Get up and Dance: Women’s Political Participation

The Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) has been working on a research programme on women’s agency, voice and participation over the last 5 years, and, more recently, has been looking at whether class plays a role in this.  This includes looking at whether rural and urban women, working class and middle class women view governance differently. On the face of it there is little difference between women’s views, the issues of fear, violence and patriarchy present challenges for women in Zimbabwe.  One would not be wrong to assume that the urban middle class women would have better experiences with politics because they are more educated, but, unfortunately, this is not the case. Middle class young women know their rights, but, because of the political inertia, they are not demanding these rights and not demanding to be at the decision making table.

Women must put themselves in the political arena both as voters and candidates even where questions about their qualifications are raised, and just go for it in the same manner that men do. Over the years women have been noted as coming out in their numbers to vote, particularly in the rural areas, the latest by elections; Bikita West and Mwenzi East are prime examples of this. This raises questions as to whether rural women are more knowledgeable about their rights to vote and they exercise it or there are more women living in the rural areas or the issue of coercion is higher in the rural areas?

It appears as though young urban women are much more hesitant to engage in politics yet they have a lot more access to information about politics and governance through TV, radio and social media. This raises questions about voice and participation: do you need voice to participate or you can participate without having voice? RAU will attempt to answer these questions in an upcoming report entitled Women and Active Citizenship in Zimbabwe: A preliminary investigation of changes over the period 2004 to 2014.

With regard to women participating in politics as candidates, the view is very gloomy as the numbers globally are still low, even though the number of women in senior political positions has risen significantly over the last decade, but the numbers have not yet reached close to 50%. In Zimbabwe, without the quota in 2013, only 18% women were elected into parliament, but with the quota this rises to 34%.

The issue as I mentioned earlier is that the qualifications of women are questioned much more than those of men.  Women tend to wait to be asked to join politics because of the misconception that they are not qualified, and they usually need a lot of convincing before taking up any position. Yet they are politically engaged in other spaces; for example either in their children’s school bodies, or at a community level, or they were raised in a  family of politicians.  Their motivation to get into politics is more likely the desire to do something good (impact). There should be no need to wait to be asked.

A couple of years ago I spent time with a woman who summed it up beautifully with a dance analogy:  ‘If you go to a dance, your songs plays but no one asks you to dance does that mean you don’t dance? No! You get up and go on the floor and dance – women should not wait to be asked to join politics, just do it.’ This woman is Gov. Kay Ivey who in April 2017 became Alabama's second female governor.

 Diversity is essential in society, politics included: women are more nurturing and therefore lead differently because of their lived experiences, so more attention would be given to social issues, such as health, education and housing. Currently, there are very few young women in politics, yet they represent a large demographic and they will be the future leaders, but their engagement needs to start now. If young women want things to change socially and economically, they need to take charge and not wait to be asked to join politics. It is important to have more young women in politics, as their priorities are different from men and the older women currently occupying these spaces.  There is room for all ages and sexes in the political sphere.

 

Kuda Chitsike 04.05.2017

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