Women in Politics: The need to increase participation on social media
By Jabulani Gwapedza
Over the years, there has been development towards gender equality in politics. The number of women participating in politics have risen. The gender equality lobbying groups are not yet out of the woods though; there is need to lobby women who are already in politics to lead the campaign as well as draw other women into the political arena especially through the use of social media.
Though it is worth noting that there has been great change towards the participation of women in politics, women still face gender-related challenges.
A study conducted by the Media Monitoring Project Zimbabwe to examine the representation of women politicians in Zimbabwean mainstream media, both private and public, showed that gender stereotype was rife in the media when women politicians were present. This is so mainly because women are victims of family baggage, political ornaments and troublemakers.
Social media has taken over the face of communication in all walks of life and politics is no different. It has altered the communication landscape and women need to take advantage of this to push for gender equality in the political arena.
It is saddening to note that majority of politicians who have social media accounts are men and only a handful women. Digital tools can aid to give women greater political parity. Gender equality in political participation is an indispensable fundamental aspect of modern democratic governance.
To note the import of social media, an average civilian uses at least one social media platform to get in touch with global news and communicate with friends and family. To a politician, social media is a channel to diverse audience from voter to the reporters who will help spread the message.
In terms of statistics, Zimbabwe has a recognised chunk of people on social media and to be exact, as of December 2020, 30.8% Facebook, 22.63% twitter, 4,87% YouTube and 1.37 Instagram.
According to internet world stats, Zimbabwe with a population of 14 862 924 has over 8 400 00 internet users which is up to 56.5% of the population. These are good numbers which are at the disposal of women politicians to increase their participation in politics
Majority of women, currently in politics, especially in the ruling party are over 50 years, an age which suffers from techno-phobia. There is need to educate such influential populace as to the import of social media and the value of their participation.
As an example, the twitter handle for Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga has around 584 followers but has only 4 tweets, yet she joined twitter in 2014. This clearly shows the inactive state of the account. Some women politicians are not even on social media.
Young women in politics have embraced social media and are making an impact through it. An example is that of Advocate Fadzai Mahere who is the current Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Alliance National Spokesperson; she uses social media (mainly Twitter) to advance campaign, social justice as well as discussion of contemporary political issues.
She just like any other women in politics has been persecuted for exercising her right to freedom of expression. Politicians like Linda Masarira, Thokozani Khupe and Johanna Mamome have suffered cyberbullying to an extent that some actually deleted their social accounts.
Social media is not a friendly platform. Some have described it as a “pretty ugly place” due to the amount of cyber-violence users throw at politicians. Women are at the receiving end of these threats and insults and majority of them cannot stomach them let alone digest the insults.
Cyberattacks to women usually are in the form of sexual graphics, misogynistic submissions and hate speech. This should not blind women from the benefits of social media such as the large audience they can reach; there is feedback as compared to rallies and there is low cost of engagement. These benefits outweigh the downside of social media.
In the same vein of social media and political influence, the vice-president-elect Kamala Harris was able to generate over 25 million interactions through social media platforms during the campaign period. She became the first United States’ black vice-president-elect. She is a testimony of how influential social media can be.
Women politicians have to stand firm against the cyberviolence. By virtue of them holding public offices, public relations become an indispensable quality they have to bear as well as the ability to turn a blind eye and ear to negative comments.
Legally, Zimbabwe is in the process of drafting the Cyber Crime, security and Data Protection Bill, which among other things seeks to criminalize the spread of information which can cause violence, cyberbullying, harassment and spreading of racial and xenophobic material.
Though the bill has been criticised by many as a way for the government to thwart criticism, it is a progressive piece of legislation which seeks to sanitize the social media streets; enforcement thereof due to the use of ghost accounts is still questionable.
It is a piece of progressive legislation towards the participation of women in politics on social media without fear as they will be protected by the law.
In a country with more than 26 political parties, the participation of women in politics has to increase. It is statistically correct that in Zimbabwe we have more females than males, amounting to 53% of the voters: there is need to have more women in the political arena.
Female politicians need to take the issue up and champion the participation of women in politics especially through social media.
Jabulani Gwapedza writes in his own personal capacity.