Zimbabwe’s history is complex. As the vast majority of African nations, this country (formerly known as Rhodesia) declared independence from the United Kingdom on 11 November 1965, then renamed and finally self-governed as Zimbabwe on 18 April 1980. Currently, is placed as number 172 in the Human Development Index and has been ruled by Robert Mugabe since 1980. Eager to remain in power, international and regional organizations have constantly demanded justice for victims of intimidation and violence, especially during electoral contests which threaten his mandate.
Women make up for the 52% of the population in Zimbabwe, nonetheless, have limited access and participation in the country’s public life. In their path towards democracy, women have become targets of attacks as a result of the efforts in supporting opposition’s role during elections. As many other Zimbabweans, women fight for free, fair and credible elections that will make of their nation a real democracy. Since 2008, women have played a key role in fostering citizenship, such as the ‘Feya Feya Campaing’ an online survey that has asked Zimbabweans about their preferences and demands, as well as other activities promoted by women activists like Jenni Williams, Jestina Mukoko and Magodonga, all whom have committed to non-violence demonstrations in representation of the many Zimbabweans who suffer from systematic intimidation, physical assaults, rape, torture and imprisonments.
Mugabe was re-elected in 2008 however, a series of international efforts led by the U.S. and the EU along with international organizations emerged, heading Mugabe’s administration to a ‘new government paradigm’ in which a new constitutional referendum would take place. Even though the referendum was postponed in 2010 and 2011, it was finally voted last March 2013.
Around 95% of registered voters approved a new constitution, wherein women and girls were part of a gender equality agenda that included legal changes and affirmative actions that would benefit them in public and private environments. Women would now be guaranteed 60 out of 201 seats in Parliament, would increase their guardianship and custody rights over children minors. Yet, activists claiming political and civil rights and NGOs, have declared all these actions have been in vain for many, as women continue to be victims of inequality. Women have been charged for ‘obstruction of justice’, such as lawyer Beatrice Mtetwa, while others do not make it to the headlines and are also victims of persecution and intimidation.
Last week’s elections demonstrated that Zimbabwean women’s rights are still undermined. Reports made by Amnesty International and other organizations observing the electoral contest reported that they were forced to feign illiteracy, blindness or physical injury, which meant some other person would be marking their ballot on their behalf. Other political activists in rural areas, reported threats by Zanu-PF (Mugabe’s party), which translated into fleeing to nearby towns.
Moreover, almost a dozen women informed NGOs that they left their homes with their children as members of Zanu-PF ordered them to not vote for the opposition. Political motivated displacement against Zimbabwean women was registered in several areas and even though sexual assaults have not been registered as it happened in 2008, the situation is highly prone to occur in the upcoming days.
Zimbabwe recorded ‘assisted voters’ in high numbers, even though 90% literacy has been achieved in the country over the last decade –one of the highest in Africa. Women were the most affected by these threats and actions from groups seeking to benefit a candidate. And at the end of the day, Mugabe won the presidential poll with 61% of the vote, while opposition claims fraud along with other NGOs.
Transition and opposition are essential components of democracy, which are inarguably needed in this African nation. Additionally, the inclusion of women in all economic, social, political and cultural spheres that allows them to fulfill all their human rights accordingly. Women’s rights should be a top priority in Zimbabwe’s agenda and international pressure towards Mugabe’s administration, along with efforts made by NGOs, represent a hope for Zimbabwean women. Many have empowered themselves and will continue to participate in the country’s political and civil emancipation. Yet, media’s focus in this nation’s women will continue to play a key role in their struggle.
African development will not be achieved unless transparent and efficient governments lead its way. If Mugabe’s mandate has shown not to work efficiently in almost three decades, a new 5-year mandate is indeed highly questioned, but it also represents a significant challenge for Zimbabwean women and men.
Karol Alejandra Arámbula Carrillo – Consultant in Political and International Affairs.