WALPE Activity Update 04

i) Low resources hinder Zimbabwean women’s political participation.

On 26 June 2023, the Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) partnered the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) with European Union (EU) support in an online television program. The organisations conducted the television program, streamed live to viewers on Bustop TV Facebook, under the topic “Experiences of women leaders during political parties’ candidate selection process and the Nomination Court: Lessons learnt.”

Four women leaders from ZANU PF, CCC, DAVID and UZA contesting in the 23 August 2023 harmonised elections for parliament and council seats constituted the panel. During the program the women leaders said lack of resources had contributed to the failure of women to contest in the elections.

One candidate said while women had been front-runners in ward or constituency elections, many left the seats to men who could afford the high nomination fees that the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) charged.

“There were a lot of capable women leaders who were left behind because they failed to come up with the money being demanded by ZEC for nomination fees,”

“Others failed to even campaign at party level during the candidate selection process.

“If women had been adequately resourced, we would have witnessed a higher number of women candidates than what is currently prevailing.” one of the participants revealed during the discussion.

More contributing factors to the low participation of women are highlighted below.

  • Violence, harassment and intimidation of aspiring women leaders by men.
  • Vote buying and bulldozing of male candidates ahead of women in wards and constituencies during the internal candidate selection processes.
  • Erroneous voter’s rolls were many nominators’ names were missing despite being registered voters.
  • The nomination court process being flawed and biased against women candidates, leaving many of them unable to file their nomination papers on time.

At the end of the program the women leaders recommended that:

  • Equal and adequate funding be provided for both women and men candidates for women to have a fighting chance at taking up leadership positions.
  • Political parties provide an enabling environment that allows women to freely and effectively participate in leadership and political processes without the fear of violence, harassment, intimidation or threats.
  • Women’s rights organisations such as WALPE continue to lobby and advocate for more women to enter politics.
  • More voter education be conducted to inform women on the benefits of voting and taking leadership positions.

ii) Aspiring women leaders hail women’s networks, organisations.

Despite aspiring women leaders facing acute resource challenges ahead of elections, they have hailed support from women’s solidarity networks.

Speaking during a panel discussion that WALPE and ZESN co-hosted on Bustop TV Facebook with support from the European Union (EU) on 30 June 2023, the women said the women’s organisations had assisted mobilising and capacitating women to run for public office ahead of the August 23 elections.

Titled “Assessing the state of preparedness of female candidates for the August 2023 elections” the discussion revealed that the help expanded the female candidates’ networks and enriched their profiles.

The aspiring women leaders shared that they have started using fact checking tools to ensure that they spread and utilize factual information to circumvent rampant online misinformation and disinformation.

Some applauded the government’s efforts in raising awareness on the Data and Cyber Protection Act in a bid to curb the scourge of cyber bullying and attacks. Others revealed that the violence they experienced on social media had led them to increase their digital and physical security ahead of elections.

Women leaders said the violence they experienced on social media was being fuelled by sexist and patriarchal attitudes. The women leaders were in agreement that despite the cross-cutting issues of lack of resources, they have found support from women’s solidarity networks who have been providing assistance to women candidates in terms of spreading their campaign messages and profiling them on both online and offside media platforms. This in turn has enriched their social networks and spurred them on as aspiring councillors and Members of Parliament.

iii)Aspiring women leaders lean on each other for solidarity support.

WALPE with support from Diakonia convened 25 aspiring female leaders from the leading Zimbabwean political parties, ZANU PF and CCC for a peace indaba to strengthen women’s safe spaces and solidarity in elections.

The women leaders contesting as councillors and MPs during the 23 August elections pledged to work towards political and social stability through promoting peace and tolerance before, during and after the elections. Ahead of another round of elections in Zimbabwe, WALPE is advocating for peace and tolerance to undercut a recent surge in cases of violence against women in politics.

During the Indaba, the aspiring women leaders shared their different experiences with political violence and narrated how they are being bullied on social media especially on Twitter and WhatsApp. The indaba revealed that violence demotivated aspiring women leaders who ended up withdrawing their candidacy, delaying the efforts to close the gender gap.

Participants revealed that violence and sexual harassment flourished within political parties. The aspiring women candidates said they feared reporting the perpetrators because of continued victimisation and targeting.

At the end of the Indaba the aspiring women leaders recommended that:

  • Political parties must put in place clear grievances platforms where women can report cases of harassment, intimidation and political violence without subjecting them to revictimisation.
  • WALPE conduct more resilience building trainings for aspiring women leaders in order for them to remain spirited in the fight towards attaining gender equality in leadership.
  • Political parties train their leaders starting from village to national level on peaceful conflict resolution skills.
  • Cases of political violence should be thoroughly investigated and handled objectively by the police regardless of which political party the victim is affiliated to.
  • Women’s rights organisations continue to bring together different stakeholders and capacitate them on how to maintain peace ahead of the elections.

iv)Women leaders in Masvingo prepare for the August 23 elections.

Hundreds of women in rural areas in the Masvingo province have vowed to support women leaders in Zimbabwe’s forthcoming harmonised elections. WALPE with support from Diakonia trained 120 aspiring women leaders in Ngundu in rural Masvingo province on civic and voter education.

The participants were taken through the most overlooked issues when it comes to voting, such as how to vote, the voting procedure and dispelling the falsehoods and myths around elections.  The women leaders were also trained on basics such as the opening times of polling stations, the identification documents required for one to be allowed to vote, the secrecy of the vote, and their rights both as candidates and voters and where to report in case of anomalies.

The training also emphasised  the importance of supporting fellow aspiring women leaders to take up leadership positions and those that are already in leadership positions.

v) Solidarity rally solidifies women’s support for each other in 23 August elections.

WALPE also conducted an aspiring women’s leaders solidarity rally with  130 women from rural Masvingo with support from Diakonia. The participants were a mixture of aspiring women leaders and registered votered. The women took time from their busy schedules to reflect on the status of women political participation in the past five years, the challenges women have faces in attempting to ascend to leadership.

Participants in the rally discussed some of the challenges that women aspirants face in their leadership journeys which include:

•                Limited financial resources to effectively campaign against their male counterparts.

•                Limited support from political parties.

•                Violence, harassment, intimidation and threats.

•                Limited access to the media, where they are covered it is usually in the negative, a scandal or some petty love story.

During the rally, one of the aspiring women leaders narrated how she has succeeded in her political party selection process but failed to raise the councillor nomination fee demanded by ZEC resulting in her dropping out of the race.

Having one of the aspiring women leader’s share her story gave the other women a clear picture of why they should all strive to support other women leaders.

The aspiring women leaders had a lengthy discussion on the 2.2 million votes for women from women campaign being driven by WALPE, which emphasized on the need to go out and vote for women candidates.

Filled with more confidence, some said they were already looking forward to the next election cycle as they intended to challenge men for leadership positions.