Why Zimbabwe's Middle-Class Women Won't Enter The Political Fray

Harare – They hold top jobs, are privately-educated and are deeply dissatisfied with politicians – but some young middle-class women in Zimbabwe still don’t plan to vote.

A new study by the respected Research and Advocacy Unit in Harare paints a troubling picture of Zimbabwe’s disillusioned under-35 middle-class female population and asks: Why do these women not want to get involved in challenging a status quo that has sometimes made them scale down their dreams?

The findings of this study – titled “Very constrained and confined: The lack of middle-class young women’s voices in political discourse” – will worry those in crisis-hit Zimbabwe who are pinning their hopes on the 2018 elections bringing change. 

Put simply, elections don’t work, some of the women told researchers. ‘It’s not the people who vote that count, it’s the people who count the votes’ was a phrase that was cited. 

That’s a reference to claims from the main opposition Movement for Democratic Change that every election since 2000 has been “stolen” by President Robert Mugabe and his party. Zanu-PF denies this.


Fears of violence 

Researchers noted that some women did not vote in elections in 2013, and now do not even know where to go to get themselves on the voters’ roll. Busy and successful career women and mothers for the most part, they say they do not have “four or five days” to spend completing the registration process. (Separate reports have suggested that in some areas of Zimbabwe, would-be voters are being told there is no money to add them to the voters’ roll just yet). 

Fears of violence are a major factor that stops these women – the low-density, university-educated ‘set’ so often ignored in development discussions – participating in politics. 

Recent moves by Mugabe’s government to clamp down on social media use is even making them read and delete messages on social media rather than sharing them.

But trying to provide the basics of a ‘good life’ for one’s family amid Zimbabwe’s myriad challenges may also mean that the energy to fight for anything else just isn’t there.

Said the study: “There is a sense that as long as their families are okay with their amenities, as long as they have boreholes and water tanks, generators and inverters, their children go to good schools and there is food on the table, they will not engage.”

One woman who breaks the mould is Fadzayi Mahere, an advocate who has a growing audience on social media. 

But mostly middle-class Zimbabwean women “believe elections don’t change anything,” @RAUZW summarised in a tweet.

Said Harare-based economist Vince Musewe: “This must change.”