The Sunday News
Robin Muchetu, Senior Reporter
“AS a woman in politics and also living with disabilities, it is hard to manoeuvre to top positions without being abused physically and emotionally. Some people will even look down upon you for nothing, while some others will want to use the opportunity to sleep with you in the name of “’we will make it happen for you’. So if you are not sure of yourself you will be easily diverted from your vision”.
These are the heart rending sentiments shared by ZANU-PF Ward two 2 chairlady for disability, Irene Moyo, who lives with ais disability disabled and sees the day day-to to-day challenges of women like her, which hamper the participation of women in politics but is not deterred from participating actively either way.
Zimbabwe’s government recognises close to 1.5 million people living with a form of disability, which puts them at a disadvantage in the society and even worse, on the political playing field where women are vulnerable before they even register that they have a disability.
However, many of thesedisabled women with disabilities have not let their disability come into their way of realising dreams of being political actors of note.
For Mrs Moyo, who has been in active politics she said it was a personal decision to enter into the political playing field so as to champion disability rights.
“I joined politics because I wanted to speak to and enhance the political story of women with disabilities from an informed position. I have a disability and wanted to tell the world about those like me unlike waiting to be told by a person who is not in that situation,” she said in an interview.
She said many like her were vulnerable because they have been painted as people who are incomplete and taking part in politics is considered a tough terrain leaving the women disenfranchised before they even enter the race, but she has championed the cause and entered politics.
Another outstanding proportional representation Member of Parliament is Senator for Matobo South Constituency, Hon Rossy Mpofu who has not let her visual impairment deter her from political participation.
She is famous for singing and dancing at political gatherings and for being very vocal about the needs for people with disabilities.
Senator Watson Khuphe, representing persons with disability in Parliament and also the National Chairperson of the Federation of Organisations of Disabled People in Zimbabwe had this to say.
“Main stream politics does not allow, because of cultural and all those things to do with the way of life, disabled people to participate. Not only in politics but generally all social and developmental activities have not been allowing or giving people with disabilities opportunities. The whole socio set up prevents this participation,” he said.
He said in recent years there has been this slow, inclusion across the board.
“Unfortunately the pace is of a chameleon, sometimes it takes two steps ahead and then becomes stagnant and takes a step back. By the time you remind it to move, already, the dynamics will have changed and needs reorientation,” he said.
Sen Khupe said women were at a disadvantage in that generally they are an oppressed lot.
“Women are oppressed by men, same as women with disability, they are oppressed by men, oppressed because of disability then they are also oppressed by fellow women.
This has a great bearing on their participation because their capabilities are doubted from the onset,” he lamented.
One of the best sections of the Constitution, he said, was the call for women to be Senators and MPs under proportional representation.
“I hope that this situation prevails for another 10 years going forward until we gain parity between men and women who are legislators. Women must also not relax to say that even if we do not participate, we still get seats. They have to work hard, there should be a whip added to that,” he urged.
Sen Khupe said there should be a constitutional provision that for all proportional representation across the political divide, if they are 60 representing 10 provinces, meaning six women per province, at least there should be a woman with a disability.
“It must be mandatory and must not be contested on condition that the women reflect a diversification of disability. If there is a visually impaired woman in Bulawayo and Harare should have one with a physical challenge and another province with a deaf person and so on. This will ensure the various disabilities are included which will encourage those women to participate as they will feel represented,” added Sen Khupe.
There are calls to make Sign Language and Braille all inclusiveall-inclusive and compulsory for all institutions of learning to provide a well roundedwell-rounded education system for people living with disabilities which will improve their chances of participating at various levels and also in politics, effectively.
Mrs Moyo concurred with Senator Khupe saying women with disabilities are also oppressed as they cannot access vital information to do with politics if they have a visual or hearing impairments, there are serious communication barriers.
In this regard, Gender Links has started capacity building for members of the media as they seek to encourage them to positively and objectively portray women as credible and effective political leaders and participants and increase reporting on women’s political participation.
They are also educating the media of their power in setting the agenda for female participation and als also for them to be part of the solution in helping to change attitudes and perceptions by publishing stories and viral information in this regard.
Issues of access to political gathering also serve as a hindrance to women’s political participation.
“I also encourage the women to be brave enough as it is their right to participate in politics as it is their right. However, political organisations have their offices or places of meeting in inaccessible places with no lifts, it does not encourage a sign of inclusion and this makes women become sacred to access these places and cannot take part. When we look at rural areas, people are ferried to rallies and meetings, in huge trucks, how does a person with a wheelchair get in, so naturally those are the silent signs of exclusion. Women then don’t take part,” lamented Sen Khupe.
The United Nations Educational Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO) uses the phrase “leave no one behind” in its Agenda 2030 which focuses on inclusion for all. They call for raising awareness of increasing disability rights and the implementation of the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities with the hope that there will be a decrease in the link between disability and poverty.
The convention which was adopted in 2006 at the United Nations Headquarters was the work of the UN to change attitudes and also approaches to persons with disabilities by signatories.
It ensures that there is a change in viewing people living with disabilities as objects of charity, medical treatment and see them as subjects with rights but to see them people that are capable of claiming their rights and making decisions for their lives based on their free consent and also to be active members of the societies that they belong to.
The Electoral Act in Zimbabwe explicitly states that anyone can run for election without distinction on the grounds of disability so women with various disabilities are supported to freely take part in politics and are protected by the law.
The Leonard Chesire Disability Zimbabwe Trust has over the years embarked on projects aimed at improving the status of women with disabilities by offering information and training on their rights in all sectors of the economy including political participation.
Women and Law Southern Africa said women also fail to participate because there is failure to negotiate at family level to register their wish to participate in elections due to the patriarchal nature of Zimbabwean society.
“Women with disabilities said there is also a challenge of financial resources to run campaigns. Most women do not have financial power and have to rely on their political party and husbands for resources to campaign.
“Political contestation also comes with a lot of violence, you find that women are subjected to physical and also cyber violence that has been propelled by the presence of social media in the country,” said Mrs Fadzayi Traquino, the National Director of Women and Law Southern Africa.