Electoral violence a deterrent for women’s participation in electoral processes

Rampant cases of electoral violence during the campaign trail of Zambia’s 2021 general elections dissuaded a significant percentage of women from taking part in the electoral processes, United Party for National Development winning political candidate Mutinta Mazoka has said.

Hon. Mazoka was speaking at a Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD) organised Twitter Space, titled “Women’s participation in Zambia Elections: Key lessons for Zimbabwe.” The Twitter Space sought to facilitate dialogue on women’s participation in Zambia Electoral processes and draw lessons for Zimbabwe and the region.

Speaking during the Twitterspace Hon Mazoka said: Apart from undermining the credibility of an election, violence affects women more and this impacts negatively on the electoral process in so many ways that include voter apathy.

Mazoka added that the country experienced electoral violence in some selected parts of the country and the Commission fully evoked the Electoral Code of Conduct to stop escalation of violence and punish those in breach. This protected citizens in general and women in particular against electoral violence.

On the gender sensitivity of electoral laws, Mazoka said that the electoral laws have not been crafted to suit a particular gender. For example, Articles 100, 110 and 70 of the Republican Constitution provides for the qualifications for President, running mate and MP and some of these qualifications include being a citizen, age, academic qualifications without specifications on gender.

Mazoka also added that the Commission being a mandated body to administer elections however comes up with deliberate policies within the legal provisions that create an enabling environment for segments for underrepresented groups such as women, the youth and persons with disabilities

Hosted and moderated by WELEAD Executive Director Namatai Kwekweza and Award-Winning Journalist Brighton Ncube, the Twitter Space also included Patricia Luhanga from the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), Susan Lubambe Mwape, the Executive Director of Common Cause Zambia and Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) Programs Coordinator Ellen Dingani who was the respondent.

According to Susan Mwape there was a worrying trend of lack of financing for female candidates. This made it very difficult for female candidates running for office in a political scene that is male dominated. Mwape also expressed concern over the operating environment citing media capture, shrinking civic space and rampant cases of cyber bullying.

“The context within which the elections were held had a number of hindrances. There was a lot of violence, access to traditional media outlets was limited to certain individuals and the ruling political party.

“Notably, there was a lot of censorship, a number of media institutions were shutdown, the internet was throttled and there was a worrying concern typified by an escalation in the number of journalists who became political cadres which had serious ethical considerations.” Mwape said

Mwape also commended the role played by social media as an important tool in spotlighting a number of issues before and during the elections. She however said women were discouraged from participating online due to cyberbullying.

Zambia’s general elections took place against a backdrop of heightened political tension and a COVID-19 context which was difficult to navigate.

The political violence in the country can be traced back to 2016 disputed elections, where post-election violence resulted in the arrest and detention of several opposition members. The tense political situation was compounded by a shrinking economy which was exacerbated by the global COVID-19 pandemic that has resulted in increased socio-economic inequalities and social disenchantment by citizens.

The volatile operating environment over the years has resulted in fewer women participating in electoral processes as registered voters and political candidates. However, the 2021 general elections saw a significant percentage of women participating in the electoral processes which is encouraging for Zimbabwean women as the 2023 elections are looming.

 

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