The recently held the ‘Participate 2013 Regional Youth Camp’ on youth and elections in the Zimbabwean town of Kariba. This camp brought together young African representatives to dialogue, interrogate and share experiences on how youth participation in electoral processes fosters democracy and development.
The major objectives of the camp were to basically interrogate the relationship between elections and democracy and investigate the role of the youth and impact of the same on this sector of the population; through learning and sharing, to raise awareness and create a shared understanding of the nature and role of youth in elections at different levels: youth as candidates, youth as voters, youth as mobilizers and the role of other stakeholders in elections such as election management bodies, corporate sector and religious institutions: to share experiences between countries in order to establish best practices on elections and democracy in Africa as well as to investigate the role of the media in elections in order to establish its effectiveness in promoting peaceful participation of youth in electoral processes.
“Politics is not dirty, nor is it a game.” - Honorable Jessie Majome (Zimbabwe Deputy Minister of Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development)
But in all this, my point of interest became the proceedings of the very first night which notably included a talk show on Women Power, in which the panelists included Honorable Jessie Majome, the Zimbabwean Deputy Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development among other youthful panelists like Lynnet Mudewe, Maureen Kademaunga and Joan Kariuki from Zimbabwe and Kenya. What I appreciated about the panelists was not only that they were women, but the issues they brought up and fully interrogated in connection with women and their participation in electoral processes and elections.
The point of departure is that, our involvement as women is minimal but yet key: no matter how big or small our contribution is, we need to get involved. It could be being involved as candidates, voters, mobilizers or as part of election management bodies. Yes we do recognize that politics has been and is still largely dominated by the male folk, largely because of patriarchal and power reasons that have basically deemed politics a no-go area for women. But then again, politics is the very same process that drives decision making in a country and if we, as women are not getting involved, how do we expect our voices to be amplified? Who will have our best interests at heart if not us? It could be that maybe someone, somewhere deemed politics a “dirty game” to keep us away as women, who knows? Because of all the processes, how can the most important process of governance be “dirty” and be a “game?” There must be something I am missing here!
Several issues of concern were raised with regards to hindrances that exist and therefore deter women from participating in politics. Sometimes the nature of politics itself brings about volatile situations that may lead to violence and intimidation thus leaving women vulnerable and their lives endangered. It is in such situations that the “politics is a dirty game” notion further alienates women hence hindering their participation. With only two female presidents and a very few women ministers and members of parliament, African governments should be worried, and most importantly, we as women should be very, very concerned. Yes there is progress, but it is terribly slow for us. Where are our voices?
I need not to make it look like women’s participation in politics will be more significant or increase at the flip of a magic wand. No. There is more that needs to be done. Deconstructing patriarchal stereotypes must actually be at the very top of our priority list. We need to find ways that will make women believe more in themselves because in some cases there are opportunities for participation but we as women may not be competent enough to stand and grab them simply because we doubt ourselves. Yes, this has not been our field for a very, very long time, but that can be corrected and hence change for our benefit.
During the youth camp, as part of the women power group, we were tasked with coming up with resolutions that would lead to the significant participation of women in politics, specifically elections and electoral process. Among others were that, we need to design civic voter education programs that specifically target women; women within political parties and election management bodies need to be encouraged and equipped with skills to enable them to be competent enough to stand for office; there is need to investigate and advocate for more comprehensive and robust quota systems in areas with glaring gender disparities; develop or strengthen institutions to prevent and deal with political violence: there is also need to explore ways to ensure that women are able to fund their election campaigns and most importantly there is great need to educate men about the importance of gender equality so that they can appreciate that women have the same capability to be equal and key players in politics.
As Zimbabwe goes to the elections, I urge all daughters, sisters, mothers and grandmothers to go there and make that difference! It really goes a long way and I say power to you the wonderful women of Zimbabwe. I salute you!