Nduduzo Tshuma, Political Editor
WITH a baby strapped on her back, Silibaziso Phiri (not her real name) from Bulilima District in Matabeleland South Province prepares a meal for her daughter who is writing her Ordinary Level examinations at a local school.
Her wish is for her daughter not to follow the path she took but to chart a path that will lead her to prosperity.
“I want my daughter to one day stand for political office and become known all over the world,” she says.
“This was my wish but many things happened and stood in the way of my dream. I got married at a young age and had a child. My husband was not interested in me continuing with my studies after I gave birth. He said I was a house wife and should concentrate on domestic chores,” she says as her voice almost chokes with grief.
“He is the breadwinner, everything we own is in his name so there is not much I can do but listen, now my daughter represents all those dreams and more, I want her to prosper in life.”
The story of Silibaziso represents a number of disenfranchised women in the country whose dreams of political participation were shattered by lack of a support structure but more importantly a lack of resources to make an independent decision of pursuing her dreams.
“I feel that there are a few women in leadership positions due to a number of issues that include lack of finances,” she adds.
A number of studies confirm Silibaziso’s predicament as Zimbabwe, Africa and the globe, despite adopting a number of international, regional and domestic instruments, women political participation still lags behind and part of the reasons have to do with finances.
A paper titled “Engendering politics and parliamentary representation in Zimbabwe” by Thulani Dube published in the Journal of African Studies and Development says on top of many other factors hampering women political participation is the economic aspect.
“Many women generally tend to be poor due to a variety of socio-cultural factors. The women that may be wealthy usually have access to that wealth through their husbands. This means that they are either prevented from campaigning for political positions by poverty, or when they do have the money, they may be stopped by the husband,” reads the paper.
According to the Inter Parliamentary Union report on women in politics for 2020, Spain has the highest number of women in ministerial positions at 66,7 percent while Rwanda is ranked number 8 in the world and one in Africa with 53,6 percent followed by South Africa at 48,3 percent while Zimbabwe is at 20,8 percent.
In the same report, Rwanda leads in terms of women representation in parliament with 61,3 percent while South Africa is number two in Africa with 46,3 percent while Zimbabwe is at 31,9 percent.
An article published in the African Portal titled, “Rethinking women’s political participation in Zimbabwe’s elections,” provides the following statistics on the Zimbabwean 2018 elections:
“Out of the 47 political parties that fielded candidates in the National Assembly, only 27 fielded at least one-woman candidate. Approximately 15 percent (243) of 1 652 candidates contesting in the National Assembly are female and 146 women out of 290 candidates are contesting for senate. For local authority positions, 40 political parties fielded candidates, 12 of which fielded men only. 17 percent are women and 83 percent are men out of the total 6796 candidates.”
This is despite the fact that Zimbabwe’s constitution in particular Article 17 (1) stipulates that the State must ensure that women should participate in all spheres of society on the basis of equality to men.
The National Gender Policy adopted in 2013 as a development of its predecessor adopted in 2004 dedicates to create a fair society where all citizens enjoy equality of opportunities and participation in all sectors.
However, in the Constitution adopted in 2013, provisions were made under 124 (1) (b) that provide for an additional sixty women members, six from each of the provinces into which Zimbabwe is divided, elected through a system of proportional representation.
The country is also party to international protocols like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action (BDPA).
On a regional level, the country is signatory to the Sadc Gender and Development Declaration.
As a member of the United Nations, Zimbabwe was initially guided by the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), which expired in 2015, in particular MDG 3 which envisaged an increase in the proportion of seats held by women in national parliaments. After the expiry of the MDGs, Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) were adopted to run up to 2030 and SDG 5 seeks to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.
The low numbers of women participation due to finances also worries the Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Minister, Dr Sithembiso Nyoni and her deputy Jennifer Mhlanga.
Deputy Minister Mhlanga however, says the President Mnangagwa-led Government has initiated a number of programmes mostly run by her ministry under Vision 2030 to empower women by an inclusive approach to development that would boost their confidence to take part in political affairs.
“We know with that kind of support from the highest office, women can begin to be empowered and ultimately participate in political processes with a financial muscle,” she says. Following the 2018 national polls, the President Mnangagwa-led Government outlined Vision 2030 whose agenda is to achieve an upper middle-income economy by 2030.
The Vision 2030 have found expression in Government policy blue prints adopted in the form of the Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) in October 2018 that, at its lapse in December 2020, was succeeded by the national Development Strategy 1 that will elapse in 2025.
Under the blueprints, the Government has initiated a number of women empowerment programmes superintended by the Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development with support from the national fiscus.
Presenting the 2021 budget Finance Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube expressed Government’s commitment to empowering the disadvantaged and marginalised members of the society. He said in support of the empowerment drive and a more inclusive society, Government set aside resources equivalent to US$37,5 million for the benefit of women and US$37,5 million for youth entrepreneurs, as well as another US$37,5 million for war veterans, all through the National Venture Fund.
“The objectives of the National Venture Fund are to encourage entrepreneurship by youth and women, and to help start-ups to grow, generate new employment opportunities and this will stimulate economic growth,” said Prof Ncube as he presented the 2021 budget.
“Government has made progress in operationalising the Fund, having created National Venture Capital Company responsible for taking equity in the investee companies. Guidelines are being finalised for operationalising the company.”
Prof Ncube also said youths and women will be primary empowerment and job creation targets, “in as much as they are the majority who make an important contribution as productive workers, entrepreneurs, consumers, and agents of change.”
In support of this sector, Prof Ncube said Government disbursed a total of over $77 million by end of September 2020 and these funds were channelled through local empowerment financial institutions such as Women Development Fund, Community Development Fund, Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank, Empower Bank and Small and Medium Enterprises Development Corporation (SMEDCO), benefiting a total of 6 763 micro, small and medium enterprises (SMEs).
He said the 2021 Budget further allocated $1 billion for the capitalisation of the above respective empowerment entities in order to support SMEs in their operations.
Overall, Prof Ncube said, the 2021 Budget is allocating $2,2 billion to the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development.
Gender activist Mrs Sibusisiwe Bhebhe says society has tended to give more attention to the financially resourced whom they prefer on the belief that they can be trusted.
“A lot of women do not have that kind of capital and therefore will not be able to confidently stand in front of a crowd and claim that they will be able to run public funds or manage public finance without them having something to show for their own financial success in their own lives,” she said.
Mrs Bhebhe said the empowerment programmes should therefore be all inclusive.
“The programmes are supposed to give women confidence and build financial stability to an extent that they see themselves to participate in civil and political processes,” she said.
Economic analyst Mr Roderick Mashoko said the Government has taken great strides towards the empowerment of women but more should be done.
“Also, more workshops and awareness campaigns should be done. Most women don’t know that these initiatives are there, they need to be made aware “wholeheartedly.” Our leaders should walk the talk and put politics aside when it comes to developmental issues,” he said.
Deputy Minister Mhlanga said the Government, through her ministry, has embarked on massive empowerment programmes to emancipate women.
She said the Ministry runs an array of programmes through various departments which tackle a number of issues including gender mainstreaming, the Women’s Bank, Women Development Fund wholly funded by the Government spread out through ten provinces, SMEDCO and SMEs towards the empowerment of women.
She said her ministry was also pushing for programmes across sectors where women get the necessary support and training.
Deputy Minister Mhlanga said the Government has come up with pieces of legislation that support women participation in politics and Governance by bringing in the 60 women quota and 50/50 representation.
However, she said, this is still to be aligned to acts of Parliament so that they become of law so that it is binding to both the political parties, to Government and also agencies in Ministries.
She said the Women’s Bank, for example, has been able “to go to the very grassroot of Women to finance their projects be it micro, small or medium and as well as looking at a few corporates but in essence the bank is catering for those that have been left out of financial inclusion. Women political participation is a worry to the Ministry, Dr Nyoni is equally distraught.
“We believe that if we can nurture women politicians at the local level, start off with any committee that is being constituted, be it at the village level, ward level, be it at local authorities, the performance of women’s numbers in the last plebiscite was very low so we are talking in terms of nurturing that councillor, the woman who comes into the governance of local authorities by building up that mass, if we can get as many women councillors or if we can achieve the 50/50 in terms of women councillors in local authorities it means, yes the financial resources are needed but we have given enough push to this structure which we can then use as a massive structure of representation at local authorities to be able to build on as we look at the legislative chambers be it in the National Assembly or in the Senate,” said Deputy Minister Mhlanga.
“We also don’t leave out the fact that if we can get more representation, 50/50 in the sphere of permanent secretaries, chief executive officers, parastatals etc. We feel that if we can also bring in the factor of building capacities for women at ward level, we would have done ourselves just in terms of looking at them coming to Parliament.”
Further, Deputy Minister Mhlanga said there could be need to look at an empowerment model that will be relevant to the Zimbabwean context as happened in the United States where Harvard University developed one tailormade for that country.
She said through the Gender Commission, the push for a 50/50 gender balance would promote women in political participation.
Minister Mhlanga said the Ministry was also working with some partners to reduce cases of Gender based violence to allow women to participate in social, economic and political spheres.
“We also want to say that, our women can also come together, Dr Nyoni is keen on getting us launching women clubs. These are very important structures for women at a local level, men go to bars, that is where they discuss and form partnerships, we want to revive the clubs that is where they can give each other strength, hand hold each other and find role models,” said Deputy Minister Mhlanga.