The challenge was not only a problem of financing, as the fee to register as a presidential candidate rose to $20,000 for this year’s election, but that political parties failed to honour their pledges to field enough female candidates, according to Sitabile Dewa, the executive director of Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE).
“The final candidate list released by ZEC shows the two major political parties, Zanu-PF and the Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) both fielded less than 12% of women out of the total number of 210 National Assembly constituencies being contested,” Dewa tells The Africa Report.
She says the lack of female candidates is in clear violation of sections 17, 56 and 80 of the Zimbabwe constitution, which calls for gender equality in all sectors, including politics.
Both parties also failed to field enough female candidates to contest the elections despite signing on to the 2023 Women’s Charter to promote 50/50 representation and violated Zimbabwe’s commitments under the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which ensures at least 50% representation of women in public and private decision-making.
“Zanu-PF fielded 23 women (11%) while CCC has only 20 women candidates (10%) for parliamentary seats,” she adds.
Many women feel compelled to not vote for parties that reflect equal representation, says Dewa, citing a breakdown of how those running for office were selected.
“During internal selection of candidates by political parties, vote buying was prevalent, and it bulldozed men ahead of women into wards and constituencies, a testament to the negative patriarchal tendencies of Zimbabwean society,” she says.
She said it could be the only way to present a clear message that women are serious about equal representation in leadership.
Foiled by bank transfer limits
Presidential hopefuls Linda Masarira, president of the Labour, Economists and Afrikan Democrats party, and Elisabeth Isabel Valerio, leader of the United Zimbabwe Alliance (UZA) both failed to raise the ZWL$138m ($20,000) nomination fees to register as candidates due to inadequate finances and stringent cash withdrawal and bank transaction limits.
The Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) pegged very steep nomination fees for candidates; $20,000 to run for president and $1,000 for parliamentary and local authority candidates. There was an option to pay the fees in local currency at the prevailing bank rate of the day.
Several thousands of dollars were required for political parties to be able to field candidates in the 210 parliamentary constituencies and 1970 local authority seats. Masarira failed to process her nomination papers at the last minute.
“The biggest hurdle that I faced was the exorbitant nomination fees that were discriminatory to women. It’s misogyny. No one has the monopoly of leadership in this country,” Masirira tells The Africa Report, adding that this steep fee also discriminated against the poor.
“The leaders (Zanu-PF) say they fought for the liberation of this country to attain majority rule. But now 43 years after independence, they are saying having money should determine leadership qualities,” she adds.
During the nomination court sitting, she was short of ZWL$20 million to complete payment of the ZWL$138 million nomination fees to file as a presidential candidate.
Although she had the outstanding ZWL$20 million in her bank account, she could not transfer it to the ZEC account in one transaction. The country’s bank transfer limit is only ZWL$200,000 per day.
Masarira and Valerio both lodged different appeals with the Electoral Court challenging the ZEC decision to dismiss their presidential bids due to bank transaction limits.
Joice Mujuru out
In March 2021, former Zimbabwe vice president Joice Mujuru said she quit politics for farming, yet she was named as a powerful woman who could have become Zimbabwe’s first female president.
An ex-freedom fighter, Mujuru dared to challenge the late former president Robert Mugabe’s dictatorial rule. She was expelled from her post and the Zanu-PF party on accusations of plotting to oust Mugabe after serving in the vice president position from 2004 to 2014. During this time she had been touted as Mugabe’s successor.
But despite her political prowess, her rise to the vice presidency was often attributed to her husband, the late army general Solomon Mujuru, who was killed in 2011 in a mysterious inferno.
In 2015, after she was expelled from government amid plots to oust the aging Mugabe, Mujuru formed the Zimbabwe People First party, in opposition to Zanu-PF. After squabbles within her party, she formed another party, the National People’s Party (NPP).
A group of smaller opposition political parties chose Mujuru to be their presidential candidate in the 2018 elections under the Zimbabwe Rainbow Coalition.
She became one of the four women that were among 23 presidential candidates in 2018. The other female candidates were Thokozani Khupe of MDC-T, Melbah Dzapasi of the 1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe, and Violet Mariyacha of the United Democratic Movement (UDM).
Mujuru, Dzapasi and Mariyacha have disappeared into political oblivion, while Khupe has joined the CCC as its senate candidate.
Numbers don’t lie
Legal think-tank Veritas in its latest Election Watch report decried the low numbers of women candidates fielded in Zimbabwe’s elections.
“Following the 2018 general elections, only 48% of senators were women and only 31.5% of Members of the National Assembly were women – this is despite 60 seats being reserved for women elected on a party list system. Only 11.9% of the constituency Members of the National Assembly were women,” Veritas indicated.
For the 26 March 2022 parliamentary by-elections, only 16 female candidates participated, out of 118 candidates vying for 28 seats in the National Assembly. The local government polls saw 76 female candidates contest against 291 males for 118 seats. Only five female candidates won parliamentary seats while 18 made it to their respective councils.
Violence derails women
Fear of violent polls and lack of financial resources is the biggest factor that draws women away from politics, says Lynette Karenyi, a Zimbabwean opposition politician. “Patriarchy is the other factor and some Zimbabwean men do not want their wives to venture into politics,” says Karenyi.
Women who engage in political activities are particularly vulnerable to violence – they are labelled as loose and immoral, and their private lives are put under a spotlight, according to the Veritas report.
Women are viewed as weak and inferior, it adds.
“Male candidates often get more votes from women than female candidates do,” it says, despite the fact that women constitute 52% of the country’s population.
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