By Staff Writer
TABITHA Khumalo’s political journey is a perfect example of the trials and tribulations of women in politics.
Khumalo, an MDC founding member and former legislator for Bulawayo East, confesses she had to develop a thick skin to survive Zimbabwe’s rough political terrain.
“As women politicians, we have suffered all kinds of abuse including name-calling by our male counterparts,” Khumalo says.
“I am called Sekuru Khumalo, Chairman Khumalo and all sorts of nicknames; women who want to get into politics should be prepared for such.”
Several female politicians have been verbally abused for their sexuality, and called all sorts of derogatory terms like “prostitute”.
Motherhood has often been used as a political weapon against women in politics, investigations and research show.
Any attempts made by women to secure positions of power are often seen as taboo by their male counterparts, friends and foe due to the harmful socio-cultural norms which do not view women’s potential beyond domestic activities.
This leads to a backlash from society with the women being primary targets of any discrimination and psychological distress that comes with it.
This further tends to take a hard knock on women’s self-esteem and confidence which has the effect of undermining women’s capacity to see themselves as leaders and threaten female candidates’ potential to be successful.
This is even more pronounced in politics, Khumalo adds.
“As a woman, I have gone through serious political drilling. There are many challenges we face in politics as women,” Khumalo narrated while bemoaning that women are sometimes given leadership positions on “charity” basis.
“Women are unable to hold senior positions; if they do they are just given that position because one is a woman, not on merit.
“There is also the issue of sexual exploitation due to our biological make-up. We have organs that are seriously wanted by men which lead to men ending up abusing us. It is not a crime to be in politics and we have the rights to have sex when we want, but not to be abused.”
This abuse is prevalent during the election period, and in Parliament.
Last year, former MDC acting president Thokozani Khupe was often heckled as a “Hure” by her opponents as political temperatures soared ahead of that party’s congress to elect a substantive leader after the death of Morgan Tsvangirai
Also in 2020, Zanu PF Nkayi South legislator Stars Mathe was forced to storm out of Parliament in tears after she was heckled by MDC Alliance Mbizo MP Settlement Chikwinya saying she was heard screaming in a hotel room at night.
Khumalo, recalled MP Joana Mamombe (Harare West MDC Alliance), Jasmine Toffa (Bulawayo Proportional Representation MP MDC Alliance) and recalled former MP Lynette Karenyi (Mutare Proportional Representation MDC Alliance) have also faced snide remarks dismissing them as prostitutes.
Bulawayo MDC Alliance councillor Sikhululekile Moyo shared the same sentiments as she bemoaned the abuse of motherhood as a political weapon.
“The major problem (for women in politics) is that everyone looks at you like a housewife or a single mother and not as a leader,” Moyo said.
Moyo blamed patriarchal norms, religion and culture for relegating women to the periphery of the political terrain.
“What makes men view us as mothers comes from our culture and religion. When we grew up you would see that the girl child bought dolls, cups, pots which showed that they must cook and remain housewives.”
This is despite Southern African Development Community (Sadc) member states proactively working towards equal representation of men and women in politics and decisionmaking positions at all levels such as in cabinet, parliament, council, public as well as private sector.
The Sadc Gender Protocol Barometer produced by the Southern Africa Gender Protocol Alliance is one document that is aimed at measuring progress in the implementation of the Sadc Gender Protocol by the member states.
It is updated annually by measuring the success of these commitments at member state level. Zimbabwe is a signatory to many declarations aimed at increasing women’s leadership and decision-making.
Following the 2018 general elections, women held 60 seats out of 210 with Zanu PF bagging 35, MDC Alliance 24 and MDC Khupe one seat respectively.
Zimbabwe’s new Constitution came into effect in 2013, and provides a quota of 60 seats set aside for women for proportional representation in Parliament, increasing the number of women in Parliament from 16% to 34%.
However, the quota system does not have clear provisions on how to include young women, does not extend to local government, and expires in 2023.
Despite the fact that Zimbabwe is a signatory to several normative frameworks that seek the inclusion of women in major decision-making organs, the reality is still dire.
However, all hope is not lost, Khumalo and Moyo argued.
“We need political maturity. Women need to go to an election just like their male counterparts by merit, not by virtue of being a woman. There is also violation of laws when it comes to women, but surprisingly we have very beautiful laws in this country which govern the safety and well-being of women,” Khumalo said.
“We must capacitate ourselves as women to be able to bring the maximum results with minimum resources. I do not believe there is something called a position for a woman or man. We should have a plan on how we can go about it to make sure everyone has equal access to any political position.”
Moyo argued the anomaly of women under-representation should be corrected, first, at household and family level.
“Let’s teach our children from the young age that they should know from birth that they can be leaders and encourage them to go to school so that they can be the leaders of tomorrow who know the challenges we are facing at house levels,” Moyo argued.
“”The problem being faced in the country is better known by us women. The problems we face in councils are everyday problems faced by women and as women we know them better. The majority of the problems faced in communities affect women and children the most.”
Emthonjeni Women’s Forum representative Melissa Ndlovu argued the stereotype of women being primary caregivers is still very much a lens that society views women through.
She argued this reinforces gender stereotypes because despite changing roles in society, the prominent idea of women is that they are mothers.
“There is a need to educate men on issues of power balance and the positivity thereof when it comes to positive development. Women also need to be empowered towards supporting each other in political spaces and create formidable movements that can bolster their interest (solidarity),” Ndlovu said.
“There is a need for the government to enforce legislative and international agreements that focus on equal representation of men and women in all spheres of life including political life. The enforcement should stipulate 50/50 in all positions regardless of gender.”