HARARE— Zimbabweans go to the polls July 31 under a new constitution that some hoped would bring more women into politics. But, some women say the road to gender equity in Zimbabwean politics is a long one.
Zimbabwe’s 2012 census shows that women comprise 52 percent of the population. But that demographic is not reflected in the political arena.
Many women were hoping the new constitution, which came into effect in May, would encourage more women to run. The document provides new legal protections for women - such as equal rights in the workplace and land rights.
But feminists say the constitution falls short of ensuring that the country meets the goal of 50 percent political representation by 2015 as mandated by the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development.
Virginia Muwanigwa, the chairwoman of the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe, said the constitution added 60 seats to the 210-seat parliament that were to be reserved for women - and that is far short of what they wanted.
“What the people asked for during the constitution-making process is 50-50. That translates to gender equality. We know we have the 60 seats reserved in parliament [under the new constitution] but that was never what we were looking for," Muwanigwa said. "We were looking for a reconstitution of seats in parliament to be able to say: if it is 210 seats in parliament, then at least 105 of those seats are [for] women. So we are not happy.”
But there are other obstacles to women in politics, said Sally Dura, a gender activist with the Women’s Youth Forum in Zimbabwe.
“To level the ground, it is about a number of factors; it is about finding a way to ensure that women have resources, it is about lobbying the government that resources released under the Political Finances Act there be a clause to ensure that there is an allocation for women candidature,” she said.
Generally, women in Zimbabwe lag behind in terms of finances that are needed for campaigning.
But Jessie Majome, deputy minister for women’s affairs, said the landscape has improved for women under this new charter.
The constitution was supported by both parties in the ruling coalition and approved in national referendum.
Majome, who was also the spokeswoman of the government-appointed parliamentary committee which wrote Zimbabwe’s new constitution, says it will take some time to catch up - even possibly for a woman to become president down the road.
“It is difficult to tell because of the political dynamics of Zimbabwe. It depends on how people will vote [in future]," said Majome. "Clearly, we are not going to have a female president in the first republic after the [new] constitution. But who knows after the second, the third and subsequent terms, but certainly not this time.”
Politics at the highest level has been dominated by one man: President Robert Mugabe who has ruled Zimbabwe for more than 30 years.
Mugabe's ZANU-PF party and Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change will lock horns in a contest to end the country's power-sharing government, which was formed in 2009 following a disputed election.
With this power struggle overshadowing the election, the issue of political power for women appears to be taking a back seat.