Women’s Voices and Democracy

Since its inception as an informal network in 2009, WEFSA observed that after more than a decade of Zimbabwe’s socio-economic and political crisis, women continue being marginalized from access to information and full (equal) public participation. Political violence, intimidation and the manipulation of community gatherings and traditional media such as the Zimbabwe Broadcasting Services, The Herald, The Sunday Mail and Manica Post and other state subsidiary media has left many women afraid of contributing to public policy making and decision processes. As a result, women’s issues remain underrepresented and their voices continue being marginalized yet they constitute more than 50% of Zimbabwe’s total population. Besides, elected officials and local decision makers are politically polarised such that they put high value to politics of patronage; hence negatively impacting on broad-based community driven political and social accountability.

Access to information and public participation are fundamental human rights, but the politicization of community dialogues and polarisation of the Zimbabwean media, the never ending economic crisis and poverty incessantly prevent marginalized women from accessing information and participation in public decision making processes. The traditional mainstream media has only the radio being the most effective tool to send information to about 75% of women,1 but it is non-interactive; it is a one way communication tool which does not allow feedback and participation. Television and Newspapers are beyond the reach of most women. Worse still, they are confined to the elite in urban areas. Therefore, there is need for a holistic approach to amplify women’s voices; to empower them with alternative communication tools and participatory methodologies which can allow their voices to be integrated in policy decisions at local and national levels.

The recent Zimbabwean research by Mass Public Opinion Institute (MPOI) indicate that most women do not read newspapers and they often have their voices unheard due to lack of interactive communication platforms2 where their views and issues can be discussed and considered in policy issues and decision making processes. MPOI observes that 71% of women access information through community meetings compared to television, newspapers, satellite television and internet. This shows that women’s voices are far from being integrated in the mainstream public debates, policy dialogues and general communications. Therefore, WEFSA seeks to increase women’s access to information, build their capacity to participate in public issues and to link them with relevant policy makers, local decision makers and relevant government agencies which implement public policies. This will put women in a relevant position of influence in politics, society and economics starting from the local to the national level which is more sustainable.

WEFSA observes that most women are not taking advantage of alternative media tools such as mobile phones, online platforms and social media to increase their access to information and usage. Mobile phones offer a communication platform that can increase marginalised women’s access to information about human rights, democracy, health, education and general community updates. The 2011 African Mobile Observatory Report indicates that Zimbabwe has about 9 million mobile phone lines while the country has a total population of 12 million people3. This means the majority of Zimbabweans are able to access information through mobile Short Messaging Services (SMS) while many of those with internet compatible phones can have access to Whatsapp messages and social media platforms such as Facebook and Twitter. In a research by the Zimbabwe Young Women Network for Peacebuilding, 70% of their 1000 members (aged 16-30) in marginalised communities of Mashonaland Central, East and West have mobile phones and they use them for social networking and SMS. Therefore, marginalised women can be helped to exploit existing mobile technology to access information and disseminate it; facilitate information exchange among themselves and with the local and national decision makers such as local councillors, government agency representatives and parliamentarians.

The Zimbabwean politics has over the past decade cultured elected officials and government officials to put supremacy on politics of patronage over democratic accountability in communities they serve. Therefore, there is less political and social accountability in local communities which negatively impacts on both local and national governance processes. Given that women are the most silent people because of their position in the society, they are most affected. Two key vulnerability points which affect women’s voices are that (a) women generally lack political representation and power (b) women –particularly those in marginalised communities –lack capacity to influence decisions because of cultural and socio-economic patriarchal structures. Therefore, the opportunity to boost women’s confidence and help to sustain their voices in political processes and in local-to-national decision making practices is by building their capacity to communicate and linking them with bureaucratic leaders at various levels.

PROGRAM OBJECTIVES

This project aims are;

  1. To build women’s capacity to influence community democratic reforms and advancing social and political accountability through increased access to governance information and usage. This will be achieved through sensitization and training workshops of social and political accountability, democratic governance and the establishment of sustainable community engagement information groups.

  2. To improve dialogue between women and government officials, local elected officials, community stakeholders and parliamentarians. This will be achieved through creating links and facilitating dialogue meetings and public forums that involves community women and elected government official, local decision makers and government agencies at communal level.

1 Masunungure, Chingono & Ndoma et al (2012) Media and Governance Survey Report. Mass Public Opinion Institute –October 2012

2 ibid

3 Groupe Sociale Mobile Association (GSMA) (2011) African Mobile Observatory Report -2011.

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