Women candidates face election challenges

Date: January 1, 1970
  • SHARE:

As Zimbabwe heads up to the 29 March elections when the nation will elect its President, Parliamentarians, Senators, and Councillors in a single day, women candidates are finding the road to the polls is not an easy one.

At a 6 March discussion organised by Zimbabwean civil society organisation, Bulawayo Agenda, female candidates contesting in the country’s harmonised elections expressed the challenges they had been experiencing.  “The purpose of this discussion is to allow women to meet and talk about the elections, focusing on the candidates, the challenges they are encountering, as well as their joys and experiences,” elaborated Miriam Madziwa, a prominent journalist who acted as facilitator for the session.
According to the Central Statistical Office’s 2005 census, women constitute 52 percent of the population in Zimbabwe. The country is also a signatory to the Southern African Development Community’s (SADC) 1997 Declaration on Gender and Development, which set a goal of having women in 30 percent of decision-making posts by 2005, a goal which has since been raised 50 percent of decision-making posts.
However, in Zimbabwe women hold only 19 percent of cabinet posts, 17 percent of seats in the lower house of parliament and 36.6 percent in the senate, according to figures from the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development. They also hold 12 percent of seats in urban councils, and 28 percent of those in rural councils.
“The ultimate goal for us as women is to see the many women who have been nominated elected,” added Madziwa. Recent reports state that the proportion of female candidates for this year’s elections surpasses the 30% quota. More than 150 female candidates filed nomination papers in February to contest in the elections.
 “The first difficulty is being a woman,” noted Marilyn Ndiweni, running as an independent parliamentary candidate in Bulawayo South constituency. “When you take up the challenge to contest, people ask you why you have chosen politics. They fear for you and say that such challenges are not for women,” she added. 
Public expectations of what women can and cannot do also arose as significant challenges, with the candidates and participants mentioning the social stigma attached to women visiting bars and beer halls to sensitise voters about their campaigns.
“Girls have gotten pregnant while their mothers are out campaigning,” observed one participant of the gap in cohesion within the family unit when a woman decides to devote much of her time to an electoral campaign.
Dorcas Sibanda, a contestant in Bulawayo Central, under the Morgan Tsvangirai-led faction of the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC), suggested one solution for preventing such dilemmas.
“First, you have to convince your friends, children, husband and neighbours of your intentions to contest the elections,” she said. “I taught and sensitised my family and friends about the whole campaign, and they now understand the process,” she added, referring to the need to create awareness among loved ones about the pressures and sacrifices that such work entails.
Madziwa observed that female candidates had not been demanding as much media coverage as their male counterparts. “On your own, you are contesting against well-resourced men,” she argued. “So when are you going to start seeking coverage?”
“Why are you so reserved?” added Patricia Tshabalala, a Bulawayo-based activist. “You can be helped so much to get resources for your campaigns,” she urged.
The candidates, all of whom are contesting electoral positions for the first time, pleaded ignorance to the importance of media support for their campaigns. They also stated that they were uncertain as to which media houses to approach for such support due to the political polarisation of the country’s media.
The women also cited a lack of adequate resources as a hindrance to their campaigns. As Enna Chitsa, a senatorial candidate in Masotsha Ndlovu constituency, under the Tsvangirai faction of the MDC noted, “It is difficult to get all the resources you need when you are working on your own. I don’t have a campaign car which means that the reach of my messages is restricted to certain areas.”
Other contestants – Agnes Sibanda-Mloyi and Monica Lubimbi – reiterated this challenge, stating that they too were forced to conduct much of their campaigns on foot, and door-to-door, due to lack of campaign vehicles and materials to distribute. Resources to cover the food and travel costs of campaign team members were also in shortage.
The women also noted challenges that women candidates create among themselves. “Women who lose to each other in party primary elections find it hard to work together,” observed Sibanda-Mloyi. “In fact it will be ten years before they speak to each other again!”
One participant noted that women often agreed to let men use them against each other. She called for women to learn to accept defeat graciously and rally behind eventual female winners in the elections. Another added that hindering the campaigns of other female candidates was a painful emotional experience and where it is being practised, will disadvantage the contesting women from securing electoral wins.
While, the participants agreed that the session took place far too late into the election race – with just two weeks left for contestants to campaign – tangible recommendations were made in order to improve the women’s prospects.
These included contestants making use of the knowledge and skills of students for campaigning purposes, as well as making concerted efforts to engage the media to cover their campaigns. Those representing parties were urged to study their parties’ manifestos and develop clear policy statements in order to bolster the credibility of their campaign messages.
While there may be significant challenges for women campaigning, in the end it is up to the voters on voting day to ensure that there is gender balance in government. After all, it only makes sense that the needs and interests of 52 percent of the population is are represented.
Fungai Machirori writes from Zimbabwe. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

Comment on Women candidates face election challenges

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *