Covid-19 derails women’s push for equal participation in politics

By Pamenus Tuso

The Covid-19 pandemic has slowed down the push by Zimbabwean women for equal participation in politics as tight restrictions on movements of people make it difficult for them to organise. 

Zimbabwe has been under lockdown restrictions since March 31, 2020 to slow down the spread of the coronavirus. 

Gatherings of more than 50 people are prohibited and political activities such as rallies, and meetings are disallowed. 

Nomuhle Nyoni, chairperson of Women Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCZ) Bulawayo chapter, said lockdowns had derailed the organisation’s 50-50 women Parliament representation campaign.

WCZ launched the 50-50 campaign last year as part of efforts to address issues that hinder women’s participation and gender parity in Zimbabwe’s political arena.

“Covid-19 has affected the way we relate as women,” Nyoni said.

“The virtual new normal is unfortunately not friendly to women. 

“So in as far as our campaign is concerned, Covid-19 has unfortunately taken us back. 

“We have lost the momentum we had built over the years.”

She said most women were burdened with sourcing food for their families as well as caring for Covid-19 patients during lockdowns.

“During the Covid-19 lockdown, most pertinent issues such as politics were peripheral, which is very unfortunate,” Nyoni added.

“Women were unable to meet and discuss politics and other civic discourses. This has affected our mobilisation campaign.”

Tariro Gurure, an activist pushing for the rights of people living with disabilities, said the outbreak of Covid-19 had brought about new barriers for women seeking political office.

 “Because of Covid-19, women are no longer finding themselves in the right space and at the right time,” Gurure said.

 “A lot of meetings are being done online and data tariffs are very high.

“Some women also do not have smartphones. “Some do not know how social media platforms such as Zoom and WhatsApp operate. That on its own is a disadvantage.” 

The activist also lamented the ongoing recalls of MDC Alliance legislators by the Douglas Mwonzora led MDC-T and the People’s Democratic Party, which she said had affected women as well.

Since last year, the two parties have recalled nearly 50 MDC Alliance legislators and over 80 councillors from the main opposition party after the Supreme Court ruled that Nelson Chamisa’s succession of the late Morgan Tsvangirai was illegitimate. 

 “The biggest barrier has been that of the Constitution being used willy nilly where people are being recalled and then women or citizens are not being given the right to vote or to re-elect the leaders that they want,” Gurure said.

“The government says it does not have resources to conduct elections yet a few days ago the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) issued a statement indicating that voter registration has resumed.” 

Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who also doubles up as Health and Child Care minister, last year banned the holding of by-elections citing the Covid-19 outbreak. 

A fortnight ago, ZEC announced that it was resuming electoral activities such as voter registration, but the holding of by-elections remained banned. 

Gurure asked: “Why register people when there are no elections? 

“Everything should be stopped until Covid-19 is over,” she added.

Bulawayo’s councillor for Ward 17, Sikhululekile Moyo, said the ongoing online voter registration exercise will leave out a lot of women because they do not have access to online platforms.

“A lot of women will not be able to register as voters especially those in the high density suburbs and in rural areas will be disfranchised because they do not have the relevant online voter registration gadgets,” Moyo said.

“Most women are now concentrating on things which bring food on their table rather concentrating on election issues.” 

Although Zimbabwe’s has in recent years enacted laws and introduced constitutional provisions to promote gender parity in governance systems, women still struggle to win elections due to a myriad of problems that include political violence and lack of resources.

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