Is Women’s Participation in Elections Darned, Damned and Doomed?
by Kudakwashe Chitsike
In July 2013, Zimbabweans went to the polls for elections that were set to end the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed in 2008 and the subsequent inclusive government. This election was a winner takes all event; and there was a lot of excitement about the future from all political parties, but also a sense of trepidation as the previous elections had been riddled with violence. Civil society groups and the media had labelled the 2008 election, the most violent election period in Zimbabwe’s history.
Women were particularly afraid of the violence as they suffered both as primary and secondary victims. In many instances, when there were threats of violence, the men would run away, but, because of their domestic responsibilities, women were not able to go as they had to look after children, the sick, and the elderly. In previous RAU reports, we documented women’s experiences with violence during elections which included arson, assault, destruction of property, rape, political intimidation, and threats. There was enough evidence for women to have good reason to fear another round of elections. During the existence of the inclusive government, the main political parties were preaching non- violence and peace, but there were reports of violence regardless. The parties were aware that the world was watching, and specifically looking out for acts of violence during the 2013 elections. They were also aware that violence would discredit the elections as was the case in 2008, particularly the period leading up to the run off; thus, it was in their best interests to be seen to be advocating for non-violence. There was very little overt violence but reports of intimidation before and during the elections were reported.
To explore the nature of women’s experiences during the elections in 2013, RAU conducted three focus groups discussions with participants from Masvingo, Bindura, and Marondera. The study looked at the general operating environment, which included voting, the special vote, assisted voters, indelible ink, the vote counting and the results. With regard to violence, most of the women who participated in the study stated that they voted in a relatively peaceful environment. Below are some of their statements:
In Masvingo we did not encounter the problems we encountered in 2008. There was no violence the same way there was in 2008, in fact people really voted in peace and people reflected their choices peacefully.
I met with a new but very pleasant experience where young men from different political parties would share glue for sticking campaign posters.
We were happy because the prayers we took part in worked. There was peace everywhere. I was an agent and I was happy because it was not as hard as it used to be in the previous years.
The women were from different political parties, but their sentiments on violence were similar; though they varied on other areas such as the registration process and inspection of the voters’ roll. The differences were clearly on party lines, where women from one party found it easy to register and inspect the voters’ roll and others found it near impossible. The full report is available for download here on our website.