Gender-sensitive Civic and Voter Education A Mandate 

gender sensitive civic and voter  education

With the Zimbabwe presidential elections fast approaching , voter and civic education are necessary to ensure that both men and women understand their rights, their political system, the contests they are being asked to decide, how and where to vote. 

For an election to be successful and democratic, voters must understand their rights and responsibilities, and must be sufficiently knowledgeable and well informed to cast ballots that are legally valid and to participate meaningfully in the voting process. Voter and civic education are even more critical in post-conflict countries, where political situations may be volatile and where elections may have an unprecedented impact on the countries’ future.· 

In a country where men continue to dominate the political spectrum, the development of gender-sensitive voter and civic information and   ensuring that all women have access to voter education is a mandate.

One such act could include the designing of training programmes on women’s participation that are targeted at men and to monitor the Government’s voter and civic education programmes to ensure that they are accessible to women and are gender-sensitive.

Thomas Mhako, a political analyst from the University of Zimbabwe said  it is crucial to     develop and disseminate comprehensive programmes of voter and civic education, starting well before each election and continuing throughout the election process whilst ensuring that the material used is accurate and politically neutral.

“For women to make a mark in the political sphere successfully. There is need to provide sufficient resources to ensure such programmes reach all citizens, especially women and  Initiate special voter and civic education programmes for target groups, including women, minorities, displaced persons, youth and others who may be less likely to vote, as well as programmes on women’s participation aimed at men”, he said.

“It even starts from basic things such as reviewing all materials to ensure they are gender-sensitive and developing gender-sensitization programmes for personnel responsible for civic and voter education. We therefore need to develop and support voter and civic education training opportunities for women”.

 Voter and civic education can be critical in enhancing women’s participation in elections, especially in Zimbabwe where elections have been scarred by conflict which ultimately has led women to not traditionally play an active role in the electoral process.

 It should therefore be accessible to women as well as to men. The information conveyed should be gender-sensitive and designed to be relevant to women. Civic education can help enhance women’s participation in elections particularly through the dissemination of positive images of women as voters, leaders, and participants in all aspects of the political process.

Marginalization Of Women In Politics Still Very Much Alive

Recent political studies have shown that women represented by a woman  are more interested and become more involved in politics and feel more skilled and effective than those represented by men. 

However, the marginalization of women by structural deformities in our cultural, social, religious and political stereotypes has somewhat caused a decline in women political participation. 

In Zimbabwe under the “new dispensation”, patriarchy, intertwined with the increase in militarized masculinities, is  believed to have produced an  exclusion with limited spaces for women as evidenced by a mere 15% of female contestants in the 26 March by-elections, a development that signals a steady decrease in women political participation as a result of entrenched stereotypes.

On a positive note, as of 2015, women in every country in the world have the right to vote; the first nation to grant female suffrage was New Zealand in 1893, and the last country was Saudi Arabia in 2015. Today, several countries are led by females and some countries, such as Finland, also have a cabinet dominated by women. These achievements have been possible in large part thanks to gender equality measures. 

Analysts have however argued that progress is slow and uneven. Women are still underrepresented in politics, parliaments and public life worldwide.

“Attitudes towards women candidates are still largely characterized by deeply ingrained stereotypes, and political opponents will often use those stereotypes to question women’s capabilities, a challenge women face time and again in politics”, said Millicent Marume, a political science student at the University of Zimbabwe.

“Although women are putting themselves forward for elections more and more, their numbers are still far behind those of men mainly because they

continue to be sidelined in decision-making processes and the stigma against them in politics is still alive and well. They continue to face structural, socioeconomic, institutional and cultural barriers”, she said.

Tackling those barriers takes effort on the part of every element of society whether it is government, civil society, the media, academia, the private sector and even men.