Zimbabwean women lobby for a comprehensive deal in forthcoming elections

Date: January 13, 2012
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Zimbabwean women say there is need to engender all transitional processes in the country to ensure meaningful gains and progress, starting with the implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA), the negotiation of the roadmap to elections and indeed the improvement of the country’s socio- economic and political processes.

Speaking on the sidelines of a special SADC summit on Zimbabwe in South Africa in June, a representative of most Zimbabwean women’s civil society organisations, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), Netsai Mushonga, said the women had crafted a roadmap to take into account gender concerns. WCoZ coordinates the work of the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance in Zimbabwe. “We acknowledge that the GPA is the operating document of the day, but we are concerned that its implementation does not reflect a gendered perspective, thus side lining the major concerns of women,” she said.

Zimbabwe has been going through a socio-economic and political transition following the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) on the 15th of September 2008 by the three main political parties: the Zimbabwe African National Union Patriotic Front (ZANU PF) and the two Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) formations. The transition has managed to bring cases of politically motivated violence down from an all time high around June 2008. The economy has been on a slow recovery. The public service sector has become operational with schools and hospitals running again, but at lower capacity due to inadequate equipment and staff.

However GPA processes have lagged behind. Several submissions, including a Constitutional quota, have been made but are still pending. Activists have also called for the carrying out of a broad national healing process which is gender sensitive. Moves towards free and fair elections in which women participate effectively have been slow.

Only one woman, Priscilla Misihairambwi participated in the GPA negotiations but the document mentions inclusion and equal participation of women in several key areas. However the language is vague; some of the phrases and meanings are left for the readers to interpret. The mandate of structures such as the Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration seem deliberately vague and open to interpretation. This reflects the levels of mistrust and efforts to outmanoeuvre each other in the implementation phase of the GPA. Issues critical to women such as health and maternal health ( a staggering 725 out of every 100 000 live births) are not addressed.

The draft Roadmap to Zimbabwe elections, published in the Newsday of 29 April 2011 is also gender blind. The document addresses issues of sanctions, media reforms, violence, freedom of assembly and association and the next elections. However the draft roadmap falls far short in mentioning and beginning to address the gender issues inherent in all the mentioned areas. Zimbabwean women have complained of a male dominated media that portrays women in a negative light.

The issues of violence need to be expanded to address both the public and private forms of violence which have a cyclical and symbiotic relationship. Issues of national healing encompassing truth telling, justice, restitution, rehabilitation and reconciliation are not dealt with adequately. The draft document has accusations, denials and different explanations depicting serious divergence in perceptions in our leadership. Freedom of assembly and issues of elections are discussed without the requisite gender lenses and therefore holding of elections under such conditions and in the same environment might not begin to change the situation of women.

WCoZ has now brought its members together to discuss a Women’s Roadmap to Elections. The document was distributed to the negotiators in Zimbabwe and also the mediation team in South Africa. It contains women’s basic and minimum demands before free, fair elections can be held, and where women can participate freely and actively. These requirements include a new constitution which guarantees all human rights of women and has provisions for gender equity, equality and non-discrimination. It should also uphold the principles of participation of women in electoral and governance processes and guarantee a quota and the 50/50 principle for women and men in decision making positions. Women envisage a hybrid electoral system that provides for the effective participation of women in politics.

Women want legal reforms that remove some of the repressive legislation in place. This includes domestication and implementation of international and regional instruments dealing with women’s empowerment, specifically the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, reform of Public Order and Security Act, Access to Information and the Protection of Privacy Act, amend the Political Parties Finance Act to allocate resources to women candidates and amend the Criminal Codification and Reform Act to ensure respect of human rights of all.

Women are demanding an end to politically motivated violence and intimidation and asking the state to ensure full security of women and girls during election periods and end impunity. The women’s roadmap mandates political parties, the police, judiciary services and all state agents to preach nonviolence and peace, prevent, mitigate and address issues of violence.

Women also demanded promotion of intra party democracy within all political parties to allow women to be better represented. The women’s roadmap demands that the government begins to promote nation building above party politics and de-politicisation of national and international days/events. The government should ensure non-partisan use of state resources, humanitarian aid and traditional leadership structures.

Women would like the reform of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) to allow for effective participation of women. These reforms include the transformation of ZEC to be a truly independent electoral commission with full mandate to oversee elections, answerable to a minister and reporting to parliament to increase its accountability.

The Women’s Roadmap also demands the reform of the Citizenship Act to remove restrictions on women voters, removal of the need to produce proof of residence to register to vote since women do not usually own houses and households. The Zimbabwe Electoral commission should carry out mobile registration campaign around Zimbabwe, clean the voters roll to reflect current voters only and disseminate adequate information on the inspection of the voters roll. According to WCoZ: “Development and peace does not begin to happen if women are excluded. Inclusion of women is the beginning of a better, more mature politics. “


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