The first weekend of August 2017 the media was awash with reports that Deputy President for MDC-T, Thokozani Khupe was assaulted in Bulawayo for boycotting the signing ceremony of the coalition agreement at the Zimbabwe grounds in Highfield Harare. It was alleged that she was assaulted by “thugs” who were sanctioned by the top party leadership. This unfortunate incident of violence and intimidation is the one single most important factor that discourages women, young and old, from participating in politics and taking up decision-making positions. If violence can be perpetrated against a female leader in the national executive of a political party, the odds are high that worse things can happen to the ordinary woman who may dare to put her names forward to challenge in the party primaries.
Some of the challenges hindering increased participation of women in politics include the patriarchal nature of our society but in spite of these challenges, there is more than ever the need to increase participation of women in decision making. Firstly, because full participation of citizens is at the cornerstone of any democracy and this can never be achieved if men continue to speak on behalf of women and secondly because women’s rights are human rights. There has been a lot of talk about increasing participation of women in decision making bodies but the approach has been tokenist at best and at worst a political strategy to manage succession within political parties. This approach has left women in politics at the mercy of dominant males and their ascendancy is mere window dressing and has become part and parcel of the patronage system. Such is the nature of politics.
At this rate the objective will remain a pipe dream and women will continue to be regarded in politics as cheer leaders, watching from the sidelines while important decisions that affect them are made by powerful men. Their issues will continue to be relegated as ‘nyaya dzemadzimai’ and not serious issues. They will continue to be viewed as participating in so far as they attend the Women’s League of their respective political parties. It is time women adopt a radical approach to the whole issue of participation and stop playing the victim card, even though they constitute 52% of the population. SO WHAT? 52% will remain a useless statistic and mean nothing in politics if it is not used strategically to better the cause of women. In politics numbers mean power and for as long as these numbers are not used strategically unfortunately the cry of victims will continue. I understand it is difficult to change the perceptions about the role of women in society because of the cultural position of women but the power to change this is in the hands of women. Recently a united women’s movement successfully lobbied for stiffer penalties for those who are convicted of rape to 60 years. That is just a demonstration of women power.
The Constitution of Zimbabwe currently guarantees 60 reserved seats for female Members of Parliament through Proportional Representation for two terms until 2023. The same Constitution guarantees equal representation of women in all public bodies and compels the state to ensure that this happens. Surely Constitutional bodies such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission must not wait for a court challenge to ensure that the constitution is upheld but must direct political parties to comply with provisions for equal representation. This power to do so is right at the disposal of women to make sure these provisions are enforced.
I have heard arguments by grown men that women lack capacity and should not occupy spaces in decision-making. Capacity is acquired and should never be used as an excuse to deny women their right of representation. Capacity issues present a chicken and egg debate and from where I am standing women must first be seen there fully represented equally with their male counterparts.
The point is simple here and perhaps an example of a radical policy decision that was adopted by government in the past and that shapes the way our economy is functioning can put the matter to rest. Government in 2000 compulsorily acquired land occupied by white commercial farmers and created a new generation of farmers with no capacity. The capacity issues that some technical experts raised are a work in progress 17 years after the land reform programme. Now there is talk of the success of command agriculture being spearheaded by a generation of black farmers who benefited from a policy decision. This is the manner in which the issues of gender parity and the success of the 50/50 debate must unfold but it requires women to demand for this.
In August 2017, Jordan banned a law that allowed rapists to escape punishment by marrying their victims. This was hot on the heels of Tunisia that repealed this law at the end of July, while Morocco overhauled its law in 2014 and Egypt repealed its law in 1999.