Misogyny, cyber bullying and toxicity in Zim politics

Local News
The attacks are a disturbing symptom of broader societal challenges facing women.

ELECTIONS have come and gone. The contestation between the ruling Zanu PF and the main opposition Citizens’ Coalition for Change (CCC) is now mainly on the diplomatic front. It’s back to basics for many Zimbabweans.

There was a patently problematic phenomena that emerged from the August 23/24 poll – toxic politics and cyberbullying against women. There is a great divide between Zanu PF and CCC. Some scholars, such as Michael Bratton, describe the party affiliations in Zimbabwe as “hyper-partisan polarisation”. In post-election 2023 political environment, violence against women moved to online spaces. Social networking sites such as Facebook and X (formerly Twitter) are being used to attack female politicians.

While some researchers blame polarisation on political elites, many ordinary citizens are stuck in firm partisan loyalty.

This manifested in the post-election period. How then does Zimbabwe, with 40% of its population being internet users, heal from toxic politics where women, in particular, can flourish without being harassed, insulted and intimidated? In recent years, Zimbabwe has seen a rising trend of cyberbullying against female political leaders. This transcends party lines, reflecting deeply entrenched issues of toxicity, patriarchal society and misogyny.

The attacks are a disturbing symptom of broader societal challenges facing women.

This is worrying. This might be the reason why there are few women entering politics.

Examples of women in politics in Zimbabwe, who have endured cyberbullying include former CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere, Senator Thokozani Khupe and opposition leader Linda Masarira.

The latest victims are the new ICT minister Tatenda Mavetera, one of the six women in President Emmerson Mnangagwa’s 26-member cabinet, Sunningdale MP Maureen Kademaunga, Mutare Mayor Sophia Gwasira and 25 year-old Shantiel Chiwara, a post-graduate banker, who was elected the first Masvingo female mayor.

Female political leaders have found themselves disproportionately targeted. The attacks are often laced with misogyny and an insidious undercurrent of sexualisation. They are nasty and harsh – a reflection of a society that has, for too long, struggled to accept women in positions of power and influence.

The Women’s Academy for Leadership and  Political Excellence (Walpe) noted that there was a decline in the number of female

candidates from 14% in 2018 to 11% this year, with 70 women contesting for parliamentary seats and only 21 winning.

It is toxic politics that discourages women from participating in elections for public office; hence there is urgent need to develop politics of tolerance.

It has been 43 years since independence – and this must show by promotion of inclusivity and equality, especially for women. Where the law must take its course to punish online abusers, so be it, to discourage such toxic behaviour.

Political elites must lead by example; stop fuelling polarisation and engage in healthy debates. The ascension of young women to top posts should be celebrated as a beacon of hope for posterity. It should signify progress in dismantling patriarchal norms.

So how can we change this narrative? It starts with embracing Supersport’s “Here for Her” message, which celebrates women. It emphasises support for women in all spheres.

  • Zaba is the editor of the Zimbabwe Independent. She is also a mentor and trainer and gender equality, freedom of speech and human rights defender. This is an excerpt from the ConvoWithTrevor.com weekly newsletter.


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