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Tough times ahead for women politicians

23 Mar 2017 at 06:18hrs | Views
FOR years, Zimbabwe's women in politics offered much hope for their kind, but their voices have since died down.

At such a defining moment, when the nation is preparing for watershed elections due in about 15 months, the once powerful feminine voices in the world of politics have gone silent.

These include well-known valiants such as Margaret Dongo, Priscilla Misihairambwi-Mushonga, Lucia Matibenga, Sekai Holland, Trudy Stevenson, Theresa Makone, Thokozani Khupe, Tracy Mutinhiri and Evelyn Masaiti, who have all but fizzled out of the limelight.

And former vice president Joice Mujuru's lone voice at the moment is now so muffled in controversy that it is as good as dead.

Are the women re-strategising in preparation for the 2018 elections or they have been silenced forever?

"They have been disempowered!" said Thabitha Khumalo, Member of Parliament for Bulawayo East.

"They have been pushed back to the domestic sphere, who knows they may rise or they may remain there," she added.

The harsh economic environment has rendered women, not just those in politics, but every woman, powerless.

"Because of poverty and hunger, women have practically become the breadwinners to make sure that their families do not die of hunger and, with such a scenario, they do not have time to think about politics," Khumalo said.

From the list of yesteryear notables, some have completely quit active politics. While one would have expected new names to pop up, the deafening silence is enough to guarantee anyone that the upcoming polls would once again be dominated by men.

Their male counterparts are busy consolidating their stranglehold on political power. For instance, factions in Zanu- PF are busy outwitting each other in the race to succeed President Robert Mugabe in the event that he retires from active politics.

In the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T), Morgan Tsvangirai, the party's leader, has elevated Elias Mudzuri and Nelson Chamisa as vice-presidents in a move that has been interpreted as having effectively sidelined Khupe, a long-time lieutenant of the former trade unionist. The MDC-T now has three vice presidents, including Khupe.

Tsvangirai's palace coup on Khupe seems to have shoved her out of the political limelight into which she occasionally pops out saying what at times appears to be hopeless statements.

"On the political scene, women have been immobilised and the economic environment itself is not helping. They now spend more time fending for their families," Khumalo said.

According to Khumalo, the women's political movement has disintegrated.

"We are back to 2008 and it is going to be tough for women in 2018. They do not have funds to sustain a campaign come 2018. It will be very difficult for both constituency holders and new entrants."

Zimbabwe has had one of the most sophisticated women's movements which has made significant social and political influence, beginning, historically, with the participation of women in the liberation struggle.

But as the nation heads for 2018 polls, there are several challenges militating against women such as gender-based violence, political party fissures and the limited impact the Constitution has had in advancing their cause.

Institute for Public Affairs in Zimbabwe vice-chairperson, Chipo Nyamwena-Mukonza, said gender-based violence was affecting political participation and representation by women.

"According to the 2011 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey, one in four women reported that they had experienced sexual violence, and one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence since the age 15. This is a shocking statistic, which reveals how much violence against women is a ‘normalised' scourge in the country.

"What this means is that women are unlikely to put themselves up for public leadership because of the real fear of being ridiculed and even subjected to violence. In some cases, intra-party elections across major political parties have often involved violence and the political terrain itself has been a very violent one. To date, we can remember that Zimbabwe's 2008 general election was abandoned because of violence and women have horrifying testimonies about the level of violence targeted at them," Nyamwena-Mukonza said.

The roller-coaster changes in Zanu-PF have left many wondering if the First Lady Grace Mugabe would somehow save face for the women that is if by some remote chance she becomes the next leader of the ruling party.

Her lone but aggressive voice has indeed provided some hope for women.

Former Harare South legislator, Margaret Dongo, argues that for women to win an election there is need for them to be economically empowered.

"Women need to be independent enough to make decisions and if they are empowered, they have a voice," said Dongo, the country's first woman politician to challenge vote rigging in 1995. She attributes her success in 1995 to the support she received from her mostly women supporters.

"Fighting rigging requires a lot of effort; people want to know why they are fighting for you," Dongo said.

In present day politics, women are found wanting as many of them are in power on the benevolence of their male counterparts.

"Take for example the proportional representation in Parliament. It is flawed. The female parliamentarians do not have a constituency to report to; there is no feedback that takes place, they just sit in Parliament. They play an oversight role to make up the numbers," Khumalo said.

Nyamwena-Mukonza concurred by stating that despite Zimbabwe having one of the most progressive constitutions in the world, political parties are unwilling to field women candidates.

"Thirty four percent of parliamentarians are women; that is 124 of the 350 legislators. Eighty six of these women are in the National Assembly. This figure, however, hides more than it reveals — of the 124 only 26 are directly elected and 60 are reserved seats. What this effectively means is that while the Constitution facilitates an increased participation through a ‘reserved seats' system, the political parties are generally unwilling to field women as candidates," Nyamwena- Mukonza said.

Mujuru, leader of one of the Zimbabwe People First (ZPF) factions is also making small waves on the political scene, but may have spoilt her chances by recent display of dictatorial inclinations when she fired elders of the once united opposition party.

She was, undoubtedly becoming a political brand in Zimbabwe after being touted as the natural successor of President Robert Mugabe who dismissed her from Zanu-PF and government in 2014.

Many, however, believe she needs to work on building rapport with the electorate and move away from the Zanu-PF style of politics.

Other women, such as Marcellina Chikasha and Barbra Nyagomo have also shown their interests in becoming the next president of Zimbabwe. Both are based in the United Kingdom.

Everjoice Win tweeted last month that there was need for women to re-strategise.

"We need to re-politicise our struggle/s. Too much apologising. All this niceness is not getting us very far," tweeted Win, one of Zimbabwe' feminist activists.

Source - fingaz
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