|Naledi Maunganidze's campaign poster|
While youth and women voices are getting bolder and more vocal in civic spaces, it remains debatable whether that has directly translated into greater participation of these two marginalised groups in institutions of governance and decision-making.
There is a general acknowledgement among many stakeholders that gender mainstreaming and youth empowerment is a pre-requisite for sustainable socio-economic transformation.
There is realisation that for women and youths to be able to have more seats in parliament as well as in rural district and urban councils, political parties will have to revise and reorient their approach to this issue.
Over and above all, women and youths themselves need to be encouraged to cast off their apathy and become bolder in their quest for equitable representation in a country with more women than men and more youths than older people.
In the recent Chivi South Zanu PF primary elections that were conducted in preparation for a by-election to fill a parliamentary seat left vacant by the recall of former legislator Killer Zivhu, a total of nine candidates contested.
Of these contestants, two were youths – meaning those with 35 years of age or below – while one was a woman. No other political party had contacted primary elections in the constituency by the time of writing.
The winner of the contest, successful businessperson Munyaradzi Zizhou, is only 32-years of age, meaning he will be among the youngest Members of Parliament (MP) if he wins the by-election as is most likely if voting patterns in the constituency since 1980 are anything to go by.
Naledi Maunganidze, a 30-year-old woman, was the only female contestant in the race, and she put up an inspiring campaign in a contest that was dominated by men. She finished the race at number four with 723 votes against the winner’s 1 857.
After the announcement of the results, the party’s Masvingo provincial political commissar Jevas Masosota said the party was pleased by the gender and youth mainstreaming strides it made.
“In our organization of party structures, we are cognisant of the need to balance all factors including the involvement of young people and women. We acknowledge that women and youths need to have a bigger representation in the party and in government. It all begins at cell level, and I am pleased that the Chivi South primaries have been won by a youth while a young woman finished in the top four,” said Masosota.
He said there were many opportunities for greater inclusion of women and youths in the party’s structures as contained in the party’s 2018 elections manifesto.
The Zanu PF 2018 election manifesto makes a commitment to equal representation of men and women as well as the youth in all areas of leadership.
“Vigorous implementation of the 50:50 representation in key decision-making positions in both public and encouraging local authorities to set up quotas for woman in the allocation of residential, industrial and commercial space,” the manifesto asserts, and goes on to make further commitments to mainstream youth affairs in governance issues
The MDC Alliance, the political party which performed second-best in the previous harmonised elections, also makes grand promises for youth and women empowerment.
In an interview with TellZim News after winning the by-election, Zizhou said he was delighted by his victory and will work to ensure greater inclusion of young people in the party and the wider society.
“It is sweet victory for me and I thank my party for giving me, a youth, an opportunity to contest and win. I will work to ensure that more young men and women are given roles in the party and are represented more in business. We are making progress but we can all do better,” said Zizhou.
In responses to questions sent to her, Maunganidze said there were many hurdles that women and youths still faced in the political arena, adding that progress towards achieving fairer representation targets remained painfully slow.
“There has to be an accelerated gender and youth mainstreaming process at political party and government level. We might be moving in the right direction but progress is painfully slow. This country can achieve more if youths and women, who constitute the largest demographic group within the population, are accorded greater roles in governance as the constitution requires,” said Maunganidze.
Section 17 of the country’s constitution obligates the State to ‘promote full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men’, and to ensure that ‘both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level.’
When read with Section 56, this section lays the legal basis for a truly representative society which gives equal opportunities to men and women.
Youth issues are dealt with under Section 20 which requires ‘the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level’ to take ‘reasonable measures, including affirmative action programmes, to ensure that youths…have opportunities to associate and to be represented and participate in political social, economic and other spheres of life’.
The Women Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), a national women advocacy group, is convinced that for women to enjoy an equal share in politics and governance, government should quickly implement Section 56 of the constitution.
On 08 April 2017, the organization launched the #Section56 Campaign to ensure that Section 56 of the constitution, which speaks on equality of all persons, is implemented.
“We are encouraging women to take up decision-making positions but it has to begin at lower levels; in such smaller structures as School Development Committees (SDCs). We cannot hope to have more female councillors and MPs if we ignore those lower level structures that build women’s confidence,” said WCoZ Masvingo Chapter chairperson Joyce Mhungu in a recent live-streamed Facebook discussion organised by TellZim.
She said the organization’s Women Empowered for Leadership programme aimed to encourage women to work for higher positions be it at work places or in political contestation.
“We urge women not to leave anything to chance, and not to look down upon their capacity by leaving all important positions to be taken by men. The transformation that we seek has to be built from the grassroots all the way up,” said Mhungu.
With only modest, and oftentimes marginal gains being made towards greater inclusion of women and youths in decision-making processes, it remains a farfetched dream that equal representation will be achieved by the end of the current electoral cycle in 2023.
Some encouraging opportunities, however, do exist for courageous women and youths to take so that the country will have a younger, more feminine parlimanent and local governance structure come 2023.