By Irene Kalulu
The world over, women in politics are not able to equally participate in politics as compared to their male counterparts. A few have been able to break through the various impediments that they face in politics every day and are doing their part to bridge the gender divide.
Civil society organisations play a crucial role in supporting gender equality and in promoting equal opportunities for both sexes in political decision-making.
Priscilla Maposa, the Country Manager for Gender Links said there is a need for continuous capacity building of women in politics for both those who are in office and those aspiring to be in office as this helps them to remain in touch with current political trends thereby enhancing their political work.
The political environment is always changing so there is a need for mentorship programmes. It is also ideal for senior women politicians to provide mentorship to young women, so that they are better able to understand politics.
“Currently we’re looking to twin young women and councillors so that they learn about governance processes and also strive to be in public office. There are obvious gaps in the participation and representation of women at the local level. Research highlighted that gender was not on the agenda of councils and women’s issues were not mainstreamed into policy and service delivery,” she said.
Gender Links has carried out training and capacity building programmes on various topics in partnership with the Ministry of Local Government, Ministry of Women Affairs and International Centre for Local Democracy.
A number of female councillors have grown to be Mayors and Chairpersons through their capacity building initiatives.
Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) is an organisation that was set up to advance knowledge and deepen the capacity of women who want to successfully run for public elected positions.
It equips women with the necessary skills, tools, means and confidence to successfully compete for elected positions, assume leadership roles, and promote a culture of participatory, transparent, inclusive, results oriented and accountable democratic governance ideals.
The Programmes Officer for WALPE, Esteri Magaisa said they have a variety of women leadership trainings such as the Transformative Feminist Leadership course, women’s educational programmes on the Electoral law in Zimbabwe and an annual Summer School for aspiring women leaders from different political parties.
She pointed out that women’s participation in politics is low in Zimbabwe with a higher number participating as voters, the number of women in elected leadership positions continues to dwindle.
“We identified the barriers to women’s political participation as being the male dominated model of politics that tends to undermine the value of women’s contributions and their participation, lack of party support and exclusion from decision making party structures, the dual burden and a disproportionate share of domestic work. On top of this is lack of media coverage and gender based stereotypes and bias in the media,” she said.
WALPE has since identified and trained over 5000 aspiring women leaders in various communities. They have also been able to push for the promotion of the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men as enshrined in the constitution of Zimbabwe.
Tendai Kokera, the Deputy Mayor for Kadoma, a gender champion for Kadoma and MDC Ward 6 Councillor benefited a lot in training from different organisations. She said the training helped her to achieve her ambitions and be successful in her political career.
“It hasn’t been an easy journey, some women were victimised to the extent of quitting politics and personally the training helped me to build self-confidence. Even after being victimised and called derogatory names the training helped me have a never give up mentality, I could face my challenges head on,” she said.
Some of the training that the Deputy Mayor took part in focused on leadership, self-control, suppression management, decision making and business management to mention a few.
She says that the mentorship programs have encouraged her to be assertive and she is no longer afraid to participate in any political race but has the drive to pursue all avenues open to her until she reaches her potential.
“I was that person who preferred to participate from the back in the male dominated political field but I have since realised that I can also lead from the front and actually give orders to male subordinates,” she said.
Kwekwe Mayor Angela Kasipo who has received training from Gender Links said that it is important to train and mentor women who take up political positions because most women who get into office have no idea of their roles and responsibilities.
“The biggest challenge is that as a woman you’re generally not expected to be up to the task of leading. You have to work harder to prove yourself, therefore training and mentorship programs are important,” she said.
She added that she is now more aware of the responsibilities she has as a woman councillor and woman mayor to attract other women to the field of politics.
Mayor Kasipo encouraged other women who want to venture into politics that politics needs hard work, persistence, perseverance and determination but it can be done. She said that women need to support each other and not pull each other down as men expect.
Some residents have said that they have noticed a change in how some female politicians conduct their work which can be attributed to these training programs, while some feel there is no change.
Women are believed to be transparent, compassionate and hard working leaders. They however, lack support from not only men but other women, as some women are sceptical about having women at the centre of power. Kudakwashe Zvarayi, a journalist and Kwekwe resident said that it makes a difference when women get into political power.
"At local urban or rural councils, women councillors have come out shining as some have done extremely well, but it is unfortunate that women political space is shrinking as most married women take politics casually," he said.
He went on to say that the current Kwekwe Mayor was a hard working professional who was more accessible than the previous male one. He also added that she is well able to balance and juggle between civic and party politics but was surrounded by incompetent councillors.
Another Kwekwe resident, Prisca Manyiwa said it doesn’t really make a difference whether it’s a man or a woman who is in power because the systems in place remain the same and responses to grievances that people have in communities are still attended to half-heartedly.
For Alice Moyo, who resides in Kadoma, women political leaders make a huge difference as she felt that having a woman highly placed meant that women’s issues can be better represented.
She also noted that she has seen tremendous growth in how the Deputy Mayor was now more assertive at meetings and had a general aura of confidence which she did not have before.