Women seek to change electoral course

HARARE - As the eagerly-awaited 2018 national elections approach, a civic society group has launched an aggressive campaign to galvanise young women to register and vote — in an exercise that is set to change the way women perceive electoral issues.

Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki speaks to co-ordinator of Women ForWomen (W4W) Maureen Kademaunga and below are the excerpts of the interview.

Q: How conscious are women about elections and participating in electoral issues?

A: The ideals, energies, and voices of young women are vital for the development of Zimbabwe, so the high abstention of young women from electoral processes is worrying and disappointing.

At the root of this problem is the lack of knowledge and access to public information on elections.

Also, there hasn’t been deliberate effort towards conscientising young women on the critical role that election choices and electoral outcomes play in deciding the quality of their everyday life.

#SheVotes2018 campaign seeks to tackle this problem by educating young women on the obvious link between elections and their everyday life.

Q: Where do Zimbabwean women stand in as far as participation in politics and governance issues are concerned?

A: Women’s participation is disappointingly low and more so the participation of young women.

This is despite measures such as the women’s quota in Parliament which continues to be male dominated.

The young woman suffers multiple discrimination so you find that while 60 Proportional Representation seats were reserved for women, only four under the ages of 35 went to Parliament through that provision so we have a long way to go but we are spirited, determined and up to the task.

This disappointing and embarrassing state of affairs will be a thing of the past come 2018.

Women cannot continue to be in public space without shame.

Q: Please can you explain this #SheVotes 2018 campaign and how inclusive is it to prospective voters; be they in Zanu PF, MDC or any other political party?

A: #SheVotes2018, is a non-partisan campaign independently organised by Women for Women Zimbabwe (W4W) to craft a pro-women agenda ahead of the 2018 election.

It is anchored by the understanding that we are women first before we are political party members and the issues that we face are bigger than the smallness of our politics.

It is an inclusive platform and as we set our small structures nationally and provincially we are deliberately being inclusive of political parties, civil society groups, private citizens and churches etc.

Q: Historically, what are the key issues that inhibit women participation in electoral issues and how do you intend to change this phenomenon?

A: The key stumbling blocks that inhibit young women’s participation include the unsafe nature of the political process which is often violent.

Limited access to information especially for rural and poor women has for long played a central role.

Those who may have enough information elect not to participate because they have no confidence in the electoral process which has in the past been marred with controversies and irregularities and sometimes a failure to respect the electoral outcome.

In instances where they want to run for office the lack of resources to support a campaign is also a major challenge that needs to be overcome.

And also in a patriarchal society like ours that emphasises male supremacy and gives priority to the elderly, women, especially young women fail to get support and so it is difficult for them to be in public space without shame.

So we are addressing this issue on two levels. On the first level we are looking at young women as voters and in that regard, we are drafting a young women’s charter of demands which will guide our engagement with policy makers and politicians as we seek to achieve a free, fair and credible election that is peaceful.

We are also organising young women to join in the call for electoral reforms and administrative changes at Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (Zec) to enhance the accessibility of registration and voting facilities to all.

We have also embarked on an aggressive educational campaign to conscientise young women on the importance of voting.

On the second level we are encouraging young women candidates to come forth and be bold enough and declare their candidacy.

#SheVotes2018 is going to offer technical and material support to these young women so that their chances are increased.

This is stemming from the understanding that without representation, women’s issues will never get the attention they deserve.

Q: Vulnerable and marginalised groups are often targets for political manipulation, how can these groups benefit from your initiative?

A: Very often in Zimbabwe, political manipulation has come disguised as empowered participation.

Many women have fallen victim and sold their right and responsibility to elect for a cup of maize seed and a head wrap, this must stop.

We cannot continue to allow people to abuse our conditions of poverty for their political expedience.

So #SheVotes2018 is embarking on an aggressive educational campaign to empower women with strategic information that will allow them to participate independently and make electoral choices.

Q: How are you dealing with issues of suspicion particularly from political parties, since this is an apolitical but aggressive awareness programme?

A: A revolutionary initiative such as this is bound to be met by resistance especially by status quo in any political organisation but that is expected, it is just our feminist aspirations meeting our political realities.

The dominant voice of feminism can be overwhelmingly hard-edged, apparently intent on stringing up men at every available opportunity but that is not the case, we will align ourselves with parties whose political manifestos are aligned to our values of people centredness, anti-poverty, pro-equality and pro-development agenda.

So our partners will be natural allies who honour referential values of equality in politics and economics.

Q: Will 2018 election be the game changer in the way young women vote and participate in electoral issues?

A: Young women are the biggest demographic group if we are to go into finer details, so if they actively participate and register to vote then political entities need to carefully craft their manifestos and make a commitment to address our issues because without that they are in serious trouble.

#SheVotes2018 is going to mobilise every young woman from the townships down to the last hut in the village to get out the vote.

What is unique about this campaign is that it is issue and content-driven and is encouraging young women to register to vote and make electoral choices that are useful to addressing our issues as women.

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