Despite the progress that has been made in increasing the participation of women in politics in Zimbabwe, women’s participation in government at all levels, from the local to the national, remains extremely low due a number of challenges that women face.
Zimbabwe has signed and ratified a number of regional and international instruments that call for gender equality in all angles of life.
However it seems as if women from rural and marginalized areas are the most left out as they face a lot of challenges that affect their full participation in politics.
The revelation came out during an engagement meeting held by Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) and Masvingo United Residents and Ratepayers Alliance (MURRA) on April 17 where stakeholders invited women participating in politics from different political parties to discuss their challenges and share ideas on how to overcome them.
Speaking during the meeting Zvarebwanashe Sungano, ward 4 MURRA chairperson cited violence as one of the major challenges that pushes away women from participating in politics, especially those in rural areas because the political environment there is not conducive for women in the space.
“Violence is one major challenge that women in the rural face and pushes them away from participating because the political environment in the rural areas is not conducive for them and they also suffer from domestic violence as their husbands might beat them trying to stop them from being politically active.
“Women are also objectified and seen as sex objects, their contributions are not viewed in any manner other than that they have slept with male leaders to attain certain positions and this has forced many of them to stay away especially those in rural areas because the women who run for public office typically attract inappropriate attention and are seen as being loose and immoral and their private lives are put under the spotlight.
“Female politicians also face gender stigma from male colleagues and are often appointed to marginal positions such as the women’s quarter where they are given seats in the Parliament that do not give them a chance to participate in policy making,” said Sungano.
She also pointed out that Zimbabwe currently has no legal framework for political parties to adhere to gender equality.
“Most women both from urban and rural areas face a lot of gender related challenges because currently Zimbabwe lacks legal provisions constitutionally that enforce gender balance in political participation,” added Sungano.
Community Tolerance Reconciliation and Development (COTRAD) information officer Leah Matavire pointed out that women in rural areas suffer from patriarchal societies more than those in urban areas and this affects their participation in politics.
“The patriarchal culture in Zimbabwe, breeds low self-esteemed women especially within local power structures and it makes it impossible for women to compete for political power and in these societies, people often see women as belonging to the kitchen, rearing children and doing household chores. Women are seen as inferior to men, not as smart or as powerful,” said Matavire.
Women in rural areas lack political education and there is poor dissemination of information, said Joyce Mhungu of Women Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCOZ).
“Women in rural areas are restricted from freedom of association because gatherings are usually prohibited by the traditional leaders and dissemination of information becomes difficult to provide political education to rural woman,” said Mhungu.
Women usually hesitate to take part in politics because of capability gaps between men and women said Tendeuka Matara a member of the Citizen Coalition for Change (CCC).
“Women are less capacitated than men in terms of education, preparation, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders and unlike male politicians, female politicians face specific barriers that may prevent them from running for a political office, including gender stereotypes and balancing work and family,” said Matara.
Matara also called for women to come together and challenge the system that hinders women to prosper in politics and for women to support one another and those participating in politics.
“As women, we should stand up for ourselves. Let’s come together and claim our rightful positions in government, let’s support each other with all we have and those who are taking part without looking at each other’s political parties but let’s have one goal which is to increase our participation in politics,” added Matara.
Women Affairs District Development Officer (DDO) Fortune Sinamayi said the department of women affairs is there to economically empower women by giving them loans that will help them take part in politics.
“The department of Women Affairs and Social Welfare offers financial support to women by giving them loans so that they can campaign during elections and the loans are given to every woman despite their political affiliation,” said Sinamayi.