Media must mobilizeparticipation of women in the next generalelections

30Jun 2020
The Guardian
Media must mobilizeparticipation of women in the next generalelections

THE Women’s Constitution Leadership and Ethics Network (Coalition) has appealed to mass media organs to participate fully in ensuring the delivery and defence of women’s rights as the nation gears towards the general elections for ward councilors,-

By Daniel Eliewaha

- members of Parliament and president towards the end of the year.

This appeal has been issued by a top representative of the coalition, Prof Ruth Meena when addressing senior journalists lately in an online meeting organized by the Women Fund Tanzania-Trust) in collaboration with the Tanzania Media Women’s Association (TAMWA).

Prof Meena said it was undisguised truth that media organs are the fourth pillar of the state in the leadership of any country and this arises from the capacity of the media to affect to a great deal the agenda of those contesting for office, during the election process.

“In relation to the participation of women in the next elections, media organs can ignore them and thus they would be grossly affected, but they can also inform the masses that women are competent in leadership, and thus get them nominated in their parties and later garner many votes when they seek endorsement by the citizens. Thus media organs are a major pillar in building participatory democracy,” she elaborated.

“Therefore it is important that media owners, editors and journalists in media organs comprehend laws that guard rights of women in elections, to lay bare gaps in those laws, and to follow up closely legal bottlenecks impeding women’s participation in the new leadership of Tanzania,” the NGO activist emphasized.

Prof Meena said the coalition carefully analysed the Union and Zanzibar constitutions as basic laws guiding other laws for instance (the law on) political parties.

They also examined in detail various laws concerning election issues in Tanzania Mainland and Zanzibar from civic polls, municipal authorities up to laws on national elections.

“We did not end there; we discussed various conventions, declarations and guidelines issued at the international level and ratified by the Union Government, in order to see what the conventions say on the rights of women politically and other issues relating to their participation in all leadership positions. To be frank this analysis has helped us to be able to raise our voices without trepidation, so we seek that media organs help us,” she further pursued.

Areas that Prof Meena highlighted as having drawbacks include, first, that the laws aren’t clear on the process of nomination in political parties. The laws are silent on demanding accountability from political parties that violate the rule on gender equality in nominating candidates to contest in various positions in elections.

Second, all contestants in the election process must be members of political parties, and must have been nominated by the concerned parties. In a context dominated by a patriarchal system in the parties and where the leadership has no inclination  to observe gender equality, this requirement impinges on women more acutely and have nowhere to speak out when they are left aside or thrown out.

Third, the law did not provide the National Electoral Commission (NEC) the saw to seek accountability from political parties which do not observe equality (and favor men all the time). In the 2015 nomination process, women contestants for parliamentary positions in political parties were 15 per cent for ACT-Wazalendo, 11 per cent for the Civic United Front (CUF), 9 per cent for CCM and 6 per cent for CHADEMA.

Fourth, the laws are silent on accessing financial support and equipment for women with governance ability but have no money, to enter in competitive campaigns that cost plenty, in order to make their case. The laws are not clear on the use of party subsidies in enabling filling gender gaps (within those parties).

For instance, where does an ordinary woman in the village obtain two million shillings which the election laws have instituted be paid if a person wants to contest for the presidency? Similarly, costs of filing a case against poll results after they have been announced are far too high for women to be able to meet them.

Fifth, provisions curbing corruption aren’t clear in relation to ‘sextortion’ in elections as is highlighted in the Anti-Corruption Act (2007) article 25. If sextortion is conducted silently and favoritism is exercised for the concerned woman who is to blame? We all know the most affected in sextortion are women and girls.

Sixth, despite that special seats are a good way of bringing women into positions of leadership, analysis has shown drawbacks. A special seats MP cannot be nominated to become Prime Minister and is not given constituency funds which would help her in her parliamentary work. Even in some parliamentary committees a special seats MP is discriminated. Again, it is not clear how parties prepare their women members to contest for representation via special seats.

Seventh, the electoral process operating under the ‘winner gets all’ principle isn’t friendly to the basic purpose of a participatory democracy. Statistical data from many countries using this system shows that reaching gender equality is difficult, especially in relation to women groups.

On account of some of these drawbacks, Prof Meena said it is the duty of media organs in this election preparation period to familiarize themselves intensely in gender issues.

The coordinator of the online meeting, Florence Majani who is TAMWA communications manager asked leaders of Women Fund Tanzania-Trust to sponsor another meeting with journalists. It will be meant for special training on gender equality, transforming patriarchal structures, women emancipation and the importance of eradicating gender-based violence and sextortion.

WFT Senior Programme Officer, Bernadetta Kafuko promised that WFT shall make an effort to be close to media organs in the period towards the general elections, so as to give correct education to the masses concerning actions that prejudice the right of a woman to be voted for.

“It will be a good thing is you have a common strategy of writing various articles and also making special radio and television programmes targeting an uplifting of women participation in the electoral process. We shall not be enthusiastic to see you have placed cartoons that vilify women or with obscene language against women contestants,” the official underlined.

Editors of several newspapers said they have pullouts featuring various news items or profiles targeting women, but when election periods come around, women contestants fail to appear and do not often cooperate in enabling information about them to be obtained. They asked the coalition to press women to stop avoiding journalists as the habit isn’t a good one.

Another editor advised the Media Council of Tanzania to follow up this matter closely and prohibit media organs use discriminatory reports during elections. It should also prohibit the use of scandalous language especially on women contestants, as well as prohibiting the use of photographs demeaning women in their newspapers.

A woman editor said that unfortunately some media organs are led by editors who are sympathetic to the patriarchal system, and these editors deliberately suppress many reports concerning women contestants from being published or broadcast. She said it was now the right time to enable the NEC to compel compliance from media organs discriminating women contestants when issuing various reports during the campaigns.

An analysis by the Women Coalition and online meeting was sponsored by WFT Executive Director Mary Rusimbi, who congratulated Prof Meena and TAMWA for proposing the meeting which she expressed the sentiment that it will have a major impact for women and the society as a whole.