POLITICAL space in Zimbabwe is shrinking, with the situation even more tragic and worse for women, especially those in the opposition.
This is despite guarantees of equality as provided for in the constitution of Zimbabwe, chapter 4 part 3 section (80) (1), which states: “Every woman has the full and equal dignity of the person with men and this includes equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.”
In chapter 5 part 3 section (104) (4) the constitution states: “In appointing Ministers and Deputy Ministers, the President must be guided by considerations of regional and gender balance.”
Top human rights lawyer Passmore Nyakureba said political space is also non-existent for women because of the weaponisation of political violence against them.
“To begin with, there is no political space for anyone outside Zanu PF before we even talk of political space for women,” Nyakureba said.
“It is more toxic for women because generally women are vulnerable to the weaponisation of political violence which punish women who would have crossed the political paths of those that have power,” Nyakureba said women are now relying on the quota system instead of competing directly with their male counterparts.
“The quota system is okay, but you find out that most female politicians are now waiting for the quota system to be involved instead of going toe-to-toe or head-on with their male counterparts, mainly because of the toxic environment that I have mentioned,” he added.
Nyakureba said there is a need for affirmative action beyond the quota system by creating an environment that is more encouraging for women.
“A proper affirmative action is what is needed beyond the quota system by creating an environment that is women friendly without patronage. If it takes a man a degree to be in Parliament, it should also take a woman the same, but women need to be more encouraged by the environment,” Nyakureba said.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) chief executive officer, Viginia Muwanigwa (pictured), blames the electoral system used for direct elections which she said does not enable proportional representation of women and men in harmonised elections. She said intra-party male-dominated structures and systems affected women negatively.
“The first-past-the-post electoral system used for direct elections does not in principle enable proportional representation of women and men in harmonised elections.
“Likewise, intra-party obstacles arise from constitutions, male-dominated structures, procedures and systems negatively affect women’s equality, resulting in declining numbers,” Muwanigwa said.
No one has experienced the travesties of being a female politician than Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) legislator Lynette Karenyi.
Karenyi believes there is an urgent need to overhaul the country’s laws to align them with the constitution so as to promote the 50/50 gender equality principle.
“There is a need to align the laws with our constitution and adopt the 50/50 principle. There must be electoral reforms to accommodate the issues of gender equality,” said Karenyi, the former MDC-T vice-president.
“If the 60 reserved seats are to continue, then there is need for an amendment to two terms only, to stop the issue of promoting just a few.” Having been born in Nyanyadzi, a rural village of Chimanimani, and attended primary and high school in the same district, Karenyi defied the odds and became a committed democrat. She holds a degree in development studies. Inspired by her mother, who was also a democracy and human rights defender in the 1980s under the then leader of the opposition Zanu Ndonga political party, Ndabaningi Sithole, Karenyi has travelled miles politically.
“I joined politics in 1999 when MDC was formed and I was inspired by my mother who believed in democracy and human rights issues. My mother had a background of opposition politics since 1980 during Ndabaningi Sithole’s time where she was a member,” Karenyi said.
Karenyi said that she has not had it easy. She has faced arrests and torture as well as forced exile. She said the political journey is not easy for women and is even worse for those in the opposition.
“The journey of politics is not easy. The playing field as usual is not levelled, it’s difficult, but we press on to achieve our goals. I have faced arrests and stayed in remand prison even on Christmas Day in 2011. Also, I have been beaten up and in 2006 I stayed in South Africa away from my family for the safety of my life,” Karenyi said.
Karenyi was recalled twice as a politician. In 2005 she was recalled from council and in 2020 she was again recalled from Parliament. Women in politics face a lot of obstacles, some of which Karenyi listed as lack of resources, violence, cyber bullying, gender-based violence, culture and religion as well as some constitutional provisions.
Despite the challenges, she has managed to build quite a portfolio for herself. She is currently a member of the House of Assembly for Chikanga constituency in Mutare after winning resoundingly during the August general elections.
From 2018 to 2020 she was a member of Parliament in Manicaland province under proportional representation.
She served as vice-president for the MDC-T between 2019 and 2022. Between 2014 and 2019 she was national chairperson in the MDC-T women’s assembly.
She was also deputy treasurer for the Women’s Academy for Africa (WAFA). From 2011 to 2014 she held office as national organising secretary for the women’s assembly.
From 2006 to 2007 she was provincial secretary for Manicaland province and between 2008 to 2013 Karenyi served as member of Parliament for Chimanimani West.
She was chairperson of the local government rural and urban development parliamentary portfolio committee as well as a member of the speaker’s panel.
In 2003 she was first elected opposition councillor for ward 16 in the Mutare city council but was later recalled in 2005.
*This article was supported by the Canadian Embassy in Zimbabwe in partnership with the Centre for Public Interest Journalism (The NewsHawks)