Viva sisters in Parliament!

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I was part of a discussion last week, where people were looking at the power dynamics in Zimbabwe. You know that type of discussion where everyone gives their view on who they think has the power and influence to transform the status quo.

Somehow, the discussion then drifted towards women’s representation in Parliament and how women need to up their game and participate.

I got a bit uncomfortable, as it was clear that the discussion was beginning to occupy the usual stereotypical, ignorant-of-women’s-lived-realities kind of zone. I did my best to contribute, but eventually realised I was wasting time, as the people who were part of this discussion were clearly out to establish their notion of how women are the ones to blame for whatever lived realities their respective constituencies experience.

Well, it is a good thing to hold leaders accountable, that is a given. My challenge was the direct attack on women parliamentarians without an appreciation of these women’s operating environments and what they have had to go through to get to where they are. Let us take a brief walk and see leadership in politics through the eyes of these daring, brave and phenomenal sisters.

The journey starts with a desire to run for a post in one’s political party. A notion, in itself, considered to go against the status quo because a “good woman” does not even dare dream to become part of political spaces. Pathetic! Some have even lost their friends and family because of their choice to join the partisan political spaces. When a woman makes a choice to run for office and becomes a candidate, this does not mean that her job is done. She has to stand for primary elections, in some instances, within her party so that they establish a candidate for the respective election. Sometimes, there is a system of some sort to select the “rightful candidate” to eventually run for election.

Sithembiso Nyoni MP for Nkayi North gives her congratulatory speech to Jacob Mudenda the new speaker of parliament
Sithembiso Nyoni

She runs a campaign with little or no resources as most political parties are experiencing financial challenges or simply chose to prioritise other budget line items over women’s needs in campaigns. Some have had to brave the sexual harassment and abuse that comes with the territory. Other sisters in these political spaces have had to manoeuvre for political power and, honestly speaking, this is what politics is all about, power, power, power and more power.

So since these sisters have gained access to a plethora of political spaces, it has become urgent that they too understand the notions of power and how to harness it for their own and others’ good.

However, it seems we have selective amnesia in understanding that these women actually brave the realities of such party political power status quo to begin to make a difference. It is so bad, sometimes some have even refused to go on social media for fear of the backlash and what such spaces might bring into their lives. It is a rather toxic space for women and, of course, men who do not confine to the patriarchal tendencies that define these spaces.

Being a parliamentarian is very difficult work. The space is male-dominated and sexist in many respects. It is designed for men as they argue that women are somewhat an appendage of the space.

Political parties are selectively ignorant of the women’s lived realities and chose to abuse women at various levels. If only they could choose to see women as more than objects of pleasure then maybe, just maybe, we can begin to deliberate on critical national issues outside such myopic ways of being.

It is disgusting to see big man of little depth abuse women in Parliament by virtue of them being women. It is pathetic for political parties to not give support to these women, some of whom have been raped, abused and have braved the excruciating pain of politics just to represent, not just the political party, but their constituencies.

I am not advocating for mediocrity, but all I am saying is, there should come a time where we apply the same rules for women as we do for men. There are also men in Parliament who just go there and not say a word. Some of these men are ignorant of their roles as well and what is expected of them. They are corrupt, but no one seems to notice that they fail to express themselves or speak eloquently.

However, when it comes to women, similar circumstances suddenly become a big deal. Look, we need to stop being chauvinistic and be progressive. Whether we like it or not, culture is not static, things are changing, women will lead in many respects and in 2015, we are actually respecting women and treating them as equal human beings to men unless you still deliberately choose to be archaic.

My call to each and everyone of us today is that we treat women with respect, understanding and empathy. It is never an easy task being a woman in politics. It is frustrating, painful, sexist and abusive. These sisters seem to be working against a tide so strong, it is almost impossible to remain steadfast with one’s feet on the ground. The ground itself might seem shaky, but guess what? They still chose to brave it and represent you and me in Parliament.

For that and that very one thing, they do deserve our empathy and support. We need to stand up and understand their lived realties before we jump out there and point fingers. Some of the sisters have made it through the quota system of representation and that is still fine. However, even that has its own challenges as their political credentials are questioned and they are often accused of being favoured by a system and yet they are not “good enough” politicians – whatever that means.

Today we chose to stand in awe of our sisters in Parliament for braving it all in order to represent us. We applaud each effort, help wipe away each tear and shred of doubt. We salute your boldness with each step and send some prayers your way for continued strength as you go about what you have to do.

There is absolutely no one that does not experience downs in this life, even your male counterparts, so today be reminded of your iron-strength and no matter what your inner and outer critics tell you, know that you do have what it takes to make a difference, so eyes on the vision and do what you have to!

To each one of us out here, besides merely cheering, let us continue to offer our most valid support and constructive criticism. Zimbabwe has one of the most gender sensitive constitutions this continent has ever seen.

Let us also continue to uphold a culture of constitutionalism to achieve gender equality and equity. No one can live this for us as Zimbabweans. It is us, the citizens of this country who can come together and make a difference. We cannot continue to expect miracles from the papa movements, we too can possibly step up and do what we can in promoting leadership among the different sisters. Let’s do this.

lGrace Ruvimbo Chirenje writes in her personal capacity and loves stimulating conversation. She would be excited to hear from you. You can contact Grace on graceruvimbo@gmail.com, follow her on twitter @graceruvimbo or Facebook: Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje. Chat soon.