By Colleen Lowe Morna and Tapiwa Zvaraya
The resignation of Robert Mugabe in November last year has brought a glimmer of hope for credible elections on 30 July after the many miscarriages of justice in the last three elections.
Sadly, despite massive 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, at worst decline.
The unprecedented candidature of four women for president has been met with sexist backlash and mudslinging – a reminder of the underlying patriarchal norms that outlive Zimbabwe’s ageing leadership.
Former Vice President Joice Mujuru, who fell out of favour with Mugabe and 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, not Nelson Chamisa, who leads the MDC Alliance. She has been subjected to a storm of social media insults, including being branded “hure” – Shona slang for a prostitute.
Riding the tide of the recent global feminist fervour, her right-hand woman and MP for Matebeleland South Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga wore a jumper inscribed “Hure, #MeToo!” when she went to deposit her nomination papers ahead of the 22 June deadline.
Blazing the trail for a new brand of young female leadership, independent candidate for Mount Pleasant suburb in Harare and Cambridge trained barrister Fadzayi Mahere has fought back social media derision about her not being married with tweets like: “ 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.
But 2018 will go down as an election 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, not in any other area, including local government.
Like most Southern African countries, Zimbabwe has a First Past the Post (FPTP) or constituency electoral system. The national quota, which borrows from a model honed in Tanzania, allows women to compete freely in these seats, but reserves an additional 30 percent seats for women only, distributed among parties in 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 to 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 access parliament through the rough and tumble of campaign politics. Here, women have lost before the election is even held.
Analysis of party lists by the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) shows that neither the ruling Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU/PF), that has a 30% quota for women, nor the main opposition MDC Alliance, that boasted a 50% quota for women, have lived up to their manifestos.
According to the local NGO watchdog, in the National Assembly 47 political candidates fielded candidates; 20 of these did not field any women candidates at all and two parties fielded only one woman each. Women comprise a mere 15% of candidates. 84 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,” WiPSU said in a statement last week, “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.”
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 set to continue in 2018.
According to the WiPU analysis, 40 political parties fielded candidates for the Local Authority Elections. Of these, 12 fielded men only. Women constitute a mere 17% of the 6796 candidates. As the chances of all these women winning their seats are slim, the likelihood of women’s representation slipping even below the 2013 figure of 16% is high.
This blow is all the more devastating because of the concerted campaign over the last 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 (WiLGF).
In March 2018, the Zimbabwe Women’s Parliamentary Caucus in partnership with civil society launched the Women’s Manifesto with five priority areas: women and economic development, women and 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 WiLGF calling for the quota to be extended to local government.
In May 2018, Zimbabwean women from all walks of life got the chance to meet President Emmerson Mnangagwa on challenges they face. Women’s representation especially in local government took centre stage.
Mnangagwa 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 to the 94 year old Mugabe, Mnangagwa has not walked the talk of gender equality where he has the most obvious power to do so– his cabinet. Women constitute 5 out of 30 (17%) of cabinet ministers, and none of the deputy ministers. Many of the most senior cabinet posts went to appeasing army generals who helped him unseat Mugabe in what some analysts have called a coup in all but name.
A highlight of the 2018 Zimbabwe elections is the Presidential elections which have witnessed a record 23 candidates with four (17%) women – the largest number of women who have ever competed for the highest office in the land. These are: Melbah Dzapasi (#1980 freedom movement Zimbabwe); Khupe (MDC-T); Violet Mariyacha (Untied 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 portions of 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 the State House. Bets are for a runoff between the top two candidates, Mnangagwa and Chamisa or the formation of a Government of National Unity (GNU).
The chances of a woman president are virtually nill, but the race itself has given women visible platforms to take a defiant stance. MDC-T’s Misihairabwi-Mushonga vowed to resist threats by the party’s top leadership to recall her from Parliament owing to her support for expelled Khupe’s break-away 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 Misihairabwi-Mushonga 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 voice 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 air 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,” the young women 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.
(Colleen Lowe Morna is CEO, and Tapiwa Zvaraya Zimbabwe M and E Officer of Gender Links) This article was first published in the Mail and Guardian