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Women living disabilities suffer from political exclusion

by Staff Reporter
01 Apr 2022 at 09:05hrs | Views
Annie Malinga
TRAUMATIC episodes of unmitigated violence and stigma are among deterrents in mainstream political participation for women with disabilities in Zimbabwe, a development that leads to disability issues being sidelined in the national discourse.

The country on March 26 held countrywide by-elections to elect 122 councillors and 28 National Assembly representatives.
The polls were dominated by male candidates with just a handful of women partaking.

A total of 364 candidates contested local authority seats. Only 72 were women and none of them has disabilities.

Contesting in electoral processes remains an elusive dream for people with disabilities, particularly women as they find it difficult to break into the political systems.

In a 2018 Post Election Gender Survey report, the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) noted that there is a myriad of factors that hinder people with disabilities from participating in electoral processes.

The election management body states that participation of people with disability in political processes is unacceptably low with most of the parties not fielding candidates with disabilities.

Even the electoral material is disability unfriendly as they have to rely on other people to assist them cast their votes, itself a violation of their rights.

The country according to the World Bank had a population of about 14,86 million in 2020 and the World Health Organisation estimates that about 1,8 million of those have disabilities, yet the Constitution only caters for two people with disabilities in the Senate under the quota system.

A big setback of the situation is that the voice of people with disabilities is lacking in national dialogue, meaning their welfare may come as an afterthought.

For instance, a majority of infrastructure in the country, including the public transport system is disability unfriendly. This severely limits mobility for people with disabilities and makes it difficult for them to participate meaningfully in national development.

Women with disabilities said it is scary and getting increasingly difficult for them to break into political positions largely due to violence associated with electoral processes.

Annie Malinga (55) who has a disability has been active in politics since 2005 and believes that as result of her condition she is not viewed as a capable leader.

In her 17 years in politics, she has only risen to the position of secretary of the disabled and vulnerable at district level in her party, Zanu-PF.

And in most cases, that is the position that is left uncontested by the able bodied within political parties and usually filled by those with disabilities.

Malinga said little effort has been made to mainstream women with disabilities into politics.

"We have tried to contest all levels of representation from council to Members of Parliament. We feel we are ready to do anything regardless of disability.

We have a challenge with mobility, most of the times the transport system is not disability friendly and we also encounter discrimination within political parties as people think we cannot lead.

There is also the issue of political violence, sometimes, political contestations turn violent and it will be difficult to move from where there is violence to a safe place. This hinders some of us from participating in political processes," said Malinga.

On 23 June 2018, the full horror of lack of disability friendly infrastructure was brought to the fore when an explosion rocked President Mnangangwa's campaign rally at White City Stadium in Bulawayo, in a suspected assassination attempt.

The able-bodied people scurried for cover and left former Bulawayo Mayor and advisor to the President on National Disability stranded at the podium on his wheel chair.

If the podium had a ramp, he could have wheeled himself to safety. As events unfolded, he just sat there, exposed to a possible second blast that could have blown him to smithereens.

Annie Malinga said only the bold still make sacrifices and join politics in spite of the challenges of being disabled and that has been her sacrifice in staying in politics.

She said there is need for more women with disabilities to participate in electoral processes but they are further constrained by lack of economic power.

Disability in Development and Services chairperson Ms Courage Chipatiso said the first hurdle for women with disabilities in participating in electoral processes is that politics is male dominated.

"So, when we come as women with disabilities, it's already a double-edged sword. We are not accepted in the society and people do not think we can deliver in politics.

We have seen some violence within the body politic. So that violence scares away people particularly women with disabilities as they would not have any defence.

So, it will not be safe, some people may run away from the situation but it is not easy for women with disabilities. So, at the end of the day, we don't participate in politics," said Ms Chipatiso.

An example of such violence occurred in 2018 when one of the then MDC-T vice presidents Thokozani khupe and then party secretary general Douglas Mwonzora required police escort to leave party leader Morgan Tsvangirai's funeral after party members set upon them with stones and other missiles.

Ms Chipatiso said even accessing public buildings during electoral canvassing is a barrier for women with disabilities as most of the institutions are not disability sensitive.

She said only the proportional representation biased towards the disabled can lead to their inclusion in political process starting from ward level.

"Two places for people with disabilities are selected to Senate. It is far from enough because there is need for inclusivity in every aspect.

It is very necessary to have a quota system even at local authority level, to say in such a ward in this city that a person with a disability should represent those with disabilities because the pain of a shoe is felt by the one wearing it," said Ms Chipatiso.

Senator Watson Kupe, one of the two senators representing people with disabilities in Parliament said discrimination has forced people with disabilities not to participate in political leadership position.

"The main challenge is that people with disabilities are generally not recognised as first class citizens, as a result even if they join political parties, their promotion to higher structures is difficult.

The lack of recognition is what is leading some of them to avoid participating in electoral processes. When there is political violence; what happens to the blind, deaf and those who are wheel chair bound.

So, when there is political violence, you are likely to suffer during a commotion that may erupt and you might not even have any help.

So political violence is one of the issues that prevents people with disabilities from joining political parties," said Sen Kupe.

He said people with disabilities are not adequately represented and it was overwhelming for him to be one of the two people to represent them.

Sen Kupe said there is also a need for more women with disabilities to be elected in leadership position as they better appreciate women issues.

"There are Proportional Representation seats, at least in each province there should be a woman with a disability that should be elected through the quota system.

Proportional representation was introduced so that more women can participate in leadership positions. The system was set to expire in 2023 but last year the Constitution was amended by an additional 10 years. It was hoped that by 2023 we would be having many women in politics but it has not happened," said Sen Kupe.

He said Government should also take advantage of the Constitutional Amendments that allow the President to appoint seven non constituency MPs.

Sen Kupe said through the non-constituency MPs, the President can appoint a person with disability to his Cabinet who then can help guide Government on disability issues.

Source - Chronicle