he emergence of social media has been received with mixed feelings across the globe, but one thing that became evident with time is that it plays a crucial role in connecting people and developing relationships.
But if misused, social media has the potential to do the opposite — disconnect people and destroy relationships.
In Zimbabwe, politicians — both men and women — are slowly embracing the use of various platforms such as WhatsApp, YouTube, Facebook, Twitter and Instagram to either campaign or communicate with their constituencies.
Critics have argued about the cost of acquiring the gadgets and that of data to access social media platforms.
Despite some of the shortcomings, social media can actually be used as a powerful tool for empowering women to venture into politics.
With national statistics showing a declining trend of women in politics in the past harmonised elections, social media can also be a useful tool for retaining them.
The Covid-19 pandemic has changed the way of life for people as virtual interactions are now the new norm.
Women in politics and pressure groups have attested how social media can be of great use to empowering women, albeit if used correctly.
Zvimba Rural District Council Ward 32 councillor, who is also the Zanu PF District Coordinating Committee secretary for Finance, Cde Mabel Nyadzayo, said use of social media has worked to her benefit.
“I find it easier to disseminate and receive information in the ward,” she said. “We have formed social media groups focusing on particular issues and we have found it easier to discuss issues throughout the ward. Given the lockdown environment and the general high cost of travelling, we have found this to be very convenient.”
According to the European Parliament (2013), beyond its use as a social networking tool, social media allows for the first time any individual to share content and opinions to any audience, by-passing traditional media or other modes of information transmission.
Information Communication Technology, Postal and Courier Services Minister Dr Jenfan Muswere recognises how vital the use of social media can be.
Dr Muswere said especially during the height of the Covid-19 pandemic and attendant lockdowns, social media has now emerged as the new way of life as most social activities shifted to digital platforms.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has made us realise that for the betterment of the generality of Zimbabweans, broadband connectivity is no longer a luxury, but a right,” he said.
Gender Links Zimbabwe country manager, Ms Priscilla Maposa said social media has transformed the landscape of how information is shared globally and if women harness it they can participate more politically.
“Social media is a very powerful tool that can aid women’s participation when used correctly,” she said. “At the local level, we have councillors using WhatsApp to communicate with people in their wards.
“This has helped to communicate local development initiatives and increase citizen participation.”
Ms Maposa notes that social media can be detrimental to women’s participation in politics if misused.
“There have been instances, especially on Twitter, where female politicians are bullied (cyber bullying),” she said. “Women have thus shied away from using or commenting on political issues.”
But social media has become so vital that even the major political parties in Zimbabwe are keeping abreast with this trend.
Zanu PF of late has hinted on coming up with provincial social media teams to defend the party and the Government programmes on social media following alleged campaigns by opposition elements fomenting violence while tarnishing the country’s image.
Speaking during a recent Matabeleland North Provincial Co-ordinating Committee (PCC) meeting, Zanu PF Politburo member Cde Munyaradzi Machacha said while many people were spreading misinformation about the country on social media, party members were slackening in defending the party’s programmes.
“We, therefore, should come up with provincial social media teams to articulate the party and Government policies,” he said.
“While some people would be going to the farms and others work in industries, we should also have a cyber-unit which will be involved in defending the party’s programmes on social media platforms.”
Cde Machacha acknowledges that social media has become the new battlefield for control of information.
“We have facts and statistics of what is happening on the ground,” he said. “While they send lies on social media our teams should counter that with facts and we expect each province to be doing this.”
Zanu PF has also heightened its presence on social media, effectively using platforms such as WhatsApp, Facebook and Twitter to communicate its programmes and policies.
Kadoma deputy mayor Councillor Tendai Kokera said when using social media, women should be aware that it is a double-edged sword, but can be used to positively shape the narrative of women in politics.
“Social media remains a stumbling block to women in politics, most articles that are circulated on social media are meant to degrade women, they are few developmental articles that can be circulated on social media,” she said.
“Most women end up being afraid of participating in politics due to negatives that can be circulated on social media.”
Such fears of cyber bullying are set to be a thing of the past as the Government on May 15, 2020 gazetted the Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill.
The proposed law is set to consolidate cyber related offences and provide for data protection with due regard to the Declaration of Rights under the Constitution.
This is the norm elsewhere, as regionally, countries like South Africa and Zambia have elaborate laws that promote cyber security and related critical infrastructure to combat cyber crime
Clr Nyadzayo believes that at the moment, women need to be wary of detractors and those with negative intentions on social media, but the interactive platforms remain largely convenient to them.
“The women benefit from the same advantages of faster communication,” she said. “Above all, there are more advantages to me than disadvantages of using social media.”
While social media is not for the faint-hearted as Beitbridge Ward 6 Clr Agnes Tore shares, it remains a powerful tool that they provide room for expressions and opinions where women can hear and be heard.
“Social media has sometimes reported negatively and the unverified issues go viral,” she said.
What is needed is the empowerment of women, not only those in politics, to have access to the gadgets they can use to access social media platforms.
The ultimate goal being to enable women to be empowered with information, especially if they intend to join politics, or use social media to communicate with voters and their constituencies.