WALPE Activity Update 12

i) Identifying, mobilising, capacitating, grooming, mentoring and coaching of aspiring women leaders must start now!!

The Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) with support from Diakonia held an online rally in October 2023 under the topic “Reflections on the 2023 elections, women candidates’ experiences” as part of reflections on the national elections. Two aspiring women leaders who took part in the 23 August 2023 were part of the panellists and shared their personal experiences with other women. They explained their journey as aspiring candidates.

During the discussion, they stated that voter education, registration and mobilization by women’s rights organisations was a huge success as it saw more women registering as first time voters and showing on election day to vote. While common factors raised by both speakers were the uneven participating field for women including lack of resources and finances to fund their campaigns, lack of support from their community and families, unclear nomination processes at political party levels and hefty nomination fees were also part of the challenges to women’s active and full participation in elections as candidates.

They also mentioned that the campaign timelines were financially exhausting as they had limited funds yet male candidates were well known for vote buying which made the campaign process difficult for women.

They also stated that patriarchy still exists in the society as many potential voters still had little faith in women’s abilities to successfully lead. According to their observations political parties did not field candidates fairly regardless of women possessing all the requisite qualifications for selection like strong community support and background work. Women also faced a lot of intimidation, harassment and bullying during elections which negatively impacted their images and self-confidence.

As motivation to other aspiring women leaders, the two guest speakers advised other aspiring women leaders to keep pushing and fighting for a spot in the next election starting now. Resource mobilization was also suggested as a means to financially secure a sound campaign. They also advised fellow aspiring women leaders to adopt a cooperative and collaborative approach for the next election. Moreso, they pleaded with WALPE to continue capacitating aspiring women leaders as it yields positive results and also reach out into remote areas to make more men gender sensitive and responsive.

ii) WALPE starts identifying, training, grooming and mentoring women for leadership positions.

From 08 November to 10 November 2023, WALPE in partnership with Women and Law in Southern Africa-Zimbabwe (WLSA) and with support from the Netherlands Embassy conducted Transformative Feminist Leadership trainings with 100 aspiring women in Hurungwe, Mashonaland West.

The trainings were attended by 80% young women in line with WALPE’s new thrust of increasing young women’s dominance in various leadership positions starting at community to national level.

The leadership programme is a response to the low levels of women occupying leadership positions following very few women from Hurungwe making it to the ballot during the 23 August harmonised elections.

During the trainings, the aspiring women leaders were introduced to leadership and taught about grooming and etiquette, public speaking, the art of campaigning, introduction to feminism, the roles, functions and arms of Government, as well as two new topics which are women and information communication technology and women and the fight for climate justice.

The participants indicated that negative patriarchal tendencies perpetuated through traditional, cultural, social and religious norms and practices often hinder women from aspiring to take up even local level community leadership positions.

Following the training sessions, the aspiring women leaders had a greater appreciation of their positive contribution in societal development and the positive outcomes that would come from women occupying leadership positions.

iii)Transformative Feminist Leadership trainings important for confidence building and increasing women’s occupation of leadership positions.

On 10 and 11 November 2023, WALPE with support from the Netherlands Embassy and in partnership with WLSA trained 100 aspiring women leaders in Transformative Feminist Leadership in Arcturus and Goromonzi North, Mashonaland East province. The trainings are a bid to increase the number of women who will be contesting for leadership positions at all levels in by-elections, 2028 harmonized elections and beyond.

In light of the low numbers of women who made it into leadership at community, provincial and national levels, WALPE identified an urgent need to capacitate more women and to equip them with knowledge and skills that they will need to advance their leadership campaigns.

During the trainings, the women flagged some of the issues that they felt hindered their success as candidates, chief among the problems was the issue of male leaders within political parties asking women candidates to step down and take proportional representation seats, while the men ran in their place in elected positions.

They also cited the issue of the high nomination fees charged by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC). Given the harsh economic conditions that people are living in, many aspiring women leaders could not afford the USD$1000 and USD$20 000 Member of Parliament and Presidential candidacy fees respectively.

After the trainings, the participants showed a renewed hope to contest in the next elections. They vowed to take up community leadership positions now and use the positions as training grounds for higher and bigger positions in the near future.

iv) Outstanding electoral reforms need to be implemented for young aspiring women leaders to have a fighting chance in elections.

WALPE in partnership with WLSA and with support from The Netherlands Embassy conducted young women-led multi-party safe spaces for awareness raising and sensitization on outstanding electoral reforms in Magunje- Mashonaland West. The discussions were attended by 50 young aspiring women leaders drawn from different villages and political parties.

The participants got an opportunity to unpack outstanding electoral reforms that continue to hinder young women from fully occupying leadership and decision making positions. They also took time to strategize on advocacy and lobby strategies they needed to carry out in order to convince Parliament and political parties to prioritise reforms.

The aspiring young women leaders indicated the following as key outstanding reforms that require urgent implementation:

  • Delay in aligning section 17, 56 and 80 of the constitution with the electoral act in order to guarantee gender balance in leadership positions.
  • Various forms of both overt and covert political violence targeted at young women.
  • Stiff nomination fees charged by ZEC which are beyond the reach of many.
  • Little to no media coverage of young aspiring women leaders.

Following the sensitization meetings the young women recommended that:

  • Government scrap or subsidise the high nomination fees being demanded by the ZEC in order for women to also have a fighting chance at participating in electoral processes as candidates.
  • Political parties and other relevant stakeholders create safe spaces for women to participate in electoral processes without the fear of violence, harassment, intimidation and threats.
  • The media give them more positive coverage pre, during and post elections.
  • Urgent alignment of gender equality clauses in the constitution with the electoral act in order to guarantee equality.

v) Women demand the implementation of all outstanding electoral reforms.

The WALPE team in partnership with WLSA and with support from the Netherlands Embassy travelled to Goromonzi South- Mashonaland East, where 100 aspiring women leaders were engaged in a young women-led multi-party safe spaces for awareness raising and sensitization on outstanding electoral reforms.

The discussions centred on outstanding electoral reforms that affected the voting process and candidacy of aspiring women leaders who contested in the August 2023 national elections

The general consensus among the young aspiring women leaders was that as long as the electoral voting system is not changed from first past the post to proportional representation, it will almost be impossible for the country to achieve 50/50 gender balance in leadership.

The women in attendance also brought up the issue of male political party leaders side-lining women candidates and dismissing them on the premise that they have the women’s Parliamentary and Council proportional representation quota provision.

“We need policies within political parties that level the playing field between men and women candidates and ZEC needs to be empowered to reject non-Zebra proportional representation party candidate lists so that we can get a fair chance to contest during elections”.

Some women voters also expressed their disappointment at ZEC’s inability to transport ballot papers on time, which led to women voting well into the night and the following day. Some also complained about missing names in the voters roll.

“Some of us woke up very early in the morning to go and vote but the process was disorganised, we had to take public transport to another ward as the voters roll indicated that we had been shifted to another ward. Some people’s names did not appear on the voters roll completely yet they were registered voters”.

Lastly, the aspiring young women leaders also appealed to traditional leaders to help them fight patriarchy by encouraging community members to support women in leadership.

vi) Women unite after elections through sports for peace tournaments.

WALPE with support from Diakonia conducted peace and social cohesion sporting tournaments in Mabvuku-Harare with aspiring women leaders from diverse political parties. The tournaments built a sense of peace building in a community that often sees many violent clashes between political party loyalists during elections.

The aspiring women leaders who are also peace ambassadors, took time to play sports and also promote peace, tolerance and oneness in the area. The women noted that sporting tournaments built a sense of community amongst them and brought them together without any form of discrimination. 

The aspiring women leaders noted that:

  • The sporting tournaments also inspired the men to observe the games and also appreciate the importance of tolerance.
  • Community sports promote tolerance and acceptance of different views regardless of political affiliation.
  • The events encouraged the promotion of sports development in the community.
  • Sports promote healthy living and lifestyle which is key to good health and wellbeing.

At the end of the tournament all teams that won were presented with prizes which they said they would channel towards creating group revolving funds whose proceeds will assist them with future political campaigns.

vii) Economic empowerment and skills development key to addressing the menace of Gender Based Violence (GBV).

On 01 December 2023, WALPE with support from Diakonia and the Embassy of Sweden and in partnership with Katswe Sistahood and Emthonjeni Women’s Forum (EWF) conducted an online television program on Bustop TV under the topic “The implications of gender based violence on women’s social, economic and political lives”.

The TV program was part of commemorations of the 16 days of activism against gender based violence. The discussion brought out a myriad of negative implications that manifest in women’s lives caused by gender based violence.

Participants in the program noted that among some of the causes of continued GBV in society included:

  • Negative patriarchal tendencies.
  • Economic dependency on men by women.
  • Lack of education.
  • Harmful stereotypes, social, cultural and traditional norms.

The women emphasised that many women and young women experience GBV but cannot report to the police for fear of not having anyone to look after them and their children.

“Often, these women suffer in silence because they wonder what society will say if they know they got their spouse arrested over domestic violence. They also fear that because they rely mostly on the men, no one will take care of their needs once they are incarcerated,” Matifadza Zionere

Another speaker also noted that child marriages fuel GBV. Girls that are married early lack education, information and empowerment therefore are not aware of their rights resulting in them being abused.

“Child marriages are one of the biggest drivers of GBV because these children are abused in the name of being a family woman. They have nowhere to go for support and their social lives are ruined because their childhood was cut short due to early marriage,” Sharon Mukakanhanga .

Another panellist noted that women end up shunning taking up leadership and decision making positions because of the violence that is associated with politics and leadership.

“Women are abused at home and come again and get abused in politics. Surely, that will take a toll even on the strongest woman. Even if they do manage to report, maybe they are narrating their ordeal to another GBV survivor who is also suffering in silence for fear of being labelled a prostitute. The cycle of abuse and remaining silent without getting any justice will continue and this results in fewer women wanting to occupy leadership positions,” Jacqueline Ndlovu .

The 03 women panellists then recommended that:

  • Women must be capacitated with development skills that will allow them to be self-sufficient and not rely on anyone for their livelihoods.
  • Harmful cultural, tradition and societal norms and stereotypes are exhaustively challenged as they have destructive implications on girls and women’s lives.
  • Political parties and leaders must create safe spaces for aspiring women, young women and women with disabilities to fully and actively participate in leadership processes without the fear of GBV.
  • Reporting mechanisms be ready and easily accessible to women in order to get recourse for GBV violations.
  • Funding is availed from Central Government to address the scourge of GBV across the country.
  • Civil society organisations such as WALPE, Katswe Sistahood and EWF collaborate on how best to leverage their community networks and work to stop GBV.

viii) Intergenerational connectivity crucial for increasing the number of women in leadership.

On 30 November 2023, WALPE with support from Oxfam conducted a Transformative Feminist Leadership training of trainers mentorship programme with 55 elected women leaders. The participants occupy the roles of Councillor chairpersons, Mayoresses and deputies, Members of Parliament and Senators.

Drawn from different political parties, the participants were trained in transformative feminist leadership to enhance their understanding of feminist leadership and what it entails for women in different levels of leadership.

The training was premised on changing the status quo in terms and addressing the low numbers of women in leadership, especially young women. The women leaders were tasked to in turn identify 30 young women in their constituencies and wards each, whom they will groom and mentor to take up leadership positions using the snow balling model.

During the training, the women leaders raised critical issues that they felt affected them as female leaders and sought to find solutions to those so as to be able to groom future young aspiring women leaders.

Some of the major challenges they brought up were sextortion within political parties and the political arena. The solution suggested was the enactment of a comprehensive Sexual Harassment Act that covers both the public and private spheres, as well as political party policies that address sexual harassment.

The lack of support from men in political parties and society at large was also raised.

“Men are not ready for women to be in leadership positions, they still hold a very patriarchal view of gender roles and differences between the sexes. They would rather vote for a weak male candidate than a strong, confident and astute woman candidate.”

Additionally, they also flagged out the negative connotations brought about by the women’s proportional representation quota system and proposed that it be abolished. They prefer to directly contest in constituencies and wards on condition that the environment is levelled and violence free.

The Oxfam representative in attendance, Mr Paul Vingi spoke about the role of men in promoting gender equality.

“Gender equality cannot be achieved by women working alone, men and boys need to be a part of the process. They must challenge gender stereotypes, social norms and attitudes that hinder the achievement of gender equality.”

ix) Women with disabilities are still discriminated upon in leadership and are more exposed to GBV.

On 05 December 2023, WALPE and WLSA with support from the Netherlands Embassy hosted an online TV program with aspiring women leaders with disabilities titled “Towards more inclusive strategies to end Gender Based Violence (GBV) and improve the participation of women with disabilities in leadership”.

The aspiring women leaders alluded to GBV against women with disabilities as mostly perpetrated by close family members and is rarely reported, with most cases being down played by families for fear of exposure, isolation, blame, harassment, victimisation and intimidation.

GBV is high amongst women with disabilities because they are more vulnerable. A sad reality is of some men who think having a sexual encounter with a woman with a disability can cure HIV and AIDS. Some women with disabilities are targeted and cannot defend themselves. They are left with emotional scars and infected with HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted infections.

During the television program, the aspiring women leaders also noted that women with disabilities have always been side-lined in most leadership activities due to our discriminatory society which does not give them a chance to prove their capacities. The aspiring women leaders also emphasised the point that political parties do not take people with disabilities into consideration especially women as viable candidates during elections. Moreover, political parties, ZEC, service providers and Government premises and events do not have provisions to cater for people with disabilities and their varying needs which could be need for sign language, braille as well as access to ramps.

One of the aspiring women leaders took part in the August 2023 elections but she did not make it arguing that her name was deliberately put at the bottom of the proportional representation list due to her disability She also shared how she faced intimidation and discouragement during election time.

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

  • The government needs to strengthen its policies around the inclusion of women with disabilities even providing for a quota system.
  • Political parties have disability policies that will enable a fair representation of women with disabilities in leadership.
  • Civil society must continue to advocate and lobby for the participation of women with disabilities as they work towards ending gender inequality.

The women were grateful for the opportunity to share their experiences and aspirations on behalf of women with disabilities.

x) Male engagement key to achieving gender equality and maintenance of peace in society.

WALPE with support from Diakonia conducted male engagement sessions on gender equality with 80 men from Mabvuku/Tafara and Eastview-Harare. The sessions emphasised the need for men to support women as capable leaders and to refrain from violent behaviours before, during and after elections.

More work still needs to be done for men to embrace gender equality, as most of the participants agreed to the misconception that gender equality should only be considered in the public sphere and ignored in family settings. It was clear from the discussions that the majority of the participants had no problems with their female counterparts being church leaders or water point leaders. However, to them, politics is for men to contest and for women to support the male candidates.

The men also acknowledged the importance of observing the 16 Days of Activism against GBV and recommended that women should also be enlightened on the ills of violence against their male partners.

At the end of the discussion, the majority of men recommended that:

  • WALPE needs to conduct more of these engagements in order for them to gradually but eventually embrace the idea of gender equality and the inclusion of women in leadership and community development positions.
  • Male engagement sessions are introduced to high schools so that men can start to shift mind-sets of young men at a younger age.

xi) Female students require more reporting mechanisms and empowerment to report GBV on campus.

On 08 December 2023, WALPE and WLSA with support from the Netherlands Embassy hosted a TV program with the Women’s University in Africa outgoing Student Representative Council (SRC) president, Bindura University Science Education SRC Minister of Accommodation Services and Women’s University Africa SRC Secretary of information and publicity. The discussion topic was “Breaking the silence around GBV on campus – Challenges being faced by female student leaders and the strategies they have used to make a difference”.

The female student leaders mentioned that there are various manifestations of GBV around campus which include date rape, homophobic bullying, sexual harassment by fellow male students and lecturers, verbal abuse from other male students and cat calling. They also highlighted that in as much as female students are violated on campus there are limited reporting mechanisms and options in place to help them seek justice.

The female student leaders also pointed out that most female students do not know how to differentiate between love and GBV, which makes them victims of violence. The panellists also mentioned that they lack adequate support, and this in turn, leads to few of them reporting GBV related violations.

The female student leaders recommended strategies on how to reduce cases of GBV within campuses. They proposed:

  • The need for 365 days of activism against GBV as it is a daily occurrence and,
  • For those occupying leadership and decision-making positions not to accept bribes but, to be sensitive to survivors of GBV.
  • The need for more awareness raising programs or workshops on campuses educating young women and men on what GBV is and its implications to both the victim and perpetrator.