A press statement released last week by the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) in response to the overview given by the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), clearly outlined the obstacles that are still in the way of women’s equal participation ahead of the 2018 elections.
Last week, the Parliament Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development invited ZEC to give an overview of how the commission will ensure women’s equal participation in the electoral processes leading to the 2018 harmonised elections. A ZEC committee led by Justice Rita Makarau addressed the portfolio committee together with invited members of parliament, civil society organisations and media in Harare last week at the Parliament of Zimbabwe. WCoZ released a press statement highlighting problematic areas they had picked up from the overview.
Through the presentation, ZEC highlighted three specific issues;
- the legal measures that the Commission is implementing to ensure political parties adhere to the provisions of the Constitution in ensuring gender equality in political party representation,
- the preparedness of the Commission to conduct elections and,
- the measures that have been put in place to protect marginalised groups before, during and after the 2018 elections.
The overview given by Justice Makarau on behalf of ZEC brought great disappointment to the women’s movement, as shown by the statement released by the (WCoZ) on Friday the 21st of July. One main issue of contention was how ZEC misrepresented the fact that they are working with the WCoZ to ensure that women’s rights are respected in the upcoming elections. In its statement the Coalition states that;
“We appreciate ZEC’s public acknowledgement that they are working with the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, however this statement flies in the face of ZEC refusing to accredit Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe as at the 31st of May 2017.”
ZEC denied WCoZ accreditation to collaborate with the commission in carrying out voter education citing that the objectives of the Coalition did not specify that voter education is one of its mandates. The issue pointed out by WCoZ raises questions on what ZEC meant when they said they were ‘working with’ the Coalition. Clarification would be needed on the extent to which women’s organisation have so far been involved in election preparations, if they were involved at all. As it stands, the letter given to WCoZ by ZEC indicates that there may not be any working relationship between the two bodies as ZEC may have indicated in their statement.
The right to vote has been compromised especially for women as a result of the list of required documents for registration and what women may have to do to get them. In response to one of the questions on the issue, Justice Makarau gave a response that insinuated that for some women, their right to vote may have to depend on their relations with their spouses when she said, “women could get letters from their husbands if they are in good books”. This statement contradicts the national objectives enunciated in Chapter 2 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which calls upon the State and every person as well as every institution and agency of government to promote, among other things:
- National unity, peace and stability
- Full gender balance and the participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society, including politics
- The participation of the youth, the elderly persons with disabilities in political parties, social, economic and other spheres of life.
The 2013 Constitution also introduced the party list system of proportional representation which seeks to increase women’s representation in parliament. Section 157 (2) specifically provides that the system of proportional representation for women in the upper chamber must ensure equal representation of women among the senators. To that end section 121 (2) ensures that the lists submitted by the contesting political parties present male and female candidates arranged alternately with every list being headed by a female candidate, also known as a Zebra list. Although this is a temporary measure, section 124 (1) (b) of the Constitution introduced an additional sixty women members to Parliament elected under the party-list system of proportional representation.
According to ZEC, they will ensure strict compliance by political parties to these provisions relating to the party list of candidates. However, Rita Makarau reiterated that the limitation to this provision is that ZEC does not have the mandate to regulate the internal affairs of political parties. This means that ZEC cannot order political parties to ensure that there are women in the top posts of each political party or that each political party field a given number of women candidates in the forthcoming elections.
During the question and answer session, ZEC was asked to respond to how Rwanda specifically managed to ensure gender equality in its parliament when the country’s constitution has wording and language similar to that of the Zimbabwean Constitution, to which ZEC responded that this is something that they would look into.Again Justice Makarau pointed out another limitation that 105 seats are not guaranteed by law. She stated that no law compels any political party to field gender equal candidates, hence if this is what the women’s constituency is rallying for, they should consider lobbying for a law that guarantees 50/50 participation to be guaranteed.
As crucial as voter education is for the electoral process, ZEC highlighted that they would leave it until three weeks to elections. Justification from the Commission was that if the process is done earlier, people would forget. Surprisingly, in the same meeting, Justice Makarau said they were ready for elections; which leaves one wondering what ‘ready’ means when the electorate knows nothing about the Biometric Voter Registration (BVR) which ZEC intends to use for the next elections. To this, WCoZ proposed that the voter education process be brought to an early date to ensure that women will have adequate time to learn and make informed decisions. If the process is left until too late, women will be at a greater disadvantage than men because of socio-economic and political inequalities they already have to deal with.
From the overview , a number of issues seem to result in challenges for women during the voting process, particularly the voter registration. Justice Makarau made it clear that the state of an identity card (ID’s) will also determine weather or not it will be accepted for voter registration. Any card with an unclear picture will not be considered. This is a hint to women who may have had their ID’s scratched or broken to replace them. At this point, it will also be important to ensure that the registrar’s offices are well oiled to accommodate the demand that might increase as we draw closer to the elections. For women who might need new documents the other question will be whether or not they can afford the fees required to replace their documents.
It seems as if the 2018 elections are going to be another frustrating voting process for women. There are so many hindrances already visible that will discourage women to go out and register to vote let alone cast their votes. There have been calls from different pressure groups for proof of residence to be scratched off the list of requirements. My hope is that this will be done for the sake of youths and women who are the majority of voters and also the majority of those that do not own any property in their names.
However, I strongly believe that there should be an alternative plan. From the sound of the presentation, ZEC does not seem to be going back on this proof of residence requirement, hence civil society organisations can use this opportunity to educate women on how to write or obtain an affidavit or affirmation. Women need to have an alternative for cases where the husband might refuse to write this letter of confirmation that they reside together at a certain address. Also, what will happen to the rural woman who does not own land in her name. Does she have to get a letter from the Chief?
Based on the overview given by ZEC last week, women are far from exercising their right to vote with out having to depend on men or someone of superior standing socially or economically. Women’s hopes are likely to be placed on the statement released by WCoZ last week, in the faith that it will receive a positive response from the authorities.
Main Image taken from the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Facebook page