CHAIRPERSON of the Women and Gender Parliamentary Portfolio Committee Chido Madiwa has opened up on how she grew up in a polygamous family of the Johanne Marange sect, but defied odds to attain very high university qualifications. Madiwa (Mutasa North MP, Zanu PF) says her committee is pushing for a women’s quota at political party level to ensure more women get into Parliament in 2023 after the expiry of the proportional representation quota. The following are excerpts of an interview between NewsDay senior Parliamentary reporter Veneranda Langa (ND) and Madiwa (CM) on gender empowerment issues.
ND: Who is Honourable Chido Madiwa?
CM: I was born in a big family of 23 children — from a polygamous family of the Johanne Marange Apostolic Church — an African independent white garment sect (Vapostori). After my primary and secondary education, I went to the University of Zimbabwe where I graduated with an Honours Degree in Management. I got my first job in government, in the then Ministry of National Affairs, Employment Creation and Co-operatives as an administration officer — field operations department. My other academic qualifications include a Master of Arts degree in Applied Community Change and Conservation with the West Virginia University in the United States, a Masters’ degree in Public Policy and Governance with Africa University, and several other certificates.
The Marange church doctrine promotes polygamy and it is normal for a man to have more than 10 wives and a lot of young girls are taken by the elder men as their wives. Fathers of young brides negotiate the marriage with their fellow male counterparts in the absence of the mother or the girl in question. After the negotiations, the girl will just be told that she is now married and is supposed to prepare for marriage even if she has not reached their puberty. To the church, school is nothing and marriage is everything. The church ideology also does not permit its members to seek medical care from hospitals or to take drugs prescribed by doctors or nurses. Children, die because their church bars them from seeking medical treatment. Their deaths go unrecorded because of lack of documentation. In as much as my family belonged to the church, my story is different and in this case my father is my hero. He did the impossible of making sure he sent his girl children to school. I did my primary education at a poor rural school (Holy family Nyatsanza School) in Mutasa district.
ND: How was it like growing up in the rural areas?
CM: I am one person who would go to school bare-footed, but it was very normal because most of us at that time would have no shoes. I was very bright and in most cases I would scoop all prizes at school. Because of my background it became my desire to make sure I fight for other girls in my church.
ND: Are you a gender activist, and if so, did it in any way contribute to your name being chosen for chairperson of the Women Affairs Parliamentary Portfolio Committee?
CM: True I am a gender expert and I am an ambitious and motivated development professional (24 years’ experience) with combined women empowerment, gender, community development, policy, advocacy and lobbying experience.
ND: What issues will your committee focus on in the immediate term?
CM: The Zimbabwean society can be described as highly unequal in terms of gender. This has a great impact on income distribution, political participation, power relations, access to control and ownership of economic and productive resources. As a committee we want to change the unequal power relations between men and women and to eliminate all negative practices that impede equality and equity of sexes. As you are aware that the informal sector is now driving our economy, my committee will make sure that a conducive environment is created in the informal sector where women are the majority. We will also push for enactment of laws that protect women and girls like the Child Marriage Bill,
advocate for women empowerment through command agriculture and land ownership.
ND: It is notable that fewer women were voted into power, and in 2023 the proportional representation (PR) quota will be removed. What are your committee’s plans to ensure more women garner Parliamentary seats in 2023 after the removal of the quota system?
CM: Yes, we need more women in Parliament. I am happy to note that there is debate in the National Assembly to extend the quota system beyond 2030. If this is not done, the worst case scenario is that we will drag the country 16 years back when we only had 10% of women representation in Parliament. As a committee, we will push hard to ensure that we do not have a skewed structure in the National Assembly that is in favour of men. There is need to advocate for different parties to have a quota system in their constitutions. Maybe through that we can have women participating more in politics. Parties should be disqualified for failing to meet that. Party lists to the nomination court and Zimbabwe Electoral Commission should be 50/50 and if these are not they should be rejected. We will lobby for incentives for those companies that meet the 50/50 mark for women in decision-making positions. We also need to encourage young women to be involved in politics and senior women should mentor young girls.
ND: What are the challenges you see being faced by females MPs and women in politics?
CM: Violence is a major push away for women. Women are seen as sex objects, their contributions are not viewed in any manner other than that and this has forced many of them to stay away. Woman’s triple roles are also a challenge when it comes to participating in politics, being a politician, a mother and caregiver. It is also very difficult for a woman to make up her mind to enter politics. Once she makes up her mind, then she has to prepare her husband, children and family. A culture of patriarchy in Zimbabwe, especially within local power structures, makes it next to impossible for women to compete for political power. There is also lack of financial muscle. Women should appreciate that the political game is all about power and it’s not easy for anyone to just give power on a silver plate. Women need to stop being crybabies and work for those positions.
Politics needs a lot of confidence, which comes with knowledge so women need to be above board as far as information is concerned. Women are also their own worst enemies. They should learn to support each other, but this needs a lot of work for women to vote for each other.
ND: What is your general comment on gender-based violence (GBV) in Zimbabwe? How best can it be curbed?
CM: Zimbabwe is characterised by a high prevalence of GBV, and ranks 63rd out of 142 countries assessed by the Global Gender Gap Report (2014), signifying that large gender
disparities still exist. This poor ranking is in itself a manifestation of gender inequality and also serves to enforce it. Socio-economic factors such as age, level of education, economic dependence on males etc; are positively associated with vulnerability to abuse. Young women, less educated and unemployed women are more likely to experience abuse and believe that men are justified to exploit them. We need to address negative attitudes that fuel GBV like lack of respect for women. At workplaces, there is need for more awareness programmes for people to understand what GBV is, and the pieces of legislation in place for their protection. Perpetrators should be prosecuted. There is also need to push for the mandatory sentencing of rape and sexual abuse bill which has been proposed for over four years now.