The Herald (Harare)

25 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Women's Vote Critical in Any Election

Whoever captures the majority of the women's vote in any election, is guaranteed the right exercise power in a democratic state. What then must be done to be accorded such a vote by women? Women are never persuaded by promises alone but by substantive deeds which yield tangible results. Politically, they look up to the establishment that has accorded them respect and fair play. A lot of men think that a quota system of affording women the same share of representation as that of men is the answer to advance the aspirations of women.

This is debatable because any token representation is just as worthless. What is important is for women to compete in an environment which is conducive for them to stand in for positions determined by merit. In Zimbabwe, the education system can be cited as an example where girls are accepted into tertiary education institutions on merit.

The A' Level points system that is required to enter universities and colleges cuts across gender considerations. In many professions today, women rise to top positions on merit. But, there are many considerations that have to be taken into account, not necessarily based on merit but on gender differences.

For example, women bear children and their role has to be protected by any government and society at large. It is important that women have to be supported in raising children. There should be government policies that take this into consideration. Education plays a very important part in raising children. Women require preschools for their children to take the burden off their shoulders while they go about fending for them.

Many governments offer facilities for pre-school children at subsidised cost. At present, these pre-schools are run by profit-making organisations that charge more than college or university education. Mothers bear the brunt of the pre-school cost. Single household earners, who are mainly women, cannot afford these high costs. Another aspect to be considered in empowering women, is that over 80 percent of hospital visits to see the sick is by women. Here, they can actually see for themselves the conditions under which the patients receive hospital care and whether Government policies on health care are working.

Social experts have reported that women's priorities can be classified as health, happiness and money. This may be their health, the health of their children and families. Better access to health care is a major issue with women when weighing their vote in any election. Health care empowers women to pursue other activities to enhance their economic prosperity.

The pursuit of happiness is a fundamental principle which governs women's daily lives. Many people are mistaken to think that happiness for women comes from marriage. But with 84 percent of marriages reported as not registered, surely, it is difficult for women to have happiness if their marriages do not give them any security.

What is required for these marriages to be registered? It is not lobola, since the Government introduced the Age of Majority Act, which allows any couple to be legally married as long as one is over 18 years old. What is required are just two witnesses to the marriage. Allow traditional Chiefs to become marriage officers just like priests and pastors.

The third most important aspect is that of money. Women require economic policies that redress the imbalances in salary or wages between men and women. This is where gender parity must be enforced. The majority of women are exploited at work places not only in terms of low salaries and wages, but suffer from work place sexual harassment.

There should be regulations, legally enforced, to prevent any forms of women humiliation at work places. It is quite commendable that the courts have taken a major role to enforce legal instruments that have given women the right to sue, especially, for maintenance if the male folk abandon their responsibilities for the upkeep of the family .

But the ownership of land by women in their own right must be enhanced. There should be equal access to the markets for their produce. But, it is sad to see women sitting on stones or on the ground selling whatever they can find in order to fend for their families.

Even those that sell from market stalls lack adequate shelter and ablution facilities. When diseases strike, women bear the brunt since they have to look after sick children and relatives. If women provide the backbone of electing any government, then, their requirements must receive priority over anything else.

It is sad that new governments that have been established after recent upheavals in North Africa, have taken away the rights afforded women by the previous autocratic regimes. In Tunisia, the previous government had abolished polygamy, only to see such policies reversed by the Islamic new rulers.

In Egypt, women are at the forefront of demonstrations against a new constitution that is oppressive of women's rights. In other countries, girls are being prevented from attending school and even vaccinations against diseases like polio, are being prevented by killing health workers.

Here in Zimbabwe, the Government is at the forefront to restore the rights of women that were trampled upon in colonial days. The Government has to do more to free women from so called cultural norms which in themselves, are another form of oppressing women.

The political and social empowerment of women must be carried out unabated.

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