Around the world, LGBTQI+ individuals are discriminated against and prevented from safely attaining their full rights as citizens. In Zimbabwe, pronounced criminalization and discrimination of the LGBTQI+ community has cultivated an environment of fear, exclusion and stigma that impedes their civic participation. NDI, through USAID-funding, is supporting the LGBTQI+ community to meaningfully participate in the 2023 Zimbabwe election process.
How the coalition was formed
In March 2021, NDI convened 13 LGBTQI+ organizations to explore strategies for more effective advocacy. The meetings highlighted the opportunity to create safer spaces for reflection, discussion and policy issue identification on topics that are unfamiliar for many of the LBGTQI+ groups that have historically suffered unmitigated exclusion from electoral and political participation.
A number of the organizations initially expressed fear around engaging in electoral reform work. In response, their representatives decided that coalition membership and proceedings would not be made public. Groups that felt they could advocate openly and securely would do so on behalf of the coalition, allowing those without the same level of security to work behind the scenes.
After a series of discussions, all 13 organizations agreed to participate and launch the first-ever LGBTQI+ Electoral Reform Coalition in Zimbabwe to coordinate and deepen their efforts. Coalition members now meet regularly to discuss what the LGBTQI+ voice and vote mean in Zimbabwe and undertake advocacy planning on electoral reform.
Musa Sibindi is the director of the Sexual Rights Centre (SRC), an organization that works to advance and promote the access, voice, agency, and empowerment of marginalized and vulnerable communities in Zimbabwe. Sibindi explains, “the coalition will provide a safe space for dialogue, critical reflection and engagement. It will facilitate collective action to address the specific needs of the historically marginalized LGBTQI+ community. This is a groundbreaking step that we hope will contribute to social transformation and systemic change to the lives of LGBTQI+ [individuals].”
Priorities ahead of 2023
Following the successful launch, the coalition is now focused on advancing the rights and opportunities for LGBTQI+ persons to participate in the next election both as voters and candidates. The coalition has lined up a series of campaigns to educate and engage voters to support LGBTQI+ aspirants, and to identify and train LGBTQI+ persons interested in running for elected office.
Musa Sibindi explains, “meaningful political participation for us entails safe spaces that facilitate voting by all persons; being allowed to access national identity documents with gender matching markers that will allow greater participation in political processes; and ultimately being afforded equal opportunity to contest for elective offices.”
Regarding the issue of discrimination of LGBTQI+ individuals running for office, Sibindi notes, “there is fear that their gender identity and sexual orientation may be used to discredit LGBTQI+ candidates. “During election campaigns we witnessed a lot of hate speech and homophobic attacks against the community and women making the general public feel unsafe. Having an LGBTQI+ person run for office would instill confidence in community members in the electoral system being open and inclusive of everyone.”
The commitment from the LGBTQI+ groups and their leaders so far has been astounding. Moving forward, NDI will support the LGBTQI+ coalition and its members to develop and implement an advocacy roadmap to expand and realize more pronounced and visible political participation of the LGBTQI+ community in the run up to Zimbabwe’s 2023 elections.
NDI’s programming in Zimbabwe is made possible by the support of the American people through the United States Agency for International Development (USAID).
Authors: Tinashe Mundawarara, Senior Program Officer, NDI-Zimbabwe, with contributions from Musa Sibindi, Director of the Sexual Rights Centre
NDI is a non-profit, non-partisan, non-governmental organization that works in partnership around the world to strengthen and safeguard democratic institutions, processes, norms and values to secure a better quality of life for all. NDI envisions a world where democracy and freedom prevail, with dignity for all.