WALPE Activity Update 10

i)Young women with disabilities demand to be involved in leadership and electoral processes.

The Women’s Academy For Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) with support from the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (ZESN) held a conference with young women with disabilities on the impact of outstanding electoral reforms and the effects they have on young women’s participation in electoral processes.

The discussion which was conducted on October 14, 2022 had a total of 35 young women with disabilities from the University of Zimbabwe and Great Zimbabwe University, as well as representatives from ZANU PF and CCC. The objective of the meeting was to monitor the progress made towards the implementation of outstanding electoral reforms that affect young women with disabilities’ participation in electoral processes.

The facilitator highlighted that young women with disabilities (YWWDs) have the same rights to participate in electoral procesess as everyone else and that they constitute a third of the population. It was also highlighted that their voices matter and they should be leading in demanding the full implementation of outstanding electoral reforms.

Political parties also shared what their parties are doing to guarantee full participation of young women with disabilities in electoral reforms. Hon Marko Raidza from ZANU PF highlighted that their party has been pushing for women with disabilities to be recognized and given equal opportunities as able-bodied women. He also highlighted that they have been raising awareness against political violence and sexual harassment against women with disabilities. He went on to encourage young women with disabilities to demand their rights and not wait for an opportunity to avail itself for them to participate in electoral processes.

CCC representative, Ms. Ellen Shiriyedenga, highlighted that their party is doing all they can to make sure that the environment is conducive for women, young women and women with disabilities to freely, actively and fully participate in electoral processes. She encouraged the young women with disabilities to take advantage of capacity building trainings that are offered by organisations such as WALPE as these will deepen their capacities and knowledge on electoral processes.

The YWWDs shared the challenges they are facing in participating in electoral processes as both voters and candidates. They noted that sexual harassment is the biggest challenge and they fear to be involved in political processes because of political violence.

At the end of the discussion, the participants drafted demands they then submitted to political parties and Parliament for actioning.

ii)Political parties should have clear policies to deal with violations against women in politics.

On 18 October 2022, WALPE with support from the Netherlands Embassy hosted a high-level conference with 20 aspiring women leaders representing the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC). The women leaders who attended occupy provincial and district level positions within their parties. The platform created a safe space for them to interact and share challenges they face within their political structures and in the communities, as women who actively participate in political and electoral processes.

Some of the cross-cutting issues presented by the women included, sexual harassment, politically motivated violence, vote buying and cyber bullying. They highlighted that in most instances women in politics are viewed as sexual objects and rising within leadership structures depends on who you are having sex with rather than ones’ qualifications, potential and capability. The women also stated that cyber bullying and name calling through the use of derogatory language is dominant in political parties.

Some women leaders indicated that lack of adequate resources to campaign affect the outcome of the result as they would have failed to reach to more people in their constituencies. Men within political parties also take advantage of the lack of resources of women and ask for sexual favours in exchange for campaign material.

Some of the recommendations shared are that:

  • It is important for all political parties to have comprehensive sexual harassment policies that is understood and signed by all members to reduce instances of and protect women from sexual violations.
  • Cases of sexual harassment must also be thoroughly investigated and perpetrators punished accordingly.
  • There is also need for resources to assist women to effectively campaign pre and during elections.

iii)Women afraid of taking up leadership positions due to violence, harassment and intimidation.

On 20 October, 2022, WALPE with assistance from the Netherlands Embassy conducted a Transformative Feminist Leadership Solidarity Indaba with 23 aspiring women leaders in Epworth. The meeting provided a platform for participants to deliberate and debate on the prevailing political environment ahead of the 2023 General Elections. They shared that politically motivated violence was prevalent as the youths in the communities participate more and are used by political parties to harass and intimidate aspiring women leaders.

The women leaders shared how they have lost hope in finding protection from responsible authorities such as the Zimbabwe Republic Police as they are asked to go and solve their issues on their own. This, they say has resulted in women only participating in electoral processes as voters than candidates for fear of victimisation, harassment and threats on their lives.

Some of the issues raised were that: 

  • Many women in top leadership positions do not support other aspiring women leaders for fear of competition. Therefore, there is need for intergenerational mentorship, coaching and grooming sessions between current/former and aspiring women leaders.
  • The government must enact laws and policies that protect aspiring women leaders from all forms of violence.
  • Perpetrators of political violence must be brought to justice. This will allow victims to openly report cases rather than suffer in silence.

iv)Malawi leadership learning exchange visit an eye-opener for the women’s movement in Zimbabwe.

WALPE in collaboration with the Women’s Coalition in Zimbabwe (WCoZ) with support from Oxfam Zimbabwe conducted a learning and exchange visit to Malawi from 23-27 October 2022. The delegation comprised of representatives from women’s organisations, the Zimbabwe Gender Commission and Women’s Parliamentary Caucus. The mission met up with representatives of the Malawi’s Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, The Ministry of Gender, Community Development and Social Welfare, The Women Manifesto secretariat – Women Legal Resources Center (WORLEC) and other women’s rights organisations.

During the visit, the participants got an opportunity to co-learn and share ideas on how to promote gender equality in the two countries respectively. The women’s movement in Malawi shared how they developed a comprehensive Women’s Manifesto during the 2019 elections which they used to lobby all political parties to prioritise women and girls issues in their policies, manifestos and programming. The Manifesto has women’s minimum expectations on aspects such as education, health, economic empowerment, politics, leadership, governance, access to justice, water, natural resources, environment and marginalised groups. The manifesto captures the voices and demands of women across social, political and economic background.

Malawi’s 2019 Elections recorded the highest number of first-time female Members of Parliament and those who retained their seats. Of note is that most women where independent candidates clearly indicating that the women of Malawi have grasped the concept of women leadership and its impact to their communities. 12 women were sworn into office as part of President Lazarus Chakwera’s cabinet. The appointment represents 40% representation of women in Cabinet in line with Malawi’s Gender Equality Act (2013).

At the end of the exchange visit the representatives from the two countries forged partnerships and relationships and mapped a way forward. Recommendations from the visit included:

  • The Malawi delegation will facilitate a return visit to Zimbabwe in February 2023.
  • The two (02) Women’s Parliamentary Caucuses pledged to continue to learn and share ideas with each other and proffer new ideas and reflections that promote equality.
  • The Zimbabwe delegation will do follow up sessions virtually with the Malawi team and get assistance to expand the Zimbabwe women’ manifesto.
  • To facilitate continuous cross learning amongst female Parliamentarians in Zimbabwe and Malawi.

v)Financially capacitated women become more confident leaders.

With the assistance of the Embassy of Canada, WALPE conducted  capacity building trainings in social entrepreneurship, value addition, branding and access to market linkages for aspiring women leader from 26 to 28 October 2022. The trainings were conducted in Gutu and Bikita- Masvingo province with 50 aspiring women leaders, who were taken through  financial literacy and management sessions.

The facilitator stressed on the importance of budgeting and saving which are crucial in preparations for setting up a good campaign strategy, as the women would be self-sufficient. Some of the area covered included branding their products which has a direct impact to the value of the product and profits gained after sale.

The aspiring women leaders were also taken through practical sessions were they were taught how to make marmalade jam, dried vegetables and tomato sauce. The aspiring women leaders were grateful for the opportunity to learn new ideas of generating income.

vi)Political parties should take gender equality seriously.

On the 29th of October 2022, WALPE with support from Diakonia, hosted an online TV programme on Bustop TV, with a panel of four aspiring women leaders from Gwanda, Harare and Masvingo. The topic of discussion was ‘What can be done by political parties to increase the number of women who make it through the primary elections?  A number of solutions proffered by the women were centred on outstanding electoral reforms that speak to gender parity and political parties codes of conduct.

Some of the solutions included;

  • Political parties must bar vote buying during campaigns so as to level the playing field by removing the power of financial muscle and,
  • Sitting and former women leaders should offer coaching and mentorship sessions to aspiring women leaders from their political parties in order to increase the number and quality of women who make it into leadership positions.

vii)Male Engagements crucial to attaining gender equality.

On 28 October 2022, WALPE with support from Oxfam Zimbabwe distributed 40 caps with gender equality messaging to men in Hatcliffe, Harare. The male engagement programme is geared towards raising awareness amongst men on what gender equality is, why it is important to the uplifting of women socially, economically and politically as well encouraging men to pledge their support for the cause.

The participants were engaged in conversations about gender equality and were encouraged to support women aspiring to take up leadership positions. The men pledged to support gender equality and end all forms of violence against women in politics.

…as more men realise the importance of gender equality in society

Two male engagement sessions were conducted in Gwanda urban and rural from 03 to 06 November, 2022, with support from Diakonia. The men were engaged at Jaunda Sports Bar in Gwanda urban and in Manama (Gwanda rural) at Zwangu Sports Bar.

A majority of participants were resistant towards the idea of equality, and cited reasons based on hearsay, religious doctrine that they understood to be anti-gender equality, as well as cultural factors that reinforce gender roles and the submission of women.

As gender equality and feminism were explained to them, they became more receptive.  At the end of the sessions, most of them were able to list reasons why gender equality needs to be normalised and pledged their support. The sessions ended with distribution of caps with gender equality messages.

viii) Financial incapacitation makes women easy targets for sexual violations in politics.

On 04 November 2022, WALPE with support from Oxfam conducted an online television program under the title “Violence targeting women in politics; Trends, targets and what should be done. Perspectives from aspiring women leaders”. The women were drawn from Budiriro-Harare, Mutasa-Manicaland and Bikita-Masvingo.

Discussions on what makes women easy targets to political violence, what political parties are doing to ensure the safety of women and what Government should do to provide a safe environment for women leaders and aspiring women leaders were central. Speaker after speaker spoke of the need to have clear policies on violence and sexual harassment in political parties which must be followed in letter and spirit in order to protect women.

One of the participants in the program spoke of how some men are not aware that their derogatory words towards women are a violation against their being. Linda Supiya said sexual violence towards aspiring women leaders was a problem and clear reporting channels are not there for such crimes. She said often perpetrators are then found free and roaming the streets despite what they would have done and that posed a threat to the survivor and the community.

“Aspiring women leaders’ self-esteem is affected by physical and online violence which makes them shun participating in politics. Their confidence is killed when they have to see the perpetrators free without being punished for their crimes”

Lynette Chisepo highlighted that financial incapacitation of women made them easy targets for violations as they would be seeking resources for their campaigns. She said the wealthier opponents solicit for sexual favours in exchange for funding aspiring women leaders campaigns.

At the end of the television program, the women noted that the income generating projects seed funds distributed by WALPE went a long way in capacitating aspiring women leaders to become self-sufficient.

The women also noted that comprehensive laws and policies that protect survivors from sexual harassment should be enacted with haste and adopted by political parties.

ix) Artists and social media influencers endorse gender equality and violence free societies.

In October, 2022 WALPE and WLSA with support from the Embassy of Netherlands received endorsement messages of gender equality and creating safe spaces for aspiring women leaders from artists and social media influencers.

The endorsements are promoting and fostering gender equality as enshrined in the Constitution of the country as well as regional and international conventions and protocols which Zimbabwe is signatory to and has ratified.

Social media influencer Candacy Rutendo Gurupira touched on the need to support aspiring women leaders as they rise up the political leadership ladder. She noted that women are the catalysts of positive development in society; hence they require a collective effort by everyone to support them for the greater good.

Zimdancehall artist Dadza D made a musical jingle on the need for gender equality in Zimbabwe. He stated that since he was born of a woman, it was only prudent that he supports women’s endeavours to take up leadership and decision making positions.

x) Political parties can do more to make sure young women take up leadership positions.

WALPE with support from ZESN held an engagement dialogue with political parties on the implications of outstanding electoral reforms on the active participation of young women in electoral processes. The discussion which was held on 09 November,2 022 was attended by young women and young men from ZANU PF and CCC.

ZESN made a presentation on the overview of young women’s participation in electoral processes and discussed on the challenges affecting young women’s active participation in electoral processes.

Some of the challenges that were highlighted included;

  • Violence against women,
  • Lack of resources,
  • Failure by government and ZEC to align the Constitution and Electoral Act to guarantee 50/50  representation in all elected positions,
  • Lack of political will from political parties to field equal candidates,
  • Exorbitant fees being charged by ZEC for one to be a candidate and,
  • The burden of Unpaid Care and Domestic Work on women and girls.

Lastly, there was a plenary session with political parties, were they shared what their political parties are doing to guarantee the full participation of young women in electoral processes. They applauded their party leaders as they are trying by all means to make sure that young women are encouraged and supported in their aspirations of taking up leadership positions.

xi)“We need to expedite enacting the Sexual Harassment Bill and make sure punishments are stiff ”-Parliamentarians.

On November 21, 2022 WALPE with support from Oxfam Zimbabwe hosted a breakfast meeting with Parliamentarians as a follow-up to efforts made so far on the enactment of a broad Sexual Harassment Act that will incorporate harassment that takes place in the social, economic and political spheres. Parliamentarians present at the meeting agreed with each other and reiterated on the need for the Sexual Harassment Act to be expedited as cases were rising daily and perpetrators were not being arrested.

Chipinge West Member of Parliament Sibonile Nyamudeza emphasised the need to include and involve men in the fight against sexual harassment as they were the main perpetrators. Hon. Nyamudeza noted that programs around the topic mostly centred on addressing the victims or survivors without looking at the people committing the offence.

Chivi-Mwenezi legislator and chairperson for the Parliamentary portfolio committee on Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare Emma Ncube highlighted that until women are financially capacitated, sexual harassment will continue in political parties. Hon. Ncube further stated that men will go out of their way to bring down an aspiring woman leader who does not consent to their advances.

“These men will make it their mission to ensure that an aspiring woman candidate will not campaign freely unless they agree to their demands. However what women need to understand is that it will not be a once-off thing. The sexual advances and demands will continue and by then it will be difficult to make a report and claim harassment because you will have consented”

At the end of the meeting, the legislators recommended that:

  • The public, through a rigorous media campaign, be conscientized on what constitutes sexual harassment, where they can report and to whom they can report to.
  • Awareness campaigns on what sexual harassment is carried out in schools in order for children to identify when they are violated and know where to report such cases.
  • There be clear mechanisms for punishment for sexual harassment perpetrators in the political arena.
  • Principals of political parties be engaged on the matter urgently and find ways of protecting women and young women from sexual harassment.
  • Perpetrators of sexual harassment in political parties must be barred from contesting for public office.

xii) Violence, sexual harassment and stereotyping deterring factors to women’s participation in political and leadership processes.

On 21 November 2022, the WALPE in collaboration with ZESN, Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) and Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) hosted a breakfast meeting with male Members of Parliament who are gender champions.

The meeting was attended by representatives from the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), male parliamentarians, Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC), senators and traditional leaders.  A panel comprising ZGC, WALPE, ZESN, NPRC, WLSA and WCoZ discussed the causes and solutions to the low figures of women in politics. The discussion was also opened to the floor and the MPs, traditional leaders and senators submitted their contributions.

Politically motivated violence including sexual harassment against women politicians were singled out as some of the major reasons contributing to the disproportional representation of women in politics. Most of the MPs argued that women do not vote for other women which results in men occupying more leadership positions. This was subjected to debate as others argued that women candidates were least preferred due to stereotyping and having less financial muscle.

The discussion ended with the following recommendations:

  • Gender mainstreaming must start at ECD grade level up to university in order to inculcate a culture of tolerance, respect and equality in both boys and girls.
  • There is need to change the electoral voting system from first past the post, to party list in a zebra form to give women equal chance to contest.
  • The male champions for equality were encouraged to reach out to more men in Parliament to support the gender equality agenda.

xiii) Peace and conflict resolution should start at grassroots level if Zimbabwe is to have peaceful elections in 2023.

On November 24, 2022, WALPE with support from Diakonia hosted a Political Parties Indaba national peace campaign breakfast meeting. The meeting was attended by members from the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, religious Leaders, political parties, aspiring women leaders, men and the media.

The meeting came after the consideration that Zimbabwe is due for another round of harmonized elections in 2023 and already there is a surge in cases of violence against women in politics. The aspiring women leaders shared their experiences with political violence as well as the different kinds of violence they constantly face. Some shared how they are bullied on social media especially on twitter and facebook. They shared how some aspiring women leaders are ending up feeling demoralized and withdraw their candidacy thus delaying efforts to close the gender gap.

It was also made known that there is intra party violence within political parties which affects female candidates more. The representatives of the political parties bemoaned lack of strong internal procedures to deal with violence against women.

At the end of the meeting it was recommended that:

  • There is need for political parties to train their members from village level on peaceful conflict resolution skills. 
  • Cases of political violence must be dealt with timeously in order to protect female candidates.
  • There is need for political parties to make known procedures for reporting violence so that women aspiring leaders do not suffer in silence.
  • WALPE continues to bring together different stakeholders and capacitate them on how they can maintain peace ahead of the elections.

xiv)Youth leaders advocate for peace in the country.

On 30 November, 2022, WALPE with support Oxfam hosted a youth political parties conference with representatives from ZANU PF and Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC).

The platform created an opportunity for youth from political parties to deliberate on progress towards equality and commit to uphold peace pre, during and after the 2023 elections. The participants had a conversation on what political parties can do to make sure that they will field equal candidates of men and women in the coming plebiscites.

Participants reflected on the causes of the low numbers of women in decision making process and it was unanimously agreed that violence is one of the major causes. The major highlight from the discussion was that all political parties agreed that peace is important and that violence has a negative impact on the active participation of women in electoral processes as both voters and candidates.

One of the participants went on to highlight that the nature of violence in Zimbabwe is structural in nature thus it is embedded in cover ups by non-compliance to set conditions. Furthermore, it allows perpetrators to continue with their behaviour as there are no repercussions. They said that such reluctance in the implementation of laws continues to jeopardize the efforts to curtail any violent behaviour as it condones it through silence.

At the end of the discussion some recommendations made included:

  • All elections stakeholders were encouraged to respect of rule of law and constitutionalism
  • ZEC must be given powers to bar perpetrators of political violence from running for public office.
  • Political parties must be at the forefront of raising awareness on the ills of political violence.

The meeting ended with signing of the Gender Equality and peace pledge by political party members and Members of Parliament there present.

xvi)WALPE distributes small income generating projects funds to aspiring women leaders.

On 01 December, 2022, WALPE with assistance from the Embassy of Canada in Zimbabwe distributed small income generating projects funds to aspiring women leaders in Gutu and Bikita.

The funds are part of the organisation’s initiative to strengthen and make women’s businesses more viable, for both their families and funding their leadership journeys. These funds were distributed after the women were trained in financial literacy and savings management, basic business management, value addition, branding and market linkages and value chain management.

WALPE will continue to nurture and support these women in their businesses so that they become financially independent and more confidence to participate in leadership positions.

xvii)Reporting mechanisms to address political violence weak- laments aspiring women leaders.

On 02 December 2022, WALPE with support from Diakonia hosted an online television program under the topic: “Violence against women and its implications on their political participation. Viewpoints from young aspiring women leaders”

Aspiring women leaders got time to deliberate on implications of violence on them and measures that can be taken by election stakeholders to address the challenges. One of the participants, Sukoluhle Mhlanga from Bulawayo who is a woman with a disability said because of the violence associated with politics, many women with disabilities do not want to take up leadership positions. She said they fear not only for their lives but also for their families.

“Women with disabilities fear entering into politics because of the violence, however we cannot continue to run away from it. We have to get into the action if we are to stop the violence. It is only through being part of the leadership processes that we get to address the challenges we face. We also need disability friendly reporting channels such as sign language interpreters, braille and ramps at police stations because disabilities differ”

Chiedza Muchena from Chinhoyi said there was need for psychosocial support for the survivors of violent attacks as some of them do not fully recover from the trauma of their experiences. She said women were also too scared to report the perpetrators of such violence if they were a close relative or community member.

“These women move around with their physical and psychological scars and need support. We need to set up private counselling rooms in communities where survivors can approach them anonymously and get help from the trauma of violence”.

Harare based participant Sharon Chimwaza said there was need for women to be thoroughly educated on their rights according to the Constitution and how to exercise them. She said it would require a bottom-up approach were education starts from primary school level to ensure that girls start knowing of their rights at a tender age.

“Women must know that they are protected by the law and should not be afraid to report cases of violence to the police. Equally, police stations should also be thoroughly equipped to deal with cases of violence especially of political nature”.

At the end of the show, the women concurred that violence was indeed one of the biggest hindrances to women taking up leadership positions and that it requires a collective approach from both men and women to curb it.