By Ruth Butaumocho
When the clock struck 12 midnight on July 29, thousands of women across Zimbabwe still carried hope that the clique of women running for office in the elections on July 30 would be voted into power.
Even the women’s movement was confident of winning the few seats the female populace was contesting for in parliamentary and local authorities.
Optimism was high over an imminent victory.
However, the just-ended harmonised elections proved otherwise.
If anything, the elections turned out to be more of the same, after women fell again — this time with a thud after only a handful sailed through.
The 50-50 mantra that both political parties and the previous Government had been running with all these years proved to be nothing other than a wish list, after only a handful of women made it into Parliament and in local authorities.
Of the 210 parliamentary seats, only 26 went to women mainly in the ruling zanu-pf and the MDC-Alliance, while other contenders from minority parties were thrown under the bus.
It proved to be an uphill task for all the four female presidential candidates, who garnered less than five percent of the total votes in the harmonised elections.
The four, who included Dr Joice Mujuru of the People’s Rainbow Coalition, Dr Thokozani Khupe of MDC-T, Ms Violet Mariyacha of the United Democratic Movement and Ms Melba Dzapasi of #1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe, failed to pull off any surprises.
The situation was no better in local authority elections were the figures were more or less in the same margins, totally eclipsing all the expectations that the nation was edging towards gender parity in politics.
A gender analysis carried out by the Harare Residents’ Trust showed that out of the 86 women who contested in the 46 wards in Harare, only 12 females won their contests.
In this year’s elections, 86 women contested in the capital’s municipal elections, with the most coming from the People’s Rainbow Coalition (16) and the least from the Coalition of Democrats.
A total of 23 women out of 242 seats were voted into rural and urban council seats across Masvingo in the just-ended harmonised elections. The elections, in which women were largely condemned to the periphery in both the ruling party and opposition parties, clearly showed that the political terrain remains rugged for aspiring female politicians and will remain like that unless there is a paradigm shift among Zimbabweans that women are capable leaders too.
Unlike the previous elections, where women bemoaned the prevalence of political violence, lack of resources and skewed intra-party vetting processes, new challenges emerged making the playing field more uneven, further diminishing their chances.
While there were no reported cases of political violence during the campaign period save for a few skirmishes, as was the case in previous elections, misogyny proved to be the biggest challenge, after prominent politicians chose to deride women’s efforts by spewing sexist comments.
Even the unprecedented candidature of four women vying for the Presidency was met with sexist backlash, lampooning and mudslinging — a reminder of the underlying patriarchal norms that have continued to take centre stage in Zimbabwe’s political landscape.
These ranged from publicly calling aspiring female candidates prostitutes and other similar denigrating names as part of the strategy to elbow out women systemically.
Dr Khupe will live to tell the story of how she was hounded at the funeral service of the late MDC-T leader, Morgan Tsvangirai.
The same was repeated against her outside the High Court soon after she had filed her papers, as the wrangle over leadership of the opposition party got nasty.
Several similar cases were reported even within political parties, where seasoned female politicians, among them former MDC-T Harare West MP Jessie Majome, zanu-pf’s Biata Nyamupinga, formerly of Goromonzi West, and outgoing MP for Epworth Zalerah Makari.
They found the going tough in party primaries and were forced to run as independent candidates.
The situation was no better for several other aspiring female candidates, who, after noticing anomalies in primary elections, dared to challenge the outcome of the results.
Aspiring National Assembly member for Seke,Cde Helga Mubaiwa, had to withdraw her court application, in which she was suing the party national political commissar, Cde Engelbert Rugeje, and the winning Seke candidate, Cde Munyaradzi Kashambe, citing irregularities during the primary elections.
In the MDC-Alliance, all was not rosy after the national chairwoman, Ms Lynette Karenyi, had her candidature removed in the last minute under unclear circumstances to pave way for Mr Prosper Mutseyami, a close ally of MDC-Alliance leader Mr Nelson Chamisa.
Ms Karenyi claimed she had won the primary election.
Even a political doyen like Dr Mujuru conceded defeat saying this time the election was too masculine, especially in the presidential race, where Mr Chamisa and President-elect Cde Mnangagwa dominated the election.
Political party lines
The just-ended harmonised elections were vaunted by the media as the country’s most important elections since independence.
This was premised on the high voter turnout and improved political space.
That alone heightened expectations among voters who saw the race as between the ruling zanu-pf and the MDC-Alliance and no other political parties.
As a result, only 19 women won the primary elections from the ruling zanu-pf, a figure which by any standard was too low, for a political party in which women command a large numeric significance.
The case was the same within the MDC-Alliance, which in some constituencies did not hold primary elections, handpicked men, as the “testosterone mentality” that men are natural winners, got the better of them.
This was despite promises by Chamisa to reserve 50 percent of the constituencies to women.
With the figures pointing to an all-time low representation of women in the First Session of the Ninth Parliament, it is now back to the drawing board, where sadly the options still lie with both the political parties and Government on how they intend to promote gender equality within their structures.
What is clear is that Zimbabwe has once again failed to walk the talk of gender inclusivity as enshrined in the Constitution and other legal statutes, where Government appended its signature.
There are plenty of international conventions that are backed by domestic policies aimed at improving the representation of women in key positions, to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.
They include Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); and United Nations Security Council Resolution 1889, and 1820 of 2008, the Beijing Declaration on the Platform for Action (1995), the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), Southern African Development Community (sadc) Gender and Development Declaration which stipulates that countries must ensure that at least 30 percent women in political decision-making by 2005, and 50 percent by 2015.