Leadership and Political Participation of Women still a struggle

Women are putting themselves forward for elections; however, their equal participation in political processes and decision making continue to be hindered by systematic marginalization, rigid gender norms and structural barriers.

Recounting their experiences in politics during the Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD)‘s panel discussion titled “Running to Win Conversation,” women representatives across the political divide—the Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF), Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC), Mthwakazi Republic Party (MRP), and the Zimbabwe African People’s Union (ZAPU)—highlighted that while they were stepping forward to take up leadership roles, rigid gender norms, online attacks, and structural barriers curtailed their full participation in civic spaces.

Opening the panel discussion on behalf of Bulawayo Provincial Affairs and Devolution Minister, Hon. Judith Ncube, the Director Coordination in the Ministry of State’s Office, Miss Boetsoanelo Noko, noted that despite the ratification of gender equality instruments such as the Beijing Platform for Action, the Maputo Protocol, the SADC Protocol on Gender Development, and the national constitution’s commitment to promoting gender equality, women were under-represented and, compared to men, lagged behind.

“While there has been progress in terms of women’s participation in Zimbabwe, as the country heads to the 2023 elections, there remains much to be done to achieve gender equality in politics,” said Min Ncube.

Ms. Sithembakuye Nyoni, a MRP representative, said in Tsholotsho, women played a leading role in the development of their communities, but rigid gender norms frustrated women’s efforts to participate in politics.

“Women play a vital role in developing rural communities, but they are lagging in political participation because of rigid gender norms.”

“Immediately, when a woman stands up for a political position, questions are asked. Will a woman fully represent us? Is she married? Will the husband allow her to go participate in parliament, and then your husband is also questioned on how he can allow you to go participate in parliament with other men?” said Sithembakuye Nyoni.

Lezina Mohammed, a CCC aspiring candidate, said:

“Women in politics face name-calling and de-campaigning barriers, with men sometimes using other women to tell aspiring candidates to step aside in their quest to participate in politics and allow men to contest first.”

Antonella Nare from ZANU-PF noted that threats and slander were being used to ridicule and silence women ‘s political participation on social media.

“I was attacked on Twitter for being outspoken and supporting my political party, ZANU –PF. My personal life, including my livelihood, was brought forward to ridicule me and curtail my participation in civic spaces,” said Nare.

Meanwhile, Sukoluhle Mhlanga, a disability rights activist bemoaned systematic marginalization and structural barriers that limited women living with disabilities from fully and effectively participating in political processes and decision making.

“We are tired of token rights that do not respond to our needs as people living with disabilities but that seek to use us for votes. Do political parties have disability policies in terms of participation? Is there visibility of women living with disabilities in structures? Are they found in key decision processes?  Political parties must implement policies that advance the participation of women living with disabilities in political processes,” she said

Speaking as a female politician in office, Minister of State for Mashonaland East Province, Hon. Dr. Aplonia Munzverengwi, acknowledged the challenges faced by women in politics but urged women to soldier on against all odds to get themselves represented in politics.

“We are our liberators. Our voices as women must be heard in Parliament. Be bold, aggressive, strong, and play the ball. You are the best people to represent your needs, “said Min Munzverengwi.

Also sharing her experience, Pumula Constituency Member of Parliament, Hon. Sichelesile Mahlangu, said:

“Your personal life will be attacked; you must be bold and courageous. Refuse to be relegated to public relations positions and take up leadership roles to serve your communities and shift the narrative. Whenever a female candidate is standing up for a political position, women must stand with her and help fight accusations that seek to impeach women’s credibility in politics.”

Participants commended WILD for bringing women together to unpack the challenges they were facing and map a way forward to advance and strengthen their participation in politics.

Sibongile Sibanda, a ZANU-PF representative, said:

“Coming together as women in politics is a step forward towards advancing women‘s political participation. Women must rise and support each other to win the gender inequality struggle. Be fierce and trust in their capabilities.”

WILD will be hosting the running to win conversations to advance women‘s political participation across the political divide in Zimbabwe ahead of the 2023 harmonized elections. The activity is part of the “She Leads” project, aimed at strengthening and amplifying the voices and participation of women and youths at all levels of political and civic life.

Written by: Loraine Phiri

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