Women constitute the majority of the population in Zimbabwe and often make up the bulk of participants at any rally or big political event, but a new report shows very few are registering as voters.
According to a recent report on the audit of the voters' roll by the Zimbabwe Election Support Network (Zesn), few women are registered to vote while the youths who feature so prominently in violent campaigns are almost absent from the voters' roll.
The Zesn report, launched last week, was based on a sample of 102 wards out of the 1 958 used in the March 2008 harmonised elections. The sampled sections of the voters' roll indicate that few women and youths were registered as voters.
More males (52%) than females (48%) were registered as voters in 2010 while distribution by gender reveals more registered males (25%) than females (19%) in Harare province (25%), Bulawayo (17% vs 16%), and Matabeleland North (4% vs 3%).
“Such a finding is a culmination of voter registration stringent measures (like providing proof of residence), that mostly affect women due to the dominant patriarchal society, hence impinging on their active participation in such democratic processes,” reads the report
“This is an indication that more males are registered in urban areas than rural since the two provinces, Harare and Bulawayo, are mainly urban. Bulawayo is purely urban, Harare has 99% of its population residing in urban Harare and 1% in rural Harare.”
Former MDC-T Women's Assembly chairperson Lucia Matibenga blamed the low registration of women to the lack of documentation and the patriarchal system of the society.
Matibenga said: “Women struggle to get basic things like national identification and birth certificates. This hinders most of the women to go and register as one is required to bring a valid passport and national identification.
“Apart from that, the voter registration process is not user-friendly. Women are more family conscious. They cannot take the dollar they have saved to buy bread for the family or exercise books for their children to go to Chachacha (in Chipinge) to register to vote. This boils down to family level. Do we allow women to use their resources to further their interests as citizens?”
She said there was a need to motivate women to register to vote and that the process should be decentralised.
“Voter registration should be taken to the people and as closest as possible to communities so that those who can't afford to travel, especially in rural communities, can take part in the process. There should be community programmes that target women specifically, educating them on the importance of voter registration,” Matibenga said.
Zanu PF women's league has already embarked on a voter registration campaign, encouraging their members and supporters to register in preparation for the elections which are likely to be held later this year.
Last week, Zanu PF women's league secretary for information and publicity Monica Mutsvangwa told online media that the party had started a campaign for voter registration in line with the resolutions agreed at the Zanu PF annual conference in Mutare last December.
Mutsvangwa said party teams were conducting voter education and encouraging women to register ahead of the elections.
According to a report entitled Women, Politics and the Zimbabwe Crisis jointly released recently by the African Democracy Institute, International Centre for Transitional Justice, the Research Advocacy Unit and the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe, women have felt the most unsafe during elections since the year 2000.
Another concern raised by Zesn is the absence of youths between 18-30 years of age on the voters roll, with only 18% of youths registered. The report suggested that the youth had lost “active interest in participating in national elections”.
The report highlights the difficulties faced by youths in acquiring proof of residence, as one major stumbling block to voter registration.
“In some instances, youths have been denied access to registration by partisan (mostly Zanu PF) agents, on allegations of allegiance to opposition parties, especially MDC-T,” said the report.
Darlington Muyambwa, director of a youth organisation calling itself SAYWHAT, noted that youths in Zimbabwe have been “very inactive” in most national processes.
“Youths in this country have not only be inactive in voter registration, but even the constitutional process that was held last year where their participation was around 6% while they constitute about 40% of the population in Zimbabwe,” Muyambwa said.
“The problem is that there are no specific strategies that encourage engagement with young people. Young people have so many demands that include education, good jobs, food, technology and so on as they grow. If they don't see a direction in their demands they become a bit sceptical.”
Muyambwa said online voter registration and use of social networks was one way that could attract youths to vote considering their affinity to technology.
Zimbabweans living abroad have also been deprived of the vote.
Sudanese expatriates abroad were allowed to vote in the recent Southern Sudanese referendum, observers point out.