The 31st July 2013 election in Zimbabwe is set to be the first election under the new constitution approved by a national referendum in March 2013 and signed into law later in May 2013.

The referendum is said to have been highly dominated by great numbers of young women[i] thus setting up the increase in the number of secured parliament seats for women, a move that was made to encourage the participation of women not only in the parliament but also in the voting process. According to the Women's coalition movement, the 'Yes' vote and thus the passing of the new Constitution was a great step towards equality as it saw the approval of 75% of the demands made by the group for the advancement of women's rights, in particular concerning land ownership.[ii]

This election follows the March and May 2008 presidential and parliamentary elections that were characterized by allegations of election rigging[iii], voter intimidation and  politically motivated violence. There were also reported human rights violations, including torture, beatings, mutilations, and rape perpetrated against leaders and supporters of the opposition.[iv] In particular, the last elections also evidenced a dramatic increase in experiences of violence against women, measured at 62% as compared to 9% in 2000 and 1% in 1996.[v] The increase was similarly observed in the feeling of unsafety, 52% feeling extremely unsafe as opposed to 5% in 2000.

Much of the violence is said to have been stopped after the formation of the coalition government in September 2008 marked by the signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) by President Mugabe and both heads of the MDC factions, Morgan Tsvangirai and Arthur Mutambara that was brokered by the SADC Facilitation team under President Jacob Zuma of South Africa. However, some reports indicate that human rights violations continued even after the signing of the GPA.

An important point to note is that, the role of women and their protection against violence was seen to have an important seat in the SADC Facilitation team; among the recommendations made were that the state should ensure full security of women and girls during election periods and end impunity and to promote adequate and continuous voter education targeted more specifically at women.[vi]

As the election date nears, news sources have already been plagued by concerns over inadequacies in election organization[vii] as well as the 'free and fair' nature of the elections, concerns shared by both national, regional and international personalities.

Presidential Elections

The upcoming elections are expected to feature 5 presidential candidates; Robert Mugabe under ZANU-PF, Welshman Ncube with MDC, Morgan Tsvangirai who was the prime minister under the former power-sharing government who is running under MDC-T, Dumiso Dabengwa- ZAPU and Kisnot Mukwazhi, ZDP.  Notably, there are no female candidates in the running for the upcoming elections, although it is not for lack of trying; business woman Ms Irene Bete had submitted an application as the only female challenger in a pool of 28 men, she however did not qualify into the final running. She takes her part in history as the third woman ever to attempt to run in Zimbabwe presidential elections after Zimbabwe Union of Democrats’ founder Margaret Dongo and the late Isabel Madangure of People’s Democratic Party (ZPDP).[viii]

Parliamentary elections

History of women in politics

Since independence in 1980, equality in political participation of women has been an ongoing struggle; the percentage of women in parliament has always and still is lagging behind men. With an exception of the 2005 elections, the participation of women has never reached the 30% quota espoused in the SADC Declaration on Gender and Development that the target by 2005[ix]; and since then, it has been revised to 50%, a figure Zimbabwe is far from achieving.




Margaret Dongo: the first Zimbabwean woman to run for Zimbabwean President (in the 1990 elections after forming Zimbabwe Union of Democratic People party)



Women participation

“Only a woman in parliament is capable of changing the life of another woman.” Member of parliament and chairperson of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus Beatrice Nyamupinga[x]

These coming elections, maybe more than past ones, carry a great significance to the position and rights of women especially with those pertaining to land ownership for widows who currently face harassment and lack of support from the police.[xi] Even though the Zimbabwe Administration of Estates Act No. 6 of 1997 stipulates that if a spouse dies without a will, the surviving partner inherits their immovable property[xii] the customary leaders still apply the customs that were present before the enactment of the law; land is only allocated to males in the family and when the male spouse dies, the wife is frequently required to vacate the land in the interest of the late husband's family; losing not only her right to the land itself, but also in most cases a chance to earn a living- in a country where '86 percent of the country’s women earn a living farming communal land allocated to their husbands by traditional chiefs'.[xiii]

So in an election where a lot seems to ride on the political participation of women to push for more mechanisms to counter the discriminatory customs being applied, women have already explicitly criticised political parties' hollow commitment to equal representation of women.[xiv]

According to the newly reformed constitution, it provided that for the life of the first two parliaments, there should be an additional 6 women from each of the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe on a proportional representation (PR) basis, making a total of 60 additional seats for women in the parliament out of the 270; guaranteeing an 18% of the seats for women (Article 124).[xv]

It should be noted that the PR provision only applies to parliamentary seats and not to local government; for these positions, a more general Article 17b applies which calls for "both genders" to be "equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level".[xvi] This directly hinders any real change since it is the local government councilors who are the closest to the citizens putting them at a better position to instigate changes in issues that affect women's daily lives.

Even at the parliamentary level, the quota system poses a challenge. There have been claims that due to the assured 60 seats, women have been restricted from running for the constituent seats[xvii], making it hard for them to be direct representatives of constituencies and therefore literal representatives of the people.



It is a fact that these elections carry a great deal of importance for the Zimbabwean Government and its ability to hold free and fair elections while respecting human rights, including the possible lift of sanctions by the EU.[xviii] On the women's rights front, this is another chance for Zimbabwe to redeem itself in its observance and respect for women's rights and protection against violence, particularly politically motivated violence faced by women that has experienced a concerning increase since 2000. Assurance in this area would not only mean that more women are participating in the voting process but also could potentially see more women elected into power and advocating for even more participation of women in the lower levels of government. This would not only be in line with Zimbabwe's international commitments but also its own national goal to ensure equality of women by 2015 under its new constitution.[xix]


Women Political Participation Statistics


Women’s Political Representation

As of 2008

As of 2013

Female members of parliament(House of Assembly)



Female Members of Senate





[v]  Reeler, A P. (2011) Zimbabwe Women and Their Participation in Elections, Research and Advocacy Institute

[vi]  Reeler, A P. (2011) Zimbabwe Women and Their Participation in Elections, Research and Advocacy Institute at page 9

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