Zimbabwe´s women have a love and hate relationship with elections. Be it assertive female councilors facing down powerful male cartels to win slots into parliament or rural mothers being coerced by male tribal leaders to line up behind a certain candidate – women are the vanguard of Zimbabwe´s electoral process. Zimbabwe´s 2018 national elections could make women into kingmakers – or not.
Numbers and cultural patriarchy:
Just like any African country, the demographics don’t lie. Women outnumber men in Zimbabwe by 100 to 93 according to the Zimbabwe Statistics Agency but only 35 percent of parliament seats are held by women.
Zimbabwe is a society driven by male egos. The reasons are bizarre says Grace Ruvimbo, coordinator for the Zimbabwe Young Women Network for Peacebuilding. “Women politicians more often are just chess pieces being shuffled by men in their political parties.”
“We are still experiencing sexual harassment even as councilors when we want to go up to parliamentary positions,” says Sibusisiwe Masara, a prominent female lawmaker in Zimbabwe´s parliament.
She couldn’t be more frank. Zimbabwe´s ruling Zanupf party three years ago expelled its vice-president Mrs. Joyce Mujuru, a woman who was seen as the leading light to become the country´s president someday. The biggest opposition in the country, the Movement for Democratic Change, in 2016 added two more male vice-presidents to augment the vice president job that was already held by a woman.
This works in two ways. Zimbabwe´s economy is in dire straits, its currency has vanished and factory closures have thrown 85% of its citizens out formal jobs says of the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions secretary general, Mr. Japhet Moyo.
It is no guesswork that women are the hardest hit of all sectors of its human resources. Arguably, women make up the biggest numbers of fruit vendors, hair stylists, clothes sellers who operate open air markets in Zimbabwe´s cities.
“Lack of job security, social insurance and assured income means women are less likely to abandon their erratic street vending jobs to join elections campaigns, monitor votes or even participate on voting day itself. To abandon one´s street market and attend election rallies is seen as unwise for women, especially single women or widows who must maximize every hour or dollar and feed families.”
This can work in two ways too, says Chipo Hande, an independent gender economist in the capital Harare. She says: “the ruling party and its foot soldiers are renowned for shutting down fruit markets, coercing traders to attend election rallies and boost numbers. The cost of refusal is to risk one´s street fruit selling spot or license.”
68 % of Zimbabweans live in rural areas according to Zimstats agency. 52% of these are females and earn a living raising cash crops or tilling patchy pieces of fertile land. Apart from enduring the dominion of male relatives, male tribal chiefs also hold significant sway over the circumstances of women says Jenni Williams, founder of the Women of Zimbabwe Arise, the largest gender pressure group in the country.
“Tribal chiefs determine where and how a woman gets farmland, who inherits her husband´s estate in the event of death and preside over cases where women are often accused of witchcraft and thrown off their homes. This means rural women in Zimbabwe are likely to be pressured to toe a certain party line favored by tribal chiefs when it comes to elections.”
The Zimbabwe Peace Project says tribal chiefs in rural Zimbabwe often act as ruling party eyes and can lie to poorly educated rural women that mysterious eyes will see them if they do not vote in a pre-determined manner.
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