Women In Presidential Race Face Long Odds

By Blessing Zulu

A trade unionist, a liberation war icon, an author and a fashion designer are running for the presidency of Zimbabwe. Regardless of whether any of them is elected, they’re already making history as the first female candidates for the country’s highest office.

Zimbabwe flag

They’re among a record-breaking 22 contenders in Monday’s presidential election, the most since the southern African nation gained independence from Britain in 1980. (A 23rd had dropped out of the race.) It’s also the first contest without former strongman Robert Mugabe on the ballot; the army dislodged him last November.

The presidential election is widely considered a toss-up between incumbent Emmerson Mnangangwa, 75, of the ruling Zanu-PF party, and Nelson Chamisa, 40, a lawyer who leads the Movement for Democratic Alliance.

Two of the women have wide name recognition as public officials. Joice Mujuru served as Mugabe’s vice president for a decade ending in 2014 and now represents the People’s Rainbow Coalition. Thokozani Khupe, the country’s first deputy prime minister, stands for the opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T).

The two others are lesser known: Melbah Dzapasi of #1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe and Violet Mariyacha of the United Democratic Movement.

‘Deep-seated inequality’

 But these and other female candidates in Zimbabwe face challenges beyond those of their male counterparts.

“Zimbabwe is still very highly patriarchal,” with political parties favoring male candidates, said Linda Masarira, spokeswoman for the MDC-T.

Nationwide, “the level of misogyny … is very sickening,” she continued in an interview earlier this week with VOA’s Zimbabwe Service. Her party’s candidate, Khupe, has endured social media insults calling her a prostitute, among other things.

A report released this week by the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, a U.S.-based nonprofit that provides technical assistance and guidance for democracies, found that “deep-seated inequality and targeted violence against women in elections (VAWIE) inhibit Zimbabwean women from taking full and equal part in this transformative moment.”

IFES found that Zimbabwe female candidates, voters and journalists “experience devastating sexual extortion, physical and sexual violence, harassment and intimidation from their bosses, colleagues, religious leaders and domestic partners in relation to the exercise of their political and civil rights.”

Source: allafrica.com

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