Women and Politics – The Untrodden Path – Breaking stereotypes

This article is a celebration and an honouring of the women who shall find themselves in the esteemed and privileged role to serve, protect and represent the people that translate into the masses in society come 30 July, 2018. It is a rude awakening from slumber and inaction for these women to fight for social justice, democracy, inclusion, equality, transformed livelihoods and a call for them to fight discrimination, subjugation, oppression, traditional and patriarchal perceptions and attitudes. It is a motivation for women to break stereotypes and cultural constructs that anchor woman in the dark and insidious colonial era that symbolises and represents in memory, experience and fact, stolen freedoms, smothered rights, drowned potential and an extinguished future.
Women in politics can be traced back as far as 51 BCE when Queen Cleopatra Vll of Egypt reigned alongside the formidable Julius Ceasar, then there was Queen Lozikheyi, the last Ndebele Queen who was described by the whites as a dangerous and intriguing woman. Mbuya Nehanda was a famous spirit medium who played the unparalleled and unchallenged role of assisting, motivating and guiding the liberation fighters in their quest for independence and freedom from the subjugation and shackles enforced by the white man. The list is endless. These women were honoured for their roles in the corridors of power as key players and forces to reckon with in terms of decision making and leadership skills.
In our time we talk of Winnie Mabikizela Mandela who held the fort together in the absence and incarceration of the Great Nelson Mandela for 27 years, of course without some hiccups, as she led in the fight against apartheid. Locally Joyce Mujuru and Jane Ngwenyu of ZANU and ZAPU respectively rose up in ranks to the position of Commanders.
Women have been fighting alongside men, heroines in their own right, deployed into the war zone equipped with weapons and ammunition that contributed to the recorded historical feats worth celebrating and archiving. These were the women who broke stereotypes, walked the untrodden path, broke and resisted societal blinkers. These are the women who flew with the eagles “pfee pamamonya ipapo”. We talk of Joyce Mujuru aka Teurai Ropa, famous for gunning down a Rhodesian helicopter.
As such these women will go down in history as having cast away traditional representations of suffering mothers and sexual possessions confined in the home and shunned in key decision making roles because of the hegemonic patriarchal and traditional constructs that results in little attention being given to gender discourses and politics. Despite the fact that Zimbabwe has focused on men and their political manoeuvrings which has resulted in the symbolic annihilation of women probably because of newsrooms that are crammed with men, there are surprisingly centres of alternative action which are apparent in the women groups such as the women’s leagues, nationalist organisations that are the strongest influential organisations where women can enjoy employing and manipulating their legitimate right of placing competent females in decision making positions. As such the question that rankles one endlessly is why for the love of all things good would women not utilize such an important position within the party to endorse women in key positions even that of the president itself? Why are the woman not pushing and shoving for inclusion given that they play a significant role of campaigning and mobilizing support for their parties, inclusion in key decision making positions that demonstrate power, real power not a silhouette of the actual power. Not morsels of inclusion by way of nomination and being forcefully shoved down people’s throats, rather it should be by way of the 50% representation that women are entitled to given that women constitute a whooping two thirds of the population, a position supported and advocated by SADC gender protocol that woman be allocated 50% of decision making positions. The protocol also championed the revision and or repeal of all gender discrimination laws. Last year’s statistics places women representation in parliament at 37%. Women in the future must demand that their quota be used and filled thus giving women the chance to lead and serve. A position which when genuinely offered and facilitated women can and will demonstrate the attributes that call for nothing less than respect, reverence and being held with high esteem and opinion than positions that do not take cognisance of one’s ability, merit, value or worth.
This brings me to the important question: how liberated are women in politics? Even as I write I can hear voices of protest, dissent, and intolerance that refuse to liberate and acknowledge the important roles empowered and emancipated women can play if they are uninterrupted in their quest to serve, protect and represent, a quest that has been in their nature for time immemorial as they served their families and held them together even in the absence of the so called “male heads of families”. Hon. Prof Hlengiwe Mklize made serious and significant remarks as Deputy Minister of Telecoms and Postal Services that the conspiracy of silence about traditional values and cultural practices which disempower women is a betrayal of the struggle for gender equality.
Women, despite demonstrating and displaying strong leadership skills and for a few exceptions, have been excluded from the highest levels of power. The exceptions that have been given the voice, the position and opportunity to rule, in their representation of women, did these women not get swallowed up by the very systems that they had to stand up to , did they not become one and the same with the patriarchal system and as such become their own enemies?
What races to mind is Opah Machinguri’s attack of Former Vice President Joyce Mujuru before her demise and fall from grace and power, and Grace Mugabe’s scathing remarks and role in felling what could have been a great icon. This fragmentation and open show of disunity and hostility amongst women in power is misguided and only serves to prove and reinforce the sexist agenda which propagates the view that women, do not like and will never support each other. Then there is Grace Mugabe who had positioned herself strategically yielding power like no other and yet overtook herself and come tumbling down with a resounding thud, “for the bigger they are the heavier they fall”. This however proved that power and gender stereotypes are indeed set aside as both men and women in positions of power have a penchant and propensity to commit crime and display power politics and games bordering on the criminal. A Tanzanian Professor, Anna Tibaijuka once said “women have tried to enter politics trying to look like men. This will not work. We have to bring our differences, our emotions, our way of seeing things, even our tears to the process!”
What stands out as undeniable is that women have found themselves in positions of power that are not backed up by a strong following of supporters. Supporters need to be wooed, persuaded and convinced by action, proven track record and admirable footprints that tell a story of capabilities, values and not just by word of mouth. Women must align themselves with existent minority groups, furthering their causes, ushering in attitude and behavioural change, being heard and making noise about those matters that are at the hearts of the people – women, children and men alike. People want to see their leaders lead by example and setting the pace. They want to see game changers that are key players in defending and lobbying for women’s rights, attaining political roles with the aim to advance democracy, empowering minorities and indigenous people, bravery and concern for various plights given the devastated economy and political oppression.
Women will not get inclusion nor will they get recognition placed for them on a silver platter. They will have to work for it and investment in maximised cooperation between women organisations and women politician will result in strengthened agenda and effective lobbying for more women to occupy decision making positions and levels and enable their visibility and increase in significant numbers in parliament.
Source: Gertrude Z Makuliyashi

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