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Empowering women and girls to lead: a call for greater political participation

Partinella Ngozo

In today’s rapidly changing world, the importance of women’s increasing involvement in political decision-making processes is becoming more evident than ever. Women and girls bring unique perspectives, experiences, and expertise that can foster positive transformations across societies. It is time to recognize and nurture the potential of women as effective leaders in politics, creating a more inclusive and representative democracy.

As we strive for equality and seek ways to bridge the gender gap, it is crucial to acknowledge the historical imbalances that have hindered women’s political participation. Although progress has been made in recent years, women remain underrepresented at all levels of governance worldwide. Breaking these barriers is not only a matter of fairness but also a means of unlocking the full potential of our societies.

Globally, political leadership and representation remain heavily dominated by men. In Zimbabwe, women constitute 52% of the country’s population but girls and women are not adequately represented in parliament and local authorities.

Speaking during a meeting organized by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Kwekwe Chapter while unpacking the Maputo protocol on Women’s rights Florence Guzha Director of Ebenezer Women Social Entrepreneurship Trust said that women should step up and participate in politics. She also urged political parties to ensure that there is gender balance in order to practice the Zebra system from the ward level.

“As women, we should participate in politics, we should step up and be part of the decision-making processes. Even in public institutions let us take leading positions. Zimbabwe is a signatory to many progressive laws including the Maputo protocol on women’s rights. Therefore there is a need for women to be leaders.

“I believe that gender balance can be achieved if we start from the grassroots level that is the only way we can win as women. In a zebra system this is a system whereby if a man is elected to be the chairperson of a party the vice should be a woman this should be done from ward level going upwards so that we have more women participating in politics,” she said.

By encouraging women and girls to step up in politics, we can benefit from a range of perspectives, ideas, and problem-solving abilities that have long been untapped. The inclusion of women in decision-making processes leads to policies that address a broader array of issues and concerns, ultimately resulting in more comprehensive and effective solutions.

Furthermore, research consistently demonstrates that gender diversity in political bodies fosters better governance outcomes, as it promotes collaboration, empathy, and a wider range of policy options. When women participate actively in politics, their ability to shape legislation and advocate for policies that reflect the needs and rights of all citizens is greatly enhanced. In turn, this contributes to the creation of fairer and more inclusive societies.

Statistics review that, in the 2018 general election, 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. Overall female representation for women in 2018 was around 14% which, however, dropped to 11% in the just ended August 2023 elections.

To facilitate greater political participation, it is essential to address systemic barriers that hinder women’s progress. This includes challenging gender stereotypes, promoting mentorship and leadership programs, and implementing policies that support work-life balance. Providing women and girls with access to quality education, mentorship opportunities, and platforms to amplify their voices are also crucial steps in this journey.

Women activist Hazel Manda said that the low participation of women in Zimbabwean politics is mainly caused by the negative perceptions against women politicians who are usually labelled as prostitutes worse if u are a widow or a single mother.

“It is very disturbing for us as women to join politics because of name-calling and negative perceptions against women politicians.  Women who engage in political activities are labelled as prostitutes 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,” she said.

 Manda further highlighted that women need to pull each other up and stop the pull her down syndrome because this would help women to secure leadership positions.

“Women we should stop being jealous of each other and try and pull each other up. It is so surprising that even in churches you see women voting for men to have leadership positions and because of jealousy we do not vote for our fellow women to take leadership positions. This is the reason why we have few women representation in all areas be it in politics we tend to look down upon each other. Let us be sister’s keepers and always vote for each other,” she said.

Young Women Kwekwe Chapter Chairperson Roslyn Chiutsi said that violence was another factor stopping most women from participating in politics as well as the patriarchal Zimbabwean society which discourages women from participating in politics. Chiutsi further added that there is a need for political parties to ensure that they have gender policies.

“Politics is too dangerous, especially in Kwekwe and as young women we fear to participate in politics because of the violent nature of politics. As women, we are also viewed as weak and inferior, suitable for homemaking, childbearing, and doing household chores.  This has resulted in fewer women representation during the just-ended elections. Furthermore, in most political parties women have been reduced to being cheerleaders, there are no gender policies in these political parties. If u look closely home we do not even have women in most political parties,” she said.

The call for women and girls to step up in politics echoes the universal objective of fostering a fair and inclusive society. By encouraging their active political participation, we empower these untapped leaders to spearhead positive change, making political decision-making processes more representative and reflective of the society we aspire to build.

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