Despite rampant allegations of voter tampering and intimidation, and low constituent confidence in the institutions responsible for enacting the vote, it's happened. Zimbabwe has voted. And with results due in five days and ballot-boxes filled peacefully and in an "orderly" fashion, according to the African Union, the process seems to have been a success. However, Morgan Tsvangirai — the opponent of Zimbabwe's 33-year President Robert Mugabe — begs to differ. From uncertainties that were rife before the vote began to observers' comments that up to a million people were prevented from voting, the candidate claims that Wednesday's poll is "null and void." This could lead to significant trouble in the days to come, considering that the country's last presidential election in 2008 was also peaceful, until it wasn't. A vast majority of the victims of violence were women, and as a potentially similar scenario begins to unfold, it seems necessary to take a critical look at women's political efficacy in Zimbabwe.
In June 2012, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCOZ) produced a "Gender Audit," in which they sought “recognition, equality, inclusion and protection” under the new constitution that was approved by Parliament in the beginning of May. Through the efforts of groups such as WCOZ, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), and the UNDP program Women In Political Support Unit (WiPSU), great strides were made in realizing the inclusion of women through the rights in the constitution. Some improvements in particular were greater equality concerning parental rights and a minimum quota in the national parliament. However, to the dismay of many gender-equality activists, the constitution does not guarantee an equal ratio for men and women in decision-making processes, and the only explicit balance of power concerning gender is at least 60 women sitting in a parliament of 210 seats and at least three women on the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. Important to note is that these are all national positions and these expectations do not trickle down to local government, where significant legislation affecting women’s lives is made.
Studies by WiPSU revealed that although “the public are very receptive to women candidates,” the same “is not the case within the political parties where women’s position is generally quite precarious.” As they highlight, in the 2008 elections only 32 of 210 seats in Parliament were filled by women. Because of this unequal representation, and lower participation in the voting process — likely influenced by increased political intimidation — women in Zimbabwe are insufficiently protected by vague laws. This reinforces the opinion that conditions for free and fair elections do not exist in the country . And while it's true that Mugabe's party ZANU-PF does have more women candidates running than ever before, their position in the party appears to be marginalized and even stifled despite the recently enacted quota laws.
So beyond the final result of counted ballots and concession speeches, this election has afforded a unique opportunity to look at those who are able to exercise agency in Zimbabwe and those who are not. And perhaps more important for many in the country is not who ends up being president, but that their demands for equality do not fall on deaf ears.