WALPE Activity Update 03

i)Vote buying- a menace to women’s political participation.

The Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) with support from the European Union delegation to Zimbabwe (EU) and in partnership with the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) hosted an online television on Bustop TV’s Facebook page under the topic “An assessment of the preparedness of women to participate in the general election. Reflections of the ongoing political party candidate selection”.

The panel of discussants comprised of  four (04) aspiring women leaders from different political parties who shared their views on the party candidate selection process in terms of gender balance and challenges faced by women voters and candidates during the party candidate selection processes.

Some of the major and recurring challenges raised were: 

  • During the candidate selection processes, voters were asked to use the ZEC *264# option to check their voter registration status online and connectivity issues hindered the process therefore, many of them would go back home without choosing their leaders and not return.
  • Some women were unable to participate in the voting process due to unpaid care and domestic work commitments as the processes took took long in many areas.
  • Many female voters  had to travel over great distances to access polling stations.
  • The lack of access to information about polling stations location and voting days especially in the rural areas were raised and attributed to less women voting for their preferred candidates..

The panellists brought out the issue of men bribing community members and gatekeepers with money or material goods in order to influence them to sway their votes. This gave rise to the strong recommendation to continue with voter education and conscientize communities on why it is important to vote and to not give in to momentary temptation in the form of bribes during election season. 

The low numbers of women candidates who finally made it as candidates were chalked up to issues of little support from fellow women from their communities, generally lacking resources to fund their campaigns and being victims of mud-slinging in order to lower their chances of being elected or even competing.

At the end of the discussion, the following recommendations were made by the show participants:

  • Civil Society Organisations (CSOs) should widen their scope in terms of training women in income generating projects and leadership to boost their confidence,
  • Political parties must ensure that venues for primary elections are accessible to women and that the process is completed within a reasonable time to allow women to attend to other responsibilities.
  • Community engagement initiatives centred on garnering support for women and aspiring women leaders should be increased and brought into the rural areas.
  • Political parties must heavily penalize those accused and found guilty of vote buying.

ii)Support for women leaders starts at home- Gwanda men.

WALPE with support from Diakonia conducted male engagement sessions for gender equality  in Gwanda- Matebeleland South  in May 2023 with 50 men. 

The male engagement sessions conscientised the participants on the need and benefits of supporting gender equality as well as contributing to a peaceful and conducive environment for women to freely and actively participate in leadership processes and elections.

Through engaging the men in Gwanda, WALPE understood their perspective on gender equality, their concerns and fears and went further to demystify some of the myths and falsehoods they had related to women in leadership.

During the sessions, the men noted that they have a role to play in addressing some of the challenges listed below in order to increase women’s chances of making it into leadership positions. And these are:

  • Eliminating all forms of violence against women in politics.
  • Lack of a broader sexual harassment policy that criminalises  the harassment of women activists.
  • Vote buying of potential voters by men especially during candidate selection processes leading to women getting fewer votes.
  • Rampant cyber-bullying, online violence and revenge pornography that tarnishes the image of aspiring women leaders and bruise their self-confidence.

The men also indicated that another hindrance to women’s full participation in leadership and political processes was the burden of Unpaid Care and Domestic Work (UCDW). They indicated that since a lot of women spend time at home doing household chores, they miss out on opportunities to attend meetings and rallies. The men encouraged each other to be champions for equality and start engaging other men to help with households chores and the redistribution of UCDW.

At the end of the sessions, the men agreed to:

  • Raise more awareness amongst their peers on the ills of perpetrating violence against women in politics.
  • Support and vote for women who would have showed up for leadership and join their campaign teams.
  • Desist from vote buying and assist in creating a conducive environment for women to freely participate in politics as both voters and candidates.

iii) Reforms still need to be implemented for women to actively participate in political processes.

WALPE with support from the EU and in partnership with ZESN hosted an online television program. The TV program which was aired on Bustop TV’s Facebook page was on the topic “The importance of creating a level playing field for women’s full participation in elections”. Aspiring women leaders who participated noted that unless reforms were implemented, very few women would be able to freely and actively participate in leadership processes.

They noted that among the concerns that women wanted to have addressed were:

  • Violence which was one of the major hindrances to women’s political participation.
  • Limited to no campaign resources resulting in many women not able to actively participate in candidate selection processes.
  • Unpaid Care and Domestic Work which take up most of their time leaving little or no time for them to take part in leadership and political processes.
  • Harassment, intimidation and cyber bullying they experience after expressing their interests in leadership and political processes also hinder their full participation.

The women also emphasised that apart from the above noted concerns, the new proposed regulation to only allow  candidates with tertiary education to contest as councillors meant very few women will take part as many do not have the required qualifications but are capable  leaders.

At the end of the TV program, the women recommended that:

  • Political parties respect the tenets of section 17, 56 and 80 of the constitution which calls for 50/50 gender balance in all leadership positions and curb the menace of vote-buying.
  • Political parties’ resources must also be used to capacitate and prepare women for leadership.
  • Political parties must ensure that they create a peaceful and non-violent environment for women to freely participate in leadership and electoral processes.

iv) Scrap nomination fees or financially assist women candidates.

WALPE with support from the EU and in partnership with ZESN hosted an online television program on Bustop TV’s Facebook page with the topic “ The candidate nomination fees remains unchanged. What does it mean for women’s political participation”.

The nomination fees gazetted by the Government last year require aspiring Presidential candidates to folk out US$20000, Members of Parliament US$1000, Senate and local council US$100 and observers to pay between US$100 and US$400. The participants noted that the nominations fees were a hindrance to women’s full participation in electoral processes as candidates as they were too steep.

The women noted that most women who are capable leaders but lack the financial resources would shun entering into politics because of the amounts being demanded to contest as a candidate.

They also stated that most women being informally employed or unemployed were torn between paying the nomination fees and household responsibilities with the former taking precedence over the latter.

Other challenges noted by the women included but were not limited to:

  • The burden of Unpaid Care and Domestic Work were women could not take money from the home to finance their leadership aspirations.
  • Aspiring women leaders from both urban and rural areas would be fewer because of the fees being demanded as they do not have sources of income to finance their leadership aspirations.
  • The youth were disenfranchised because of the nomination fees despite possessing leadership qualities.

In order to remedy the situation the women recommended that:

  • The Government and political parties must intervene and engage the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission and agree on affordable nomination fees.
  • Political parties must meet the costs of nomination fees instead of shifting the burden to candidates.
  • Civil society organisations should continue advocating and lobbying for fair nomination fees for women.

The participants concluded the discussion by saying that unless the issue of nomination fees is addressed and agreed upon, very few women would contest in the forthcoming elections.

v) Women optimistic and ready to support fellow women candidates in upcoming elections.

WALPE with support from Diakonia conducted a Civic and Voter Education training of trainers indaba in Gwanda under the 2.2 Million Votes for Women from Women election campaign. The training which was held from 25 May to May 28, 2023 targeted 120 aspiring women leaders from Gwanda urban wards 01, 02, 03, 04 and 06 who are registered voters.

During the indaba, participants were taken through the most overlooked issues when it comes to voting, that is how to vote, the entire voting procedure and demystifying the heresies around elections.  The women leaders were also trained on basics such as the time polling stations open, the identification documents required for one to be allowed to vote, the secrecy of the vote, their rights as both candidates and voters and where to report in case of anomalies. The trained leaders are expected to train 20 more women in the next two weeks to bring the total number to 2 400.

Some of the topics covered during the training included:

  • Introduction to democracy and its tenets,
  • Why women should contest as candidates,
  • The Zimbabwean electoral system and the electoral cycle,
  • Demystifying the voting processes and Zimbabwe’s voting systems,
  • The nomination process and requirements.
  • Reasons why women should vote and
  • How to run a successful campaign.

All the participants acknowledged the importance of the 2.2 Million Votes for Women from Women Campaign. They supported the campaign highlighting that getting more women in public leadership positions means these women leaders will advocate for issues that affect women.

The aspiring women leaders emphasized the need for WALPE to deploy female observers for the 2023 harmonized elections so as to properly capture all violations against women candidates and voters.

…Level playing field important for women’s political participation

WALPE with support from Diakonia also conducted the Aspiring Women Leaders Solidarity Rally for gender equality in Gwanda Rural, Garanyemba wards 13 and 14. A total of 106 women attended the ground breaking rally.

During the rally it was discussed why it is important for women to participate in leadership processes and why the government should level the playing field for women to equally participate as their male counterparts. The discussions were being held while conducting team building and light sporting activities with the women.

From the sporting activities held on the day, the most striking one for the women was the egg and sack race, which reminded them of how as women they have to put extra effort when it comes to leadership. This is so because they have other requirements such as UCDW which they have to perform before engaging in their leadership activities.

They also shared that the pairs race taught them that as women they need to work together to realise optimum results. At the end of the rally the women noted that while not every woman wants to or can participate in leadership processes, they can still support and cheer on the aspiring women leaders until they occupy leadership positions.

vi) Engaging men remain crucial to the achievement of gender equality.

On the 4th of June 2023, WALPE with support from the EU and in partnership with ZESN conducted a male engagement session on gender equality with 80 men from Hopely- a peri urban area in Harare. The engagement session was accompanied by a social soccer tournament with competing teams drawn from ZANU PF, Citizens Coalition for Change and the religious sector.

Before the match, discussions were done to get buy in from the participants to understand and accept women as capable leaders. Patriarchy, culture, religion and other harmful social norms lead to women being treated as second class citizens by men hence their endorsement is crucial in creating a level playing field for women to excel in politics.

During the session, it was discussed why women are good leaders and why men should vote for women and WALPE emphasized on the need for peace as we head into the August 2023 national elections. Mr Thole a representative from ZESN also had a talk with the men present and emphasized on the importance of supporting women leaders and he went on to highlight the importance of ending all forms of violence against women leaders.

The men noted that cultural beliefs, lack of confidence, violence, harassment, intimidation, lack of resources and cyber-bullying hinder women from participating in leadership processes. 

While the majority of participants initially subscribed to stereotypes on women’s exclusion from leadership positions and gender, they ended up pledging to support women leaders and refrain from any form of violence towards women leaders as the country heads towards the elections.