Debunking gender stereotypes in politics

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UNASSUMING as she might appear, Chirumanzu-Zibagwe MP Auxilia Mnangagwa is a politician whose desire to develop her vast rural constituency has earned her more friends than foes.

BY BLESSED MHLANGA

The debate that female legislators are mere beneficiaries of the politics of patronage – getting political power either through “bedroom coups”, gender activism or even the quota system – has been put paid by her track record of hard work.

Headlined by her unofficial Fushai Bank, which has transformed many women’s lives in rural Midlands, Mnangagwa has vowed to press for fundamental development issues in her constituency.

Her core massage away from the factionalism that threatens to tear apart Zanu PF, the party which sponsored her ticket to Parliament, is upholding of family values, with women playing an active role in keeping these values alive.

“The woman is the centre of the home and if we don’t empower her and instil morality in the mothers, we might as well kiss the moral fibre of our nation goodbye,” she says.

Fushai Bank, her brainchild, is not your conventional bank. This is more of a club of rural, “unsophisticated” women, who pool their little financial resources together and then borrow from that fund substantial amounts to bankroll various projects and then pay back the money with interest.

In a community where sources of income are almost dry, the “bank” has provided a breath of fresh air and changed the lives of many.

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Fatima Marara is one of those whose lives have been changed after she constructed a $1 300 thatched hut, complete with ceramic floor tiles and decorated with plates and pots worth over $400.

She says she never imagined she could raise that amount of money to construct a modern hut for her family.

“Before this project getting this money was a nightmare, just getting $5 was a dream for many of us, but look at this hut which stands apart from other huts. As a woman, I managed to help my husband to build owing to the help of our MP,” she said.

Mnangagwa is not an absentee MP, like others, who once elected are ensconced in their plush urban homes, only making the great trek back after five years to seek re-election.

She travels the length and breadth of one of the largest constituencies in the country to meet her “people” and assist with ideas and donations where possible.

Daily, she fights to chart her own political course away from the shadow of her towering husband, Emmerson, one of Zimbabwe’s two Vice-Presidents.

“I am a politician in my own right and should, therefore, be judged by my work and not through the eyes of my husband.
Referring to me as VP Mnanagwa’s wife means I am not in the game, but go to the constituency and talk to the people there and hear for yourself what we have achieved together as a team, the people and I,” she says.

The Vice-President conceded his wife is a handful, often leaving his side at official State functions to head to her constituency.

“Accept her as Auxilia in her own capacity, strengths and weaknesses and not as my wife. She comes to you as a politician in her own right and, therefore, judge her as such,” he said.

Mnangagwa has broken the stereotype that women are known for gossiping without end after helping start a club known as Stop Mwini Mwini (Stop Gossiping).

Stop Mwini Mwini is one of about 23 clubs she has set up for women in her constituency.

Apart from being a money-making project, Stop Mwini Mwini is also used for sharing a message of family first and in fighting early childhood marriages.

These nuggets form the core of Mnangagwa’s drive in keeping society out of moral decadence, as she believes an empowered woman will not allow her child to be forced into marriage.

“I want to emphasise on the role of the woman in households. We all know couples have their disagreements, but these don’t have to be displayed to the outside world. We should ensure our husbands are presentable, that the family lives in harmony because if this does not happen, the burden will still have to be borne by women,” she said while addressing members of Stop Mwini Mwini in Chirumanzu recently.

Stop Mwini Mwini chairperson, Shailet Chizembe was full of praise for the clubs, which she described as practical solutions to everyday problems.

“We have programmes that have seen us buying clothes for our husbands just to ensure they look presentable and these small things have brought joy and love into our homes,” she said.

The MP also started an irrigation scheme after donating a pump and says although she targets women in most of her projects, she is aware that the success story will reflect on the entire family.

This entire project started with 23 sewing machines donated across Chirumanzu-Zibagwe and a capital injection of $300 going with each machine and now homesteads have poultry and small livestock mini markets.

“This has been eye-opening and life-changing. We now have people who own cattle for the very first time in their lives, buying chinaware and silverware in rural areas. The era of using cow dung as floor polish is gone, we now have ceramic tiles deep in the rural areas, all this brought to our doorstep by our MP,” Chizembe said.

Widowed Tendai Hatitye Makunda, who built her own modernised rural kitchen at an estimated cost of $1 700, says Stop Mwini Mwini has become more than a family for her.

“When you lose your shoulder (husband) that gave you strength, it appears as if life itself has crushed on you, but this club has given me hope and the ability for self-reliance and I am here as a testimony,” she said.

2 COMMENTS

  1. Fushai cannot be her brainchild. The concept has been running in Zaka for quite a long time now using the same name. Otherwise she must keep up the good work she is doing.

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