The African Women’s Association Foundation (AWAF) this week announced its list of nominees for its inaugural African Women’s Awards (AWA) ceremony to be held on the 7th of November 2015 in Harare.The 15-category list comprises women from across the African continent; and some of the nominees include talk show host Rebecca Chisamba, Rebecca Chisamba, Prophetess Ruth Makandiwa, South Africa’s television and radio personality Bonang Matheba and Africa’s first elected black female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia.
It is not yet known to the public how the winners will be selected but the nomination process was both an online and offline activity. But whatever selection criterion AWAF will use, I wonder how it might differ from that used for the just-held Zimbabwe International Women’s Association (ZIWA) Awards which took place in the United Kingdom last weekend where 22 leading Zimbabwean women were announced winners.
Online voting fair?
All winners surely have their online fans to thank since they contributed to the total votes each one of them received. Observing online activity by most of the winners, one can safely say the digital campaigns to get supporters to vote daily for those they were invested in paid off. This is not to say the winners only won because they asked for votes; they have all been doing great work of course. However, we cannot dismiss the fact that online popularity worked to the advantage of the winners.
Journalist and fashion blogger, Robin Chaibva, raised this issue through her Tumblr account where she questioned ZIWA’s selection process.
Wrote Chaibva, “Found out I didn’t win the #ZIWA2015 award and I’m not happy, yes I’m not popular online but should online voting be determining factor, we have diverse audiences as bloggers who post style pictures in beautiful clothes and look gooder get the followers faster than me…” She added, “So next time I’m nominated for a online based award I will turn down, my CV says how I am a fashion blogger with an edge for digital media going mainstream…if that isn’t an achievement… I don’t know then.”
While this may be taken as a case of sour grapes, one cannot completely ignore Chaibva’s question. Many, including the organisers, may have not considered the fact that the whole voting process could have a bias towards nominees who have a good and loyal online following, which was the basis of Chaibva’s argument.
During the nomination process, the public had to fill out an online nomination form in which they stated whom they thought deserved to be a nominee for any of the awards. According to ZIWA, a panel of judges comprising professional women from various backgrounds was responsible for the selection process for the final nominees from which the public would determine the winner through an online voting process; the public could cast one vote every 24 hours per category during the voting period.
It is also reported that after the final voting process, the panel of judges also looked at the results and determined the final winner. It is however not clear to what extent the judges contributed to the list of final winners. Whether the judges could revoke the results of the votes and decide on another winner based on a certain criteria is not known.
Looking at the purpose of the awards and the nominees’ list, it is clear that ZIWA aims to celebrate the achievements of all Zimbabwean women regardless of their location. This explains why their list of nominees included both women living in Zimbabwe and the diaspora. And if ZIWA is to include women from different locations in the voting process, then it does make sense that they used an online voting system which allowed people from different parts of the world to take part.
But what if a nominee is not tech savvy, or if their work is not largely based on an online community’s following? Or what if the nominee finds it very difficult to continually ask their online following to throw their support in by voting everyday throughout the voting period? Does this then bias them from standing a chance of winning the award? Or does a process of ‘natural selection’ still occur, with the best nominee still managing to pull votes?
More awards needed
With that said, we cannot dispute the fact that the ZIWA awards are an important platform to showcase Zimbabwean talent and that the organisers did their best to ensure that the whole process would result in a list of befitting winners.
Candice Mwakalyelye, who won the Media Professional of the Year award, applauded the awards and described them as a great platform for uplifting women who are working hard to change society.
“The award was an unexpected but great surprise,” said Mwakalyelye. “It was a chance to hear the voices of people who support and cheer me on, even though I may never meet or see them.”
Young Tanya Muzinda who won the Sportswoman of the Year award said she was humbled to have won after competing with other strong sportswomen like Teurai Chanakira and long distance athlete Sharon Tavengwa.
“There is nothing like recognition from your own people,” said a grateful Ammara Brown, the ZIWA Musician of the Year. “It is so encouraging.”
Main image taken from e-lected.blogspot.com