Zimbabwe’s election season takes its toll on women leaders

As tensions rise ahead of Zimbabwe’s 2018 harmonised election, levels of misogyny threaten the participation of women in what will historically go down as the first election without Robert Mugabe.

Zimbabweans in and across the boarders are keenly awaiting the rebirth of a ‘new Zimbabwe.’ Undoubtedly this election that has the world holding its breath.

Despite hope for a rebirth, Zimbabwe has remained stagnant in its recognition of women as equal citizens. The country remains a highly patriarchal society despite it being ranked among ten of Africa’s highly literate countries

Amidst the brewing dispute over the printing and design of the presidential election ballot paper, Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba has taken centre stage. It is alleged that she has a bias towards the ruling Zanu PF party, and that this has had an influence of the design of the presidential ballot paper , which will assist Emmerson Mnangagwa win the election by hook or crook.

She, as an individual, has been a target of two demonstrations by the main opposition party, the Movement for Democratic Change(MDC) Alliance. The last demonstration held on 11 July, 2018, and backed by the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions was marred by the chants, ‘Hure’ (Prostitute) directed at Justice Chigumba.

In the past few days there has been an escalation of attacks on on social media, on the person of Chigumba. These attacks have been mostly focussed on her alleged private sexual relations with a top government official. This, however, has not come as a surprise. Over the years, women in top political leadership positions have been labelled ‘hure’ in order to deligitimise them in a society where expectations of womens ‘conduct’ is still influenced by patriarchy.

In Zimbabwe’s political terrain, slut shaming and sexism are tools used to rubbish female leaders. Zimbabwean women who have managed to break the political glass ceilings are assigned derogatory labels as a culture. Whenever a woman assumes a powerful position, her rise to power is questioned and often, with assumptions that she ‘slept’ her way to the top.

The Zimbabwean political landscape remains a men’s playground as a number of barriers continue to force women to shy away from politics or public institutions. In the case of elections, women fear having their private lives dissected and/or being stripped of their dignity. Justice Chigumba is one of the few that have dared to dream and she is paying the price, as she faces the pressure to resign.

Ideally, what a public official does in the private space should have no bearing on how they perform their duties. It, in my opinion, has also been easier to target Justice Chigumba, because of her gender. It is rare for men to experience the same ‘ferocious’ attacks.

Zimbabweans, see no issue with treating women as objects of ridicule as they undermine their leadership capabilities. Even after surpassing the meritocracy and competency benchmarks of leadership, women continue to be treated unfairly, when in positions of influence.

However, Chigumba is not the only victim of the silly season. Former Deputy Prime Minister, and Vice President of the MDC, Thokozani Khupe has suffered the same indignity.Khupe was labelled a prostitute for standing up to Nelson Chamisa, in a leadership wrangle that followed the death of the party president, Morgan Tsvangirayi.

Four years ago, Former Vice President, Joice Mujuru was called a “whore, deviant and immoral woman” by the late George Rutanhire when she was being thrown out of Zanu PF in 2014.

Similarly, newer entrants in the political arena, Fadzayi Mahere (MT Pleasant), Vimbai Musvaburi (Bulawayo Central) and Linda Masarira (Harare Central Constituency), are often harassed and insulted on social media and are reminded that they are not married.

Sadly, women have also been known to hurl the same insults at each other. Former First lady, Grace Mugabe, unleashed a shocker when she called  Joice Mujuru, Queen Bee and accused her of being incompetent, corrupt and sleeping around with men at a campaign rally in Buhera in February 2017. She also maintained allegations that Mujuru was involved in witchcraft and was trying to kill President Mugabe.

On social media there are also similar incidences. A Facebook account, Irene Yeu Chamisa on Facebook, offered to ‘lend’ Masarira a husband if she won the forthcoming elections.

Some women have evidently continued to be agents of patrirachy in Zimbabwean politics. They will pull each other down for the benefit of their male counterparts.

Patriarchy remains deeply rooted in Zimbabwe’s political space. Women should work together in order to foster a culture of respect and equality in especially the political sphere. In my opinion, a starting point is that women should embrace fellow women in leadership. This would be a significant move in shaking the patriarchal roots of Zimbabwean politics which has kept it male dominated.

About the author:

Mateline Tsama is Programmes Assistant at Gender and Media Connect.The opinion or views expressed on this platform are those of the contributing Authors or organisation . They do not necessarily reflect the views and policies or the position of Gender and Media Connect.