The Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) has warned and deplored the escalated hate speech and inflammatory language against women ahead of the July 30 election.
The ZGC made the call during a dialogue meeting with editors and expressed concern over the the concerted verbal attacks by political and other players on women as voters, candidates or election managers.
“While we welcome the reduction in physical violence in this election, compared to previous years and unprecedented freedom of expression across political parties, by activists and the public at large, we note with increasing concern the conscious targeting of women in hate speech, inflammatory language and cyber bullying.
“Although election campaigns in their essence include the strategy to trivialise and ridicule opponents, there appears to be convergence when it comes to lampooning women. We have noted that age-old stereotypes that blame women including for men’s choices have been revived, stoked and given currency in a manner that has taken us as a country, many decades back,” said Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe, the ZGC Chairperson.
Currently, Priscilla Chigumba, the Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) has been a victim of cyber bullying following her alleged sexual relationship with Mines Minister Winston Chitando.
The man who broke the “news” is one Edmund Kudzayi, a former Editor of Sunday Mail who was at one time arraigned before the courts for he was believed to be the shadowy social media troublemaker going by the moniker of Baba Jukwa.
Virginia Muwanigwa, the Executive Secretary of the Zimbabwe Gender Commission said while public office bearers should be expected to be of high moral standing, it was incumbent upon the society to treat women and men equally when it comes to criticism in instances where this virtue may be perceived to have been breached.
The ZGC said the psychological warfare against women has been mutually reinforced by the decrease in representation of women in political parties, based on nominations for direct election on 30 July, in stark contrast to the good will and progress that was witnessed in the last election.
While political players and their supporters are celebrating the ‘peaceful’ environment purportedly obtaining in our country, the Gender Commission said it has been monitoring and noted that, for the greater part of this year, the peace is selectively withheld from women, across and despite all other diversity. This in turn, violates the principles of equality, non-discrimination and respect for human dignity guaranteed by the constitution.
While the Constitution provides for freedom of expression, including by the media, the same section clearly outlaws: incitement to violence; hate speech and malicious injury to a person’s reputation or dignity including unwarranted breach of a person’s right to privacy.
Section 51 of the constitution states that ‘every person has inherent dignity in their private and public life, and the right to have that dignity respected and protected.’ Section 52 on personal security guarantees every person the right to bodily and psychological integrity which in (a) includes, ‘the right to freedom from all forms of violence from public or private sources.’
Further the Electoral Code of Conduct, Section 5 states that, no political party or any of its members or supporters may a) use violence, or threaten violence or incite or encourage the use of violence, against anyone on account of his or her political opinions or membership or support of a political party or participation in elections.
- b) Intimidate, or incite or encourage the intimidation, of anyone on account of his or her political opinions or membership or support of a political party or act in a way that may provoke violence or intimidation.
The commission said that those spewing hate speech may argue that it is not physical violence or that the public has a right to know, it noted the different treatment of women and men, in relation to so-called bad behaviour.
“While women have been labelled prostitutes and or accused of indulging in extra-marital affairs, allegations have been peddled as facts and the other parties to this behaviour, men, have not been treated with the same vitriol.
“Violence against women in elections is a form of gender-based violence that is intended to curtail the realisation of women’s political rights in an electoral context. This includes women’s participation as candidates, voters, activists, party supporters, observers, election workers or public officials. Women’s aspiration to participate in governance is premised on the fact that they are equal citizens, constitute 52% of the population and should therefore be allowed, not punished for demanding a fair share in democracy, elections and governance of the country.
“As the Gender Commission, we draw your attention not only to our Constitution of Zimbabwe but also to other regional and global legal frameworks that include gender equality in politics as one of the prerequisites of a ‘free, fair, peaceful and credible election’. These include the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, the AU Women’s Rights Protocol, Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and at an international level, the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, among others.”
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission was established in terms of Section 246 of the Constitution and operationalized through the Gender Commission Act of [Chapter 10:31] with an overall mandate to promote and ensure gender equality as provided for by the national Constitution.
The Constitution further mandates the Commission to receive complaints and investigate any violations of rights relating to gender equality.
The Commission targeted the media as the fourth estate which should ‘speaks truth to power’ and hold to account any citizen who goes against the Constitution.
The ZGC urged the media, all political parties, supporters and the public to desist from inflicting psychological violence on any member of society least of all, women either as voters, candidates or in election management bodies.
It encouraged the media to report fairly and analyse the electoral process in a way that better informs citizens on areas of concern.
“We believe it is also necessary for nation building that we interrogate unconstitutional treatment of women in leadership, among other groups. If there is consensus that our country needs to heal, the media has a considerable role to play in highlighting cases of violence, in all its forms.”