By Takudzwa Josiah
As Zimbabwe eagerly anticipates the upcoming presidential election on August 23rd, a concerning trend has emerged. The candidature of women in the political arena has taken a significant hit, with statistics revealing a 3% decrease in female participation compared to the 2018 elections. This downward spiral raises critical questions about the inclusivity and gender balance of Zimbabwe’s electoral process.
Data recently released by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) paints a disheartening picture. Out of a total of 637 candidates running for various positions, only 70 are women, making up a mere 11% of the candidate pool. This figure is a notable decline from the 2018 National Assembly elections when 237 out of 1648 candidates were women, accounting for 14.4% of the total candidates. Such a significant drop is deeply concerning and demands attention from all stakeholders involved in shaping Zimbabwe’s democracy.
A closer look at the regional level reveals an even more alarming disparity. In Mashonaland Central, where 40 contestants are vying for seats, there is only one female candidate. This blatant gender imbalance is not limited to one province but manifests itself across the country. For instance, Bulawayo features 16 female candidates competing against 41 male candidates, while Harare sees 14 women facing off against a staggering 96 men. Similarly, Matabeleland South has only two female candidates among the 34 contenders, underscoring the stark underrepresentation of women in these regions.
However, perhaps the most distressing observation lies in the presidential race. In the 2018 elections, four out of the 23 presidential candidates were women, offering a glimmer of hope for gender diversity in the highest office. Regrettably, this time around, not a single woman is vying for the presidency. This absence of female candidates raises significant concerns about the progress of gender equality in Zimbabwean politics and the opportunities available for women to assume leadership roles at the highest level.
Elisabeth Valerio, a hopeful candidate in the forthcoming presidential election, eloquently voiced her concerns through a series of thought-provoking tweets. Valerio emphasized the need for equality, justice, and the unhindered participation of all citizens in Zimbabwe’s electoral processes. Her statements have ignited a much-needed debate surrounding the potential exclusion of women from the political landscape and the consequences it may have for the nation’s overall development.
Valerio’s frustration was further amplified when she shared a list of approved UZA (United Zimbabweans Alliance) candidates, including herself, whose names did not appear in the Government Gazette published on June 30, 2023. This lack of transparency and inclusivity within the electoral process raises critical questions about the fairness of the system and undermines the faith of aspiring candidates, especially women.
Another noteworthy issue that has surfaced is the matter of nomination fees. Linda Masarira, president of LEAD (Labour, Economists, and African Democrats), has taken a stand against the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), highlighting the discriminatory and seemingly unfair nature of these fees. Masarira, who is self-funding her campaign, faced substantial challenges in meeting the payment requirements due to the scarcity of Zimbabwean dollars. Her experience sheds light on the financial barriers faced by candidates without substantial resources and further reinforces the perception that politics in Zimbabwe is increasingly becoming a domain reserved for the wealthy, potentially excluding ordinary citizens and disproportionately affecting women’s aspirations to run for office.
While some argue that these challenges are not specific to women and impact all candidates, it is crucial to recognize that the financial barriers often disproportionately hinder female candidates, exacerbating the gender disparity in political representation.
The declining candidature of women in the 2023 elections should serve as a wake-up call for all Zimbabweans who believe in the principles of equality, justice, and inclusive governance. It is imperative that electoral authorities, civil society organizations, and the public at large work collectively to address these issues and create an environment that nurtures and encourages the participation of women in politics. By dismantling the barriers, promoting gender diversity, and ensuring fair and transparent electoral processes, Zimbabwe can pave the was for a brighter and more inclusive future.