…Distance, responsibilities hinder ambitions
Latwell Nyangu, H-Metro Reporter
Politics has for a long time regarded by some people as a dirty game but to others it is only dirty because of the dirty people playing the game.
With that mind-set, women have been side-lined over the years as they are regarded as the faint hearted.
Participation of women in politics in Africa in general and Zimbabwe in particular is still a far cry from the 50% benchmark set by The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development which encourages member States to ensure equal and effective representation by women in decision-making in the political, public and private sectors, including the use of special measures.
In that regard, equality has not yet been achieved.
On the other hand, the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) encourage States to “ensure women’s full effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic and public life.”
It also calls upon States to “adopt and strengthen sound policies and enforceable legislation for the promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls at all levels.”
The political playing field in Zimbabwe is not level due to the systematic barriers that prohibit women from fully participating in politics.
The long list of barriers include patriarchy, violence, financial constraints and general lack of resources.
The quota system introduced in the National Assembly and recently proposed by Women in Local Government although very positive in its current state in the long term, it does not add value to women’s participation.
Ninenty kilometers from the capital city Harare, there are several rural women with a burning desire to participate in politics.
A visit to Ward 8 in Murewa North Constituency revealed that most rural women aspire to actively participate in politics but face numerous barriers.
“We have challenges that we need to address like political education on how to enter into politics. I have been a member of the youth assembly in the ward but the barrier for me to rise is lack of the political knowhow on how to rise,” related Etiness Mbewe.
She further allude that men in most cases only push for their agendas during political meetings.
“Distance has also affected us here, because can you imagine us walking a distance of 12 kilometers to attend a meeting. It’s not easy yet I would have to endure the sun, and especially now during the rainy season,” added Mbewe.
She noted that whilst men tend to support each other, women still have a challenge of supporting each other hence they are taken advantage of.
“It’s a major challenge that some of us end up opting to stay indoors, do house chores or rather get to the fields,” said Mbewe who is a vice-secretary in the youth assembly of MDC-Alliance.
She explained that when you see a few women at political functions it is largely due to circumstances beyond their control.
“All these women you see here want to be competing with men.
“But the challenge is access to information as well as resources. At times we would have no money to travel, so we end up involving ourselves in domestic chores than attending political meetings, which are held far away from us,” said Mbewe.
Miriam Nyakapanga, who always partake in political functions in the area, believes distance is a barrier to women’s involvement in politics.
“You see these women coming to functions like this, it doesn’t mean they don’t want to be on the stage speaking in front of all these men. The problem is, they have no one to carry them to and from rallies. The fear lies in the walkable distances which at times are difficult to bear,” said Nyakapanga.
She added that gender roles are another barrier to women’s political participation.
“I am sure you know women have a lot of responsibilities at home and by paying more attention to political functions, it will be jeopardising their relationships at home. Imagine finishing a meeting at 5pm and then walk for more than 10 kilometers home.
“When you get there you would be expected to do some house duties. That’s a barrier on its own,” noted Nyakapanga.
She reiterated that it is not surprising that divorcees and single women are the most successful politicians because they run their own lives than married female politicians.
“As far as we want to battle it out with our male counterparts it’s still a long way, and if I don’t have a car, the result is, I will not go or either I am being picked up by some men. But being picked up has some consequences again, as the society watches and as you know people are quick to conclude,” lamented Nyakapanga.
She said as rural women politicians they are cornered about the long distance they travel to attend political meetings.
“Worse here in this marginalised area, when people see you walking to a rally on foot, they will not say anything but that moment you become active and begin to be picked by fellow members, that problem comes,” she added.
Angeline Madziya, who is a youth in the province concurred.
“The problem is, where we are coming from, we have responsibilities, so the time we wake up, we would want to first do some house responsibilities.
“And imagining the distance we will walk, you will feel for us, resultantly we will end up showing up at functions but with no intention to challenge for positions since these positions require a lot of attention and commitment.
“Committing to politics takes one’s determination, you cannot just wake up overnight and be a leader. Leaders sacrifice their time for politics and that application is not in many women. Women need to dedicate time to politics so that we take up positions,” she said.
She likened politics to the Christian ministries, where for one to be a successful evangelist, they need to dedicate their time to that, leave their friends, leave other jobs and focus on the Godly work only.
“This is like politics, if you decide to be part of the game then tighten the belts, so again women lack that aspect and with the issue of distance, we end up being spectators of the game. In politics, rural women are bench warmers since we dedicate our time and responsibilities to home related issues,” noted Madziya.
Zanu PF Councillor for Ward 8 Andrew Chirimumimba said women need to be brave enough to shrug off the barriers.
“To be honest, we can try our best to help women but along the way, they will indicate that they have more commitments. Have you realised that women are always the last to be at a function because they would have been dealing with some things at home, they need to make sure they leave everything in order at home,” said Councillor Chirimumimba while acknowledging that women face different challenges from men.
“Yes distance plays a key part but it’s about where they are coming from. Here in Murewa North, we have several men walking long distances to attend meetings but women don’t want to join the band and be part of it.
“We really understand that women have no capacity like that of men but despite distance being a barrier, women have a big task to achieve the participation,” he said.
Recently women councillors and gender support groups hailed President Mnangagwa for approving principles to Constitutional amendments aimed at extending the women’s quota to ensure a 30 percent threshold in local authorities.
Councillor Chirimumimba supported the move as he believes it will help women who seriously want to participate in politics.
“I support the petition by women councillors and gender groups to have a 30 percent quota system as it will help in removing the challenges being faced by our fellow women.
“That acknowledgement (by President Mnangagwa) shows that efforts are being made to incorporate women to participate in politics. And this will see women in these marginalised areas sharing tables with their male counterparts as they work together to come up with positive policies,” he said.
Ruvimbo Matione an aspiring Zanu PF councillor in the area hailed the President for the great move of including a quota system in local government.
“Women have always wanted to be part of decision makers, and also contribute towards developments. I feel this will help in elevating women to another level in terms of women’s participation in politics. With such policies in place, you will see women running around campaigning in 2023,” said Matione.
The statistics of the 2018 elections paint a dismal picture. Of the 2018 National Assembly only 14% percent of candidates were women, this is a very low figure according to the target of 50-50 set by Convention for the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).
Of those who contested only 26 managed to be elected versus 29 women who were elected in 2013. This means that there has been a 2% decrease in the number of women elected in 2018.
If one is to take a closer look at our system, they will realize a number of flaws. Firstly, the women under the quota system have no constituency, they are just an addition to existing seats, in essence they gain no constituency experience, which was the intention of the process.
Ronald Zhou, an avid supporter of Zanu PF reiterated that women need skills to be able to challenge men.
“Women need to be able to gain the right skills, have access to opportunities and become more confident to progress within their organisation or career path. Men must be involved in breaking down barriers, changing behaviours and company culture – equality is by and for everyone.
“There are numerous reasons why women’s political participation matters but we highlight five here, women’s Rights are Human Rights. Rights are universal and unassailable.
“This means we cannot allow our society to cherry-pick which rights matter for whom and when. Rights should always include and intrinsically strive to protect and promote women.
“Zimbabwe is a Constitutional Democracy, and the Constitution is very clear on Gender Equality,” said Zhou.
While, Richard Tembenuka, a member of MDC-Alliance:
“We cannot talk about democracy, inclusivity and social justice if women are left behind. “Numbers matter. Zimbabwe’s population is 52% women and women constitute 53% of registered voters. Nothing for women without women.”
Nationally, Murewa is divided into Murewa North and Murewa South constituencies and the district of Murewa stretches from Mt. Hanwa (10 km north of Macheke) in the south up to Uzumba in the north, Nyadire River North East and Nyaguvi South East of Murewa. It is dominated by traditional African agriculture of the Shona people.
Only the southern quarter of the area is covered with commercial farms, founded by European settlers. In that area, there are three hilltop fortresses belonging to the Murewa (Moyo) people, built in the later phase of ancient Monomotapa State under the Chieftainship family on Murewa, after 1500 AD.
Murewa North constituency comprises Murewa Town, Chitate and Madamombe. Most people in this constituency rely on market gardening, which they sell in Harare. This provides a constant income and as a result, they have a more decent standard of living when compared to other rural communities in Zimbabwe. (Zimbabwe Election Support Network report, 2008)
The constituency has a total population of approximately 53 508 people, comprising 27 949 (52%) females and 25 559 (48%) males. The constituency has about 11 879 households with an average of 4 people per household.
Ward 8 has the largest proportion of the population in the constituency while ward 7 has the least proportion of population. Only five wards have a population above the constituency average of 4 459 people, with the rest having a population below this average, according to Government of Zimbabwe, UNDP, 2010. 2010 Millennium Development Goals Status Report, Ministry of Labour and Social Services, UNDP, Harare.