WALPE Activity Update 02

i)WALPE engages the media on how best they can influence women to participate in politics as candidates and voters.

On the 19th of February 2024, the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) in partnership with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) and with support from the Netherlands Embassy hosted a TV program that was live streamed on Bustop TV. The topic of discussion was “How can the media support and influence women’s participation in politics as both voters and candidates?”

The three tier discussion panel was made up of seasoned journalists and media practitioners, one of them being a Media Alliance for Southern Africa board member. The discussion took a three pronged approach, the first part of the discussion being centred on the negative habits by the media that negatively affect women leaders’ coverage during the election period.

Factors that were raised include the rampancy of “brown envelopeism” in this context, a phenomenon that involves the acceptance of money or gifts by journalists in return for media coverage. The participants argued that male political candidates pay journalists to attend their press conferences and to give them positive coverage. However, the same could not be said about women candidates as they have noticeably less resources to do the same.

Secondly, women candidates were described as being media-shy and unforthcoming when approached by journalists and media practitioners for comments or interviews. This led to an exploration of the reasons why women candidates ‘do not have relationships with journalists’. Chief among them was that the media has a long standing pattern of giving women coverage mostly when they are involved in scandals or sensational news. This has purportedly resulted in women distancing themselves from the media.

The patriarchal view that most institutions have, including the media has led to women political candidates not being taken seriously enough for the media to write about them in salient news. Additionally, the burden of unpaid care and domestic work (UCDW), as well as the roles of women aside from their careers often renders them unavailable to journalists on a whim, should they need a comment or an interview.

The last part of the discussion was centred on how the media can change the negative patterns mentioned during the discussion and the following recommendations were made:

·       The media governing bodies must condemn and take measures to curb bribery for coverage.

·       Journalists must be more respectful when approaching women candidates and consider their circumstances when reaching out to them.

·       Media practitioners should also take the initiative to provide coverage to women political candidates outside of the election period, for example, giving them coverage during legislative procedures and engaging with women politicians in newspapers.

·       During election and by-election periods, political debates between male and female candidates must be equally prioritized to promote equal footing between candidates irrespective of their gender.

·       Women political analysts must be encouraged to share their contributions on political issues, as well as to provide political commentary in more platforms.

ii) Political parties have an important role to play in women’s participation in politics.

WALPE with support from the Netherlands Embassy and in partnership with WLSA on 20 February 2024 hosted an online TV program on Bustop TV’s Facebook page under the topic “Ensuring an enabling environment for women’s full participation in electoral processes. What political parties can do!”

The panel of discussants was made up of three women leaders, with two having previously served as deputy mayoresses. As women who have been actively involved in politics, they shared their journeys of how they made the bold decision to join the male dominated field. Their main concern was the huge gap in women’s inclusion and involvement in leadership and decision making processes.

The women leaders discussed the internal affairs of the political parties which were represented. They unpacked the challenges that women who are actively participating in politics are facing, and the support that they have been receiving from their political parties to conquer these challenges. The panel was in agreement that policies and guidelines which address gender equality within political parties to ensure an enabling environment for women’s full participation are there but are lacking in terms of implementation. The women leaders highlighted that while there are women’s wings and assemblies within political parties that encourage and support aspiring women leaders to breakthrough into leadership; the political environment is mainly dominated by men thus, making it difficult for women to penetrate.

Major challenges mentioned include the of lack of resources for women candidates during times of election campaigns as compared to the male candidates, political violence, harassment, threats, intimidation, arbitrary abductions and cyber-bullying. The women leaders highlighted that, though assistance and support has been received from political parties they all agreed that it has not been enough. Therefore, there is need for political parties to work with women’s rights organisations such as WALPE and WLSA to capacitate women to actively participate in electoral processes.

The panel also unanimously flagged the women’s parliamentary and local government proportional representation quota system and emphasised that it has not been working to their advantage though its mission was to increase women’s numbers. They noted that numbers of women contesting in first past the post, had significantly decreased as even those considered strong women leaders were jostling for the quota seats.

Having discussed the hindrances for women occupying leadership positions, the panel of women leaders recommended that:

·        Mechanisms to protect women participating in politics should be put in place.

·       The electoral voting system of first past the post must be abolished for proportional representation, where the electorate votes for a political party and not an individual the easiest route to the achievement of gender balance.

·       There be increased gendered voter and civic education in all communities and in local languages.

·       Women, women with disabilities and young women are continuously capacitated with skills and knowledge in order to effectively run for public office.

iii)Intergenerational Grooming, mentorship and coaching; key to the continued fight for gender equality.

On the 22nd of February, WALPE with support from the Netherlands Embassy and in partnership with WLSA hosted an online TV programme under the topic, “A Gender audit! Taking stock of women’s participation in the 2023 elections as candidates. What went wrong?” Three aspiring women leaders made up the rich panel of discussants. The programme involved unpacking the barriers faced by women in participating in politics as both candidates and voters.

During the discussion, the aspiring women leaders highlighted how women who seek to take up leadership positions face challenges such as harassment, abduction, violence during elections, and lack of financial resources for campaigning. One of the panellists stressed that investing in women’s rights to participate in politics is a necessary step to achieve global equality and democratic governance.

“We cannot fully claim to be a democracy when women who make up more than 50% of the population are not adequately involved and included in the country’s developmental discourse. A lot of gaps go unnoticed if women are not included,” she said.

The lack of financial resources was also flagged as a major setback for women candidates during campaigning period as compared to the male candidates. Panellists noted that women cannot expand their already limited resources for vote-buying like men do when there are developmental issues that need to be addressed in their communities.

They also noted with concern the exorbitant candidate nomination fees that were demanded by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC).  Presidential candidates were asked to pay USD20000 and Members of Parliament USD1000. The aspiring women leaders went on further to plead for the reduction of the nomination fees in order to allow more women to be able to pay for their candidacy.

A call for assistance was made by the 03 panellists, and they recommended that:

·       Organisations such as WALPE and WLSA should continue to assist women in terms of capacity building, leadership training, civic and voter education and resource mobilisation as they strive to occupy leadership positions.

·       Continue with intergenerational grooming, coaching and mentoring so as to maintain the momentum in the women’s movement. Political parties internally put into practice policies and frameworks which provide a safe political environment that safeguards women participating in politics.

iv)Resource constraints cripple community development bemoans women leaders.

With support from the Netherlands Embassy and in partnership with WLSA, WALPE travelled to Goromonzi wards 01,03, and 05, where community accountability sessions with women leaders were conducted. The sessions which engaged 155 women, discussed the promises made by women leaders during campaigning for leadership positions towards the 23 August 2023 elections and whether they were fulfilled.

The majority of women leaders expressed their disgruntlement at the 2024 National Budget as well, as the slow pace of movement within the various structures and systems where they serve in varying leadership capacities. For those working in local municipalities, the biggest hindrance to fulfilling their campaign promises is the levels of red tape and excessive bureaucracy.

“We often have to remind the people in our communities that we do not hold all the power, so there is only so much we can do. There are many channels that we have to pass in order to start any developmental project. The financial limitations often render our services and promises incomplete and this may seem as though we are backsliding. There is a genuine shortage of financial backing for us to fully deliver on our promises”.

Women occupying community leadership positions in attendance at the meetings showed an understanding of the plight of women leaders in municipalities. The women community leaders noted that the women leaders in municipalities had to work within the confines of the law and certain procedures and protocols have to be followed and observed rendering implementation of projects slow.

“We know that there is no money for the full implementation of developmental processes at the local level, and blaming the leaders at this level is pointless because we understand how limited they are but some of us can testify that they work hard but the circumstances are difficult and beyond their control”.

v) Solidarity amongst women key to increase the number and quality of women elected into leadership.

WALPE in partnership with WLSA and with support from the Netherlands Embassy conducted an intergenerational grooming, coaching and mentorship solidarity training sessions with emerging, current and former women leaders in Harare.

The training sessions which attracted young women between the ages of 18-35 years and older women afforded the participants the opportunity to share notes on etiquette- which is an important tool for aspiring women leaders to become confident and capable leaders. Topics discussed during the training sessions were leadership styles, personal grooming and hygiene, etiquette, goal setting, professionalism, and effective communication.

The current and former women leaders pointed out that it is vital for future leaders to be knowledgeable on how to present themselves as it would be helpful when they build networks and relationships.

During group discussions, the women came up with valuable suggestions on how to present themselves as reputable leaders. They also developed ideas that could help them to be desirable leaders who will be nominated for various positions in their communities. At the end of the program, women agreed that mentorship and sister solidarity is important as it helps to boost confidence for aspiring women leaders to take up, and occupy local level leadership positions thereby increasing the numbers. Moreover, they pledged to support each other as women in order to overcome patriarchy in their communities.

vi) WALPE attends 40th GIMAC Summit.

From 13-15 February, WALPE with support from the Open Society Foundations (OSF) attended the Gender is my Agenda African Union Pre-Summit CSOs Consultative meeting in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The theme of this year’s meeting was “Educational Transformation for Gender Equity and Sustainability”.

At the summit, WALPE highlighted the importance of education and how its lack negatively affects girls and women from reaching their full potential. By affording women and girls the opportunity to further their education, systemic barriers can be broken and gender equality can be realised.

The academy also highlighted how the proposed educational qualifications ceiling for council candidates in Zimbabwe would also negatively impact those women with potential to become good leaders but were unfortunate to not have attained tertiary education. 

vii) WALPE introduces new #WeCareForHer project campaign on Unpaid Care and Domestic Work.

WALPE with support from the International Development Research Centre (IDRC) Canada and in partnership with Padare/Enkundleni Men’s Forum on Gender, Health Law and Policy Consortium, The Bethany Project, a CBO based in Zvishavane-Midlands province and Oxfam Zimbabwe has embarked on a new campaign that will tackle Unpaid Care and Domestic Work (UCDW) and underpaid care work.

The campaign was initiated after realising that policy makers in Zimbabwe lack awareness of UCDW as a concept and its negative implications on women and girls. When decision makers, such as government officials, councillors, local leaders and private sector leaders, recognize UCDW as a significant issue, they can put in place evidence backed laws and policies that reduce the challenge.

Under the new campaign, WALPE and its consortium partners will undertake to conduct in-depth national researches to unpack how UCDW affects women and girls in Zimbabwe. The consortium will also develop model Bills on gendered Devolution Bill, gendered Constituency Development Fund (CDF), and an UCDW Bill. These will be presented to Parliament, and serve as advisory documents on UCDW in hope of them being adopted into the country’s set of legislations.

UCDW as a concept is still relatively new to Zimbabwe and through this campaign, the consortium will strive to create safe and inclusive spaces for key stakeholders to engage in open and honest discussions about UCDW, why it is imperative to enact laws and policies that address its 4Rs which are recognition, reduction, representation and redistribution.

By so doing, gendered community development can take place, freeing up time and reducing the burden of UCDW on women and girls. This in turn, will afford them the opportunity to partake in leadership and developmental processes outside the private sphere.

viii)WALPE petitions Parliament on young women’s participation in leadership

With support from the Open Society Foundations (OSF)  and in partnership with Bustop TV, Ithemba for Girls, The Girls Table and Rural Young Women’s Trust, WALPE developed an online and physical petition addressing the need to have more young women in leadership positions.

The physical petition which will be presented to Parliament on 11 March 2024 is addressing the need for a standalone gendered Youth Act which stipulates provisions for equal representation of young women and men in all leadership positions.

The petitions were brought about after the consortium noticed a gap in young women’s leadership representation where in Parliament they constitute less than 5% of legislators. The consortium also wants the issue to be addressed in the Women and Youth Parliamentary proportional representation quotas, so that young women make up 50% of the proportional representation (PR) lists. Young women bring fresh perspectives and new ideas which are beneficial to the continued democracy of the country and advancement of the fight for gender equality.

ix) WALPE Commemorates International Women’s Day.

WALPE joins the nation and the rest of the world in commemorating the International Women’s Day which is held annually on 08 March. This year’s theme:  “Invest in Women: Accelerate progress” comes at an opportune time where investments in identifying, mentoring, capacitating and assisting women to take up elected leadership positions are now more urgent than ever due to the dwindling number of women elected as MPs (10%) and Councillors (12%) in the 2023 national elections.

To commemorate the day, WALPE with support from Open Society Foundations, Dutch Embassy and IDRC held several tv and radio programmes, pitstops, walkathons in various communities as part of raising awareness on the importance of supporting women leadership. The organisation also joined the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, the United Nations, other development partners, women’s rights organisations, the private sector and women from the Midlands province in commemorating the important day in Shurungwi.

Speaker after speaker emphasised the importance of investing in girls, women with disabilities and women for the development of the nation. The organisation also took advantage of the event to showcase its work and recruit more aspiring women leaders in need of capacity enhancement and grooming in preparation for public office.