A few weeks ago l attended a SAPES policy dialogue that questioned whether Zimbabwean women were being marginalised in politics. The answer to this was a very obvious one: yes, they were being marginalised. l decided to attend the dialogue to find out alternative views to this question and because the panel boasted of a number of influential, very opinionated and inspirational female leaders that l knew would definitely produce very rich discussions. The dialogue as expected was very heated with different views on various aspects of female marginalisation from politics. However one particular speaker’s sentiments left me exasperated. These were Zalerah Makari’s views, Member of Parliament, Epworth constituency. The crux of her presentation was anchored on the fact that the current state of affairs concerning female marginalisation in politics is largely the doing of women themselves. Some of her statements included “women have done it to themselves”, “there is antipathy of women in politics” and “we are our own enemies as women.” This phenomenon of looking down upon other women in Zimbabwe is commonly referred to as the pull her down syndrome or the PHD syndrome in short. As much as l agree that it is a factor that has affected women’s participation in politics, it is a very minor factor. However, there are much larger factors that have played a role in marginalising women in politics, some of which l am going to explain.
One such factor is the stigmatisation and stereotyping of women already in politics. They are referred to as ‘loose’ or as ‘prostitutes’ because they decide to enter a space that has long been dominated by men and known to be masculine. In addition, female MPs, specifically those on the gender quota are referred to as ‘Baccossi’, a derogatory name describing cheap goods that were handed out during the country’s 2008 hyperinflationary period. Female MPs have described the environment in Parliament as difficult as they are sometimes heckled by the male MPs when they attempt to make their contributions. All these cases have a negative effect on prospective female politician’s confidence, and discourages them from entering the political domain for fear of such stigmatisation. The men deliberately create an unfavourable environment in an attempt to discourage or keep women out. These stereotypes have been created as a way of discouraging women and victimising those already in politics.
Violence is another factor that has marginalised women. Zimbabwe’s politics has since Independence, been characterised by violence, more so for women. Examples of such cases include the sexual violence experienced by women, particularly with political links during the 2008 election period. Most recently, the Vice President of Zimbabwe’s main opposition party the MDC-T was attacked by party youths in a case of intra-party violence. In a study carried out by RAU on why middle class women do not participate in Zimbabwean politics, the number one reason cited by the respondents was violence. They preferred to stay away from politics because it guarantees their own safety and that of their own families. And so the political terrain is unfavourable to women particularly because justice is never realised for these victims of violence. The perpetrators of the 2008 violence were never prosecuted and walk scot free today while the victims still carry the trauma around.
Lack of resources are also a big impediment for women. Honourable Makari said that “a woman can choose enter politics at any time.” True as that maybe, that it only takes one decision, resources are a big stumbling block that can stop such a decision in its tracks. Standing as a candidate is an expensive process: in order to win votes, one must campaign and meet with and interact with the potential voters and convince them why they must vote for you. Many women do not have access to resources because a variety of factors including of lack of education, lack of involvment in income generating activities, and families are not financially supportive of women’s engagement in politics. As a result of the unequal distribution of resources between men and women, women are automatically marginalised.
Contrary to what Honourable Makari believes, women have not done this to themselves. There are many factors that have marginalised women from politics. Many efforts have been made legally to ensure that women are able to claim their right through the new constitution. More so efforts have been made to open up the political space to women, but, the factors mentioned pose a huge stumbling block. The common denominator amongst all these factors is that of patriarchy. The factors, including the PHD syndrome which Honourable Makari referred to are merely a manifestation of patriarchy which is nurtured by socialisation. To compliment all the effort being made at government level, there is need to focus efforts to dismantle patriarchy which is deeply rooted within our society. Only then can we fully realise and claim our constitutional rights. That, Honourable Zalerah Makari, is why Zimbabwean women are marginalised from politics.