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Zimbabwe: African Rights Commission Flags Violence Against Women Ahead of 2023 Harmonised Elections

THE African Commission on Human and People’s Rights (ACHPR) has raised concern over reports of alleged rising political tension and cases resulting in physical and cyber-attacks targeting voters and political activists, particularly women.

ACHPR, through its Country Rapporteur for Zimbabwe, and Special Rapporteur on the Rights of Women in Africa, Honourable Commissioner Janet Ramatoulie Sallah-Njie, is monitoring human rights issues related to electoral processes in the country, in accordance with its dual mandate of protecting and promoting human and peoples’ rights.

In a statement issued Tuesday titled “Women’s Political Participation in the Run-Up to August 2023 Presidential Elections in Zimbabwe”, the continental body said although there have been strides to promote gender balance in politics, the prevailing situation prevented full participation of female politicians.

“The ACHPR commends the ongoing preparations aimed at ensuring that the national elections scheduled for 23rd August 2023 are conducted in a manner that is free, fair, and credible.

“Additionally, the ACHPR acknowledges the enthusiasm demonstrated by the electorate, especially women, in exercising their right to participate in the electoral process and thus contributing their voice in determining the future of their country and upholding a truly democratic society.

“The ACHPR, however, expresses deep concern over reports of alleged escalating political tension and incidents that have resulted in offline and online attacks targeting voters and members of political parties, with a particular focus on women,” the commission noted.

The ACHPR said it noted allegations of persistent online violence targeting women, often stem from offline violence, and in many instances, escalate to physical harm.

“To safeguard the women who bravely express their political views despite facing continuous challenges both online and offline, the Government of Zimbabwe should endeavour to strengthen its efforts in combating hate speech and harmful content, that fuel animosity and incite violence against women in politics.

“ACHPR emphasizes the importance of safeguarding the online space to ensure women’s active participation in the political sphere without facing attacks. By doing so, we encourage women to continue being an integral part of the digital world.

“ACHPR also received reports about women allegedly experiencing gender-based violence and discrimination due to their own affiliation or that of their relatives with opposition political parties.

“This distressing situation not only jeopardizes the lives and well-being of these women but also poses a significant threat to the credibility of the election and the democratic values within the country.”

Of the 12 presidential candidates, there is only one female while there has been a significant reduction of women parliamentary and councillor aspirants from 14% to 10% in 2018 and 2023, respectively.

The commission emphasised that such recent events and the growing concerns regarding women’s treatment during the ongoing election process may undermine unwavering commitment to promoting gender equality and safeguarding women’s rights in political spheres.

The ACHPR recognizes that the alleged acts committed against members of political parties, especially women, represent a significant violation of the rights and freedoms protected by various regional human rights instruments adopted under the auspices of the African Union (AU).

The ACHPR also appealed to supporters of political parties, urging them to abstain from using or spreading inciteful expressions that could lead to attacks or discrimination against individuals or groups, based solely on their affiliation with a particular political party, thus creating a respectful and tolerant political climate.

Government has been urged to uphold principles enshrined in Article 13 of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (the African Charter) that guarantees right of every citizen to participate freely in the government of his country, either directly or through freely chosen representatives in accordance with provisions of the law.

Among other instruments, Zimbabwe should also observe the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (the Maputo Protocol) in Article 19 obliges States Parties to “take specific positive action to promote participative governance and the equal participation of women in the political life of their countries through affirmative action, enabling national legislation and other measures to ensure the equal participation and representation of women in electoral process.”

“The ACHPR seizes this opportunity to remind the Government of Zimbabwe to uphold its obligations under the aforementioned instruments, recognizing and guaranteeing the rights of all citizens to freely participate in the political sphere of the country.