Regina Pasipanodya / Mary Mundeya
Linda Masarira is one of the women in Zimbabwe, vocal on the country’s political landscape, leading the Labour, Economists and African Democrats (LEAD) party, but her desire to contest as a presidential candidate in the August 23 elections was shuttered just two months before the polls.
Masarira could not file her nomination papers after failing to meet the deadline to pay the US$20 000 nomination fee to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission.
She say’s the country’s monetary policy fueled her predicament.
Eleven candidates, all of them men, successfully filed their nomination papers although Saviour Kasukuwere’s candidature, was nullified by the High Court on Wednesday, bringing the contestants to 10.
This year, women hopefuls like Masarira, Elisabeth Valerio and Irene Manyara failed to sail through the nomination process into the presidential race, at a time there is concern over gender stereotyping and failure to give equal opportunities to female politicians.
In an interview with She Corresponds Africa, Masarira highlighted some of the hurdles that she went through.
“This election has taught me a lot because failing to pay for the nomination fees was beyond my control. I am not responsible for the monetary policy of this country, so I could not make the payment to reflect before the deadline,” she said.
“But above all that, the political economy this year was more of a two-men’s race, as it fails to accommodate all of us especially women candidates.”
Gender Representation in Zimbabwean Politics
The Zimbabwean gender policy has been pushing and setting out the key issues and options towards increased representation of women in politics in Zimbabwe for over the years now.
However, following the 2018 elections, it was witnessed that there was a decline in women’s political representation at the national and local levels.
In 2018, the representation of women in politics dropped to 14% in local authorities, 31% in the House of Assembly, 44 % in the Senate, 17% in the 2018 presidential election participation, and 29% in cabinet.
The women’s candidature fell dismally again in the 2023 harmonised election as about 70 women were successfully nominated as candidates against 500 men which is about 14 percent overall representation in the election race.
Addressing journalists at a training workshop with the Zimbabwe Electoral Support Network (ZESN), Chief Executive Officer for Gender Commission in Zimbabwe, Virginia Muwanigwa said the political environment in Zimbabwe has always been patriarchal.
“Women in politics are faced with so many challenges including the physical, sexual and emotional abuse and some of the connotations that are attached to women who are politically active are discriminating and taunting.
“We have seen some of them been intimidated by the media themselves as well as their male counterparts,” said Muwanigwa.
A survey done by She Corresponds Africa revealed that the hurdles women are grappling with have been in existence since the country attained independence.
Female politicians who have occupied various positions of authority have done so mostly at the mercy of men, who trampled on them when it suited their interests.
Female politicians whose careers were trampled on
Despite being the first woman to become the Vice-President of Zimbabwe, Joice Mujuru (68)’s political career collapsed in a blink of an eye.
She was expelled as the country’s Vice President in 2014 and also ousted from Zanu PF in April 2015 on allegations that she was plotting against the late former president Robert Mugabe.
Mujuru, whose guerrilla name was Teurai Ropa Nhongo, was a celebrated politician whose exploits during the liberation war was hyped.
She served as Vice-President of Zimbabwe from 2004 up until 2014.
She also served as a cabinet minister when the country gained its independence.
She was to serve invarious capacities as indicated below;
Minister of Community Development and Women’s Affairs (1980–85)
Minister of State in the Prime Minister’s Office (1985–88)
Minister of Community Development, Cooperatives, and Women’s Affairs (1988–92)
Resident Minister and Governor for Mashonaland Central (1992–96)
Minister of Information, Post and Telecommunication (1996–97)
Minister of Rural Resources and Water Development (1997–2004)
In 2015, she formed her political party, Zimbabwe National People First Party, which saw her contest in 2018 as one of the 23 presidential candidates as a leader of the People’s Rainbow Coalition.
She managed to get 12 823 votes constituting (0.27 %), sitting on number 7 out of the 23 presidential candidates with President Emmerson Mnangagwa declared a winner with 2 456 010 votes.
This seems to have been the last nail in the coffin for Mujuru’s aspirations in politics.
However, Mujuru is not the only woman in Zimbabwe who managed to rise to the high echelons of power or make a name for themselves.
The likes of Ruth Chinamano, Sabina Mugabe, Johanna Nkomo, Maria Msika, Moudy Aloisia Muzenda, Vivian Mwashita Muchichi, Victoria Fikile Mahamba Chitepo, Julia Tukai Zvobgo, Oppah Zvipange Chamu Muchinguri, Margret Dongo, Jessie Majome, Priscilla Misihairabwi, Lucia Matibenga, Thokozani Khupe and many more were involved in the political activities in Zimbabwe.
From 2009-2013 Khupe was the Deputy Prime Minister of Zimbabwe in the government of national unity
Following the death of party founder Morgan Tsvangirai in early 2018 Khupe however faced strong opposition within the MDC-T party structures, and was beaten to the presidency by Nelson Chamisa, now the leader of CCC.
Although on 22 April 2018, she was elected unopposed as the President of her MDC-T faction at an extraordinary congress in Bulawayo, in 2020 she was removed from the position of party president by Douglas Mwonzora amid strong claims of violence and cheating from her fans.
Khupe was later suspended for violating some provisions of the party’s constitution and is now actively involved in the CCC.
Khupe’s situation highlights how women can easily be elbowed out once challenged by a male colleague.
Political rights in Zimbabwe
In Zimbabwe participating in politics should be the fundamental human right of everyone regardless of their sex or gender.
According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, all citizens are entitled to exercise their political rights and to participate in the country’s civil and political life equally, without fear of discrimination or repression.
However, the Veritas Election watch report (2023) revealed that despite having reserved special seats for women in Parliament and local authorities the nature of the political system in Zimbabwe has been discouraging to women’s participation in politics.
For instance, for the National Assembly elections in 2018, out of 265 candidates, only 81 managed to sail through with 31% and for the Senate, out of the 77 seats only 34 are women making it 44% proportional representation.
In nature, the political system is just male-dominated.
As a result, many women who to rise to the top, still find it difficult to maintain their positions in power.
According to an analysis by Veritas presented during a women’s workshop on 16 June, Mujuru’s position in politics seems to have been given to her as a ceremonial position after spending so many years during the liberation struggle and also as the wife of the Late Solomon Mujuru.
Profiting from that reputation, and her marriage to the feared Zanu-PF power broker Solomon Mujuru – Mujuru expanded her influence within the party, securing the vice presidency in 2004.
Her good fortune shuddered to a halt in 2011 when her husband was found dead in suspicious circumstances.
Accused of harbouring leadership ambitions, she was forced out of the party yet she had used her long stretch in the ruling party to build a powerful web of backers.
Therefore, the Veritas Election Watch report (2023) stressed that the patriarchal nature of Zimbabwean society has discouraged women from participating in politics.
“Women are viewed as weak and inferior, suitable for homemaking, childbearing, and doing household chores. This attitude is shared by women voters as well as men, so male candidates often get more votes from women than female candidates do,” Veritas said
The character of Women in Politics Questioned
For a long time, women who engage in political activities are labelled loose and immoral and their private lives are put under a spotlight.
Their marital status is of key interest while few people bother about a male politician’s marital or extra-marital affairs.
Masarira can bear testimony to the onslaught, so can Mujuru, who was vilified when she was expelled from Zanu PF.
Masarira’s alleged relationships were brought into the public domain to vilify her, because of her political views.
Veritas says women will not be able to take a truly equal role in political affairs until the patriarchal nature of society is changed so that women are not stereotyped and regarded as inferior to men.
“Changing societal attitudes is likely to take many years, though change may be speeded up if women are given greater access to resources so that they become more economically active. There is a need for the electorate and women themselves to change their perceptions and attitudes before women can take their rightful place in the country’s political life,” said Veritas.