money and power to influence other women to spread malicious lies about you as a woman in politics. You get labeled as a prostitute and men who hold influential positions in politics look at you more as a sex object than competition,” she said.
The constitution of Zimbabwe has a number of provisions to bolster the participation of women in politics. Section 17 states that the State must take positive measures to rectify gender discrimination and imbalances resulting from past practices and policies.
A National Gender Policy and Strategy is also in place. To add to this, section 124 1 (b) of the constitution calls for proportional representation in the National Assembly. But factors such as the exorbitant nomination fees stifle the involve ment of women in politics.
According to the Long Term Feminist Analysis 2023 Pre-election report, young women and women from across the political divide experienced body shaming and vitriol targeted at their gender and sex.
Women said that sexual harassment that is rooted in patriarchal culture hinders them from pushing for gender equality agenda even when elected to positions of power as they sometimes play according to the whims of men in their parties.
The report also states that the CCC candidate selection process was costly and delays in finalising the selection processes resulted in high costs to travel to the venues for the different rounds of voting thereby disadvantaging women aspiring candidates who had to pay for their supporters’ transportation to attend the multiple voting and screening processes.
Sally Ncube, National Chairperson for Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) said that political violence played a major role in the drop in numbers drop. “Some women pulled out of the race or postponed to the next election because of violence that they have gone through or that they see aspiring candidates going through.
Whether it’s online violence, hate speech, it has a way of deterring women from stepping up,” she said.
Ncube also said that political institutions are viewed as not safe and they don’t have safety mechanisms and structures that confidently share how they support women who would have been harassed.
“But in this election, we also saw that some women did not show up because they are not confident of themselves as worthy candidates. For some it’s an issue of time poverty because they have responsibilities at family level, at workplaces so if you have to choose livelihood against political office you would then see that quite a number of women could not show up,” she added.
The Gender Audit produced by the Zimbabwe Gender Commission hints at legal reforms that need to happen to create an enabling environment for women to participate.
One condition would be for ZEC not to accept lists that are not in compliance with section 17 of the constitution that touches on gender parity. Ncube went on to say that for this to be effective, political parties need to be held accountable so that they are gender responsive and women’s rights responsive.
“There is need for a comprehensive safeguarding mechanism where all political parties are made by law to have internal organisational policies for safeguarding and prevention of sexual exploitation and abuse and capacity building to know when to detect violence and how to respond,” she said.
Zimbabwe is signatory to various conventions that call for equal representation of women across all sectors.
These include the United Nations (UN), Africa Union (AU) and Southern Africa Development Community (SADC) Conventions and Protocols.
The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) upholds women’s right to participate in public life and the (1995) Beijing Platform for Action is an appeal for women’s empowerment.
While Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Number Five provides for gender equality in governance and all spheres of life,. Zimbabwe is still a long way from achieving gender equality especially in politics.