Women in Zimbabwe have few political role models. Former vice-president Joice Runaida Mujuru made history in 2004 when she became the first – and so far the only – woman to join the country’s presidium, a standing executive committee. Today, out of 26 government ministers, only four are women.
For young women, participating in politics is even harder. In the last parliamentary elections in 2013, of the 60 seats reserved for women under proportional representation – the government is obliged to ensure at least 30 percent of its parliament is female – only four were filled by women under the age of 35, according to Maureen Kademaunga, campaign coordinator for the NGO, Women for Women (W4W).
With the country’s general elections scheduled for 2018, W4W is working to bring more young Zimbabwean women into the political process. With its non-partisan campaign SheVotes2018, the group aims to support young female candidates and raise awareness to mobilize young female voters.
Women & Girls spoke with Kademaunga about where women stand in Zimbabwe politics and the campaign’s goal to get more women into the rooms where decisions are made.
Women & Girls: What are the challenges young female candidates face in this or any election in Zimbabwe?
Maureen Kademaunga: Many female candidates lack confidence and find it difficult to be in public spaces without the feeling of shame, due to the perception society has about women in politics. They are seen as women of loose morals and are rarely given the respect they deserve.
Financial resources are a challenge for young women, particularly when they want to run for office and support their campaigns.
The lack of trust in young women and the priority given to older female candidates leaves aspiring young women struggling to get support.
As such, the participation of young women in politics has remained minimal, despite measures such as a quota in parliament, which has remained male-dominated.
Women & Girls: And what are the challenges that female voters face?
Kademaunga: The political process is violent, and as such is very unsafe for women. Access to information is a major stumbling block for many women, particularly those in rural areas where most poor women reside and for a long time have played a key role.
Our constitution … states every woman has “equal dignity of the person” with men and this includes equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities. But this has remained a fallacy, as women, because of socialization and how they are perceived in society, remain in the margins – even when pushing for the issues that matter to them. Women need to understand the importance of voting to their lives and how their participation is essential. They are not fully included in the voting processes, yet their votes are significant.
Women & Girls: What does the SheVotes2018 campaign hope to achieve?
Kademaunga: Focusing on women as voters, we are in the process of drafting a young women’s charter of demands, giving direction to our engagement with policymakers and politicians as we seek to achieve a free and credible election that is peaceful. [We are] organizing young women to join in the call for electoral reforms and administrative changes at the Zimbabwe Election Commission, to enhance the accessibility of registration and voting facilities to all. We have also started a forceful educational campaign to inform young women about the importance of voting.
Also, we are encouraging young female candidates to come forth and be bold enough to contest in the next election. SheVotes2018 offers technical and material support to young women, to increase their chances.
Women & Girls: What’s your view of women in politics in Zimbabwe, considering the country has more women in parliament than many other African countries? What has the country been doing right and what more needs to be done?
Kademaunga: The lack of inter-generational dialogue between young women and older women in politics has been crippling. Sometimes there is no sense in feeding into something bigger due to lack of continuity, and that can be discouraging considering the volatile nature of our politics. SheVotes is meant to change the lives of female candidates, voters and the general populace, particularly the less privileged, who are highly affected by the current political and economic crisis in Zimbabwe. As a young woman, I am fighting to make sure that the next generation of women will be able to be in public spaces without shame and can lead effectively.
As long as women are not represented in influential decision-making positions, their issues will forever be relegated. As such, we stand to fill that void and ensure old or young, we are equally represented. After all, we are the future and we start now.
This interview has been edited for length and clarity.