With the Zimbabwean elections on the horizon, the landscape that will prevail beyond 30 July is a major concern for the women’s constituency.
As sisters in the motherland envision and craft their desired outcomes, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCOZ), as the umbrella body of women’s organisations in the country, is at the centre of the conversation. Determined to disrupt a male-driven political arena, the women’s constituency has made a pact to straddle the political party divide and support each other, setting an interesting scene whose unfolding is anticipated.
WCOZ took time to articulate their post-election expectations to “Issues”, in a radio broadcast conversation with the writer. These citizens, who represent the majority of the population (52%), hope for a Zimbabwe that will balance political power with accountability and transparency, a country defined by equitable access, competence and social justice. A nation with decent service delivery where enhancement of livelihoods is a priority. A land that is free from the menaces of corruption, consumption of public resources for personal benefit and politicisation.
But above all, a Zimbabwe that is removed from the status quo of low representation of women in public spaces, gender-based violence, unemployment and underemployment as well as poverty.
Political parties hold the reins of democracy and have the strategic responsibility of preparing and presenting candidates for election. However, as the election day draws near, the gender disparity in candidates put forward through the nomination process was a mockery, not only to the supremacy of the Constitution of the Republic and its gender prescriptions, but even to all the other instruments that call for equal gender representation which the country is signatory to. Zimbabwe is a signatory alongside 178 other countries to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) – where the equal participation of women and men in public life is one of the cornerstones, yet more than 30 years since the signing of the convention, where countries party to it are bound to take measures to promote women’s participation in decision-making and leadership positions, Zimbabwe has failed to adhere. The absence of convincing numbers of women in the nomination court points to patriarchy’s famous agenda of systematically excluding women and maintaining public spaces as male preserves. As the day to decide draws nearer, the women’s groups are heightening their claim to a slice of the cake through demands to be removed from the peripheries of discussion. The constituency are clearly articulating low representation of women as a priority and urging each other to question political parties’ capacities to mainstream women into national agendas beyond July 30 and to use that measure as a deciding element before inserting their “X”.
WCOZ articulated that the challenge transcends the election of larger numbers of women into the legislatures. Patriarchy, subordination of women, and the deep-rooted perception that the public domain is reserved for men needs to be erased. Beyond the quest for increased numbers therefore, enhancement of livelihoods is a key element for the Zimbabwean woman. Citizenship is a huge issue for her and the authentication of citizenry rights rests in documentation – she wants birth certificates for herself and her family. She desires a functional social service delivery system where she can access affordable shelter, clean energy as well as the basics of water and sanitation. Affordable health care provision is on her wish list as is education for her children especially equitable access to enter and complete primary, secondary and tertiary education. The basic provision of safe sanitary wear. Access to inclusive financial resources, pro-poor tax system and a gender-sensitive budget. The sisters desire control over their sexual and reproductive health rights. A legal framework that exists not just on paper, but one where laws are aligned and enacted is on her list of expectations as she confronts July 30.
Women seek a Zimbabwe that is unhinged from the prevailing status quo of patronage politics – that spoils system, that sees a political party, beyond an election win, appointing its supporters, relatives and friends to key government positions as a reward for helping it achieve victory. Premised on the centralisation of power on an individual to whom all within the system owe their positions, patronage has been blamed for the unquantifiable rates of corruption alongside the vertical distribution of resources on the continent. Women wish to see a Zimbabwe that appoints and employs for competence and capability and not nepotism and cronyism – eradication of all forms of corruption, after July 30.
Violence against women and girls has remained the most pervasive impediment to social cohesion, restitution and reconciliation. As the country approaches the polls, women are stating that they would desire to vote for the candidates who demonstrate that they will actively seek to prevent violence, to protect survivors of violence and to promote peace. A major bone of contention has consistently been the sentencing of sexual offences especially in view of the realities that perpetrators are usually persons known to survivors.
Non-deterrent sentences like community service for rape have continued to place women at further risk. Paedophilia minimised in terminology and given the lesser title of child marriages remains a hindrance to girls’ potential in the country. However, it would seem that conversations around the practice and deliberate activation of necessary legal interventions has remained on the peripheries of relevance.
As women go to the polls, they are urging each other to consider candidates who might prioritise their safety even beyond the private domestic spaces after July 30.
The possibility of enjoying a Zimbabwe that is not struggling, broke and in debt is the dream. A Zimbabwe that exploits and sweats its assets for the benefit of all citizens, where equity, equal opportunities and equal access in control and ownership of land and natural resources prevails is the woman’s desire. Women are yearning for development of credible and tangible political agendas that address their unique needs and includes their perspectives, views and experiences. According to WCOZ, the broadening of the economic spaces through institutional engineering, political will and commitment alongside greater recognition of the need for gender equality for women remains key to this constituency. So as women exercise their suffrage, they are searching for the candidates who will accept and acknowledge their existence. Beyond July 30, women want agency.