By Rejoice M. Chipuriro
2020 marks 109 years since the first International Women’s Day celebrations. The day is set aside to appreciate socio-economic and political contributions of women in society, which call for reflections on the status of women globally. This year’s celebrations centre on gender equality with the theme, ‘An equal world is an enabled world’. Our world is still organised along male- female gender lines and biased in favour of cisgender men despite increasing protests against gender binary ordering. Gender disparities are persistent in social economic and political structures leading to exploitation of women’s economic, intellectual, social and reproductive labour. The World Health Organisation (WHO, 2017) statistics indicated that at least 35% of women experienced gender-based violence and 38% of all women murders are by intimate sexual partners. Such statistics indicate tolerance towards violence against women that is prevalent in most countries perpetuated by laws and cultural practices emanating from patriarchal hegemony. This calls for mobilisation of progressive minds and movements to challenge this anomaly and disrupt structures that perpetuate gender based violence.
African feminists’ reflections on the politics of gender based violence (GBV)
Bringing the issue of gender inequalities and ensuing violence to the fore, Ugandan feminist lawyer and activist Sylvia Tamale duly describes the prevailing challenge in Africa where capitalist extremisms are protected by brutal authoritarian states defensive to male power and privilege. In addition, to debilitating neo liberal economic policies favouring capitalist exploitation, corruption and impunity by political elites has driven most countries to the brink of economic collapse. Under such conditions, women often withstand the worst of economic mismanagement and conflicts as they perform their assigned roles of social reproduction, forcing them to absorb the negative spillovers of bad governance. These imposed burdens, aptly described by Nigerian womanist Molara Ogundipe-Leslie as the six mountains women in Africa carry on their back, may apply to the brutality Zimbabwean women face under an economically ravaged and increasingly militarised state.
Since the 2017 military intervention that facilitated the transition of power from Mugabe to Mnangagwa, the presence of armed forces in public spaces has increased violence during protests, with women exposed to state excesses. Nigerian feminist scholar, Amina Mama, echoes how tolerance of the violent culture of militarism poses greatest threat to women and society. The Government of Zimbabwe has ignored reports of state brutality, arbitrary arrests and abductions of women, activists and general citizenry, as the political elites mercilessly pound on defenceless masses. To disrupt this destructive course, I take a cue from Zimbabwean feminist Everjoice Win who suggests focusing on the arduous political work of transforming these problematic androcentric structures reproducing gender norms that derail women’s progress. OluTimehin Adegbeye agrees that feminist work requires resisting oppressions and not just aspiring for ‘gender equality’ where (toxic) power is transferred to women. She argues that feminists must do the real work of transforming power to ensure that no one accesses destructive power that drives people into poverty, exploitation and violence.
For Zimbabwe, this work of transforming toxic masculinities in our political social and economic institutions will require a conceited effort through the re grouping of women to challenge the aggressive endocentric politics. The making of the Zimbabwean state was forged from elite negotiations of the colonial masters with the black male liberation leaders. These negotiations were exclusionary of women, who still held minority status granted them by the colonial government, disqualifying them from the state making structures (Gaidzanwa, 1993). Women’s organisations have painstakingly achieved some grounds in lifting laws on the minority status, inheritance and property ownership for women, with little progress in creating space for women in politics. The latter has been corroded under the current Mnangagwa regime, with only 26 women parliamentarians out of the 210 mainly from the ruling ZANU-PF and the MDC-Alliance.
According to the Women In Political Support Unit (WIPSU), one of the organisations that work with women legislators, women fear getting into politics due to several societal stereotypes such as those that question their capacity to lead often ascribed to loose morality. The cliché that politics is a dirty game materialises through negative practices including violent attacks on women politicians, who usually lack the financial muscle to buy protection and ward off competition. This is prevalent during the election period, discouraging women from standing for election into public offices. In addition, political party exclusionary tactics state, private and social media attacks derail women’s political engagement. In the 2018 harmonised elections, women presidential candidates such as former Vice President Dr Joice Mujuru, Dr Thokozani Khupe of MDC-T and the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC) chairperson Justice Priscilla Chigumba all experienced various levels of violence and shaming. Dr Mujuru’s participation in the liberation struggle has been questioned, her morality and business ethics thrashed in a bid to discredit her, before her dismissal from ZANU PF on grounds of harbouring presidential ambitions. Dr Khupe was physically assaulted at the funeral of Morgan Tsvangirai and a court battle followed to remove her from the MDC- T leadership race. Justice Priscilla Chigumba was accused of incompetency to lead ZEC and she was accused of adulterous affairs with ZANU PF politicians. Women members of parliament have complained of harassment in parliament aimed at shaming and silencing them in House debates. When women legislators are forced to silently submit to male authority in the place where the laws of the state are debated, how much more can the ordinary woman on the street or in the village withstand such brutality? This robs more than half of citizens their rights to participation in the governance of their nation and deprives them of fair representation in public sphere. Exclusionary politics shrouded in violence is not only a women’s issue, but also a reflection of toxic masculinity that requires radical shift to stop dispossession of diverse opinion foisted on our society. To this end, all progressive movements must unite and resist all oppression targeted at women including the use of GBV to dislocate women.
An equal world is an enabled world
In conclusion, GBV disables our world and it must be eliminated at all cost. Women constitute half of the population and as citizens should feel safe to participate in politics and have their voice represented in the public domain. When women are forced out of politics it reduces their capacity to contribute to their communities’ development and deprives them access to resources in a way that impoverishes their families. As we commemorate International Women’s Day 2020, let us remember that an equal world is indeed an enabled world.
Adegbeye, O. 2020. Should women even want equality? And three other pressing questions for feminists today. The Correspondent. https://thecorrespondent.com/334/should-women-even-want-equality-and-three-other-pressing-questions-for-feminists-today/44217993468-4347af8c
Gaidzanwa, R. 1993. Citizenship, Nationality, Gender, and Class in Southern Africa. Alternatives, Vol 18 (1), 39-59.
Mama, A. 2018. Feminists We Love: Professor Amina Mama. African Studies Association. https://africanstudies.org/coordinate-organizations/welcome-to-the-asa-blog/october-2014/feminists-we-love-professor-amina-mama/
Ogundipe-Leslie, M. 1994. Re-Creating Ourselves: African Woman and Critical Transformations. Trenton: Africa World Press.
World Health Organisation. 2017. Violence against women https://www.who.int/en/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/violence-against-women
Win, E. 2016. Individual African Feminists. African Feminist Forum. http://www.africanfeministforum.com/everjoice-j-win/