Source: Zimbabwe Independent
ZIMBABWEAN women involved in politics and civil society have warned against holding elections without creating a peaceful environment for free and fair polls. They argue that it will have disastrous consequences for them and expose the vulnerable girl child to gross human rights violations including harassment, rape and displacement.

Women, who often bear the brunt of violence in society, said the conclusion of the constitution-making process, implementation of various peace and conflict-resolution mechanisms on issues specifically affecting them contained in regional and international protocols was the only way to secure protection during elections.

Regional Integration and International Co-operation minister Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said women were the worst affected by violence in previous elections and implementation of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) was part of ways of ensuring peaceful, free and fair elections.

"That is why we are saying elections should only be held after the full implementation of the GPA, because only then can we create conditions conducive to peace," said Misihairabwi-Mushonga. "Everybody, particularly women, need protection during events like elections."

Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe chairperson Virginia Muwanigwa said women endured all sorts of human rights abuses, including sexual assault, torture and displacement in the past elections. She said that might be repeated unless measures are taken to curb the problem.

"We therefore believe that without the finalisation of the constitution-making process that will address gender concerns, we do not have the right environment for elections," said Muwanigwa. "Redress for victims of past elections, including women, is still 'work in progress', as the Organ on National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration is supposed to adopt measures which may even include reparations or at least an audience for victims," she said.

Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development deputy minister Jessie Majome said it was unhelpful to talk about elections when the environment has not changed much to ensure peaceful polls. She said ordinary people, mainly women, are the most vulnerable when election-related conflict explodes.

Majome said Zimbabwe has a history of violence and that now needs to be stopped through various measures, including domestication of international and regional protocols and resolutions on the rights of women, as well as through peaceable elections.

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