The #BeatThePot campaign has come and gone. This protest by Zimbabwe’s main opposition Movement for Democratic Change (MDC-T) Women’s assembly against starvation is worth interrogating in the context of a protest that raised sexism as a potential theme in revolutions.
On Saturday the 16th of July, hundreds of women in Bulawayo took to the streets to protest against what they called ‘empty pots’ with nothing to cook because of the extreme hunger and poverty in Zimbabwe. The leader of the protest, MDC-T Vice President, Thokozani Khupe was quoted in the Standard Newspaper addressing the women. She said, “These pots that we are beating are no longer cooking anything at home, this is why we brought them to say we no longer have anything to cook. We are starving.”
Khupe who had a baby strapped on her back also said Robert Mugabe and Zanu PF must step aside and allow a government that will be ushered in through free, fair credible elections.
The Problem- Reinforcement of Stereotypes on the Role of Women in Society.
A #BeatThePot campaign debate took over an hour at a blogging workshop I recently attended. Most women felt that the campaign was a noble idea but the execution through the use of pots and cooking sticks was problematic as it reinforced the stereotype that ‘women belong in the kitchen’ syndrome.
More than that, in the video, the women are quoted saying, ‘Our husbands and children are not working and there is nothing to cook at home.’ This is to say basically, the women sub-consciously eliminated themselves from the ‘working class’ and confined their abilities to the domestic sphere.
The question that remains hanging however is, how are protests born? Do they come from a person’s lived experience or it’s a snowball effect of following the crowd? Did these women limit their scope of thinking or actually expressed themselves in a way that showed their everyday lived realities? In a typical African, Zimbabwean home, the children look up to the mother for meals- rarely the father. Are gendered stereotypes not therefore useful in trying to fight for a cause? Women and the kitchen in the case of #BeatThePot?
The other issue that we need to interrogate is do we hate stereotypes because they make us inferior or because they do not precisely define us? Food provision is arguably the most important job in life. It is the fuel that allows all the other activities that we deem important to happen. Is it not noble therefore to look at the bigger picture of women fighting against a system which has turned a basic human right into a privilege. Besides, we can also assume that the women who took part in the protest identified with its principles as this was probably their lived reality.
Comedy on #BeatThePot
The execution of the protest did attract some light laughter. Some Zimbabweans applauded the idea amid mirth and some insinuated that it bordered on stupidity. Unfortunately in the process, sexism also reared its ugly head. Take a look at some of the reactions online:
Is there a Perfect Protest?
Anyway, in the aftermath of #ShutDownZimbabwe social media (read twitter) was awash with ‘what next’ questions. While many Zimbabweans were happy that they had stayed away and made a statement to the State about the deplorable state of the economy, an equal number was questioning how to measure the success of the protest. They were questioning why they had even stayed away and if the State had taken notice. The first Lady Dr Grace Mugabe is reported to have said Zimbabweans should not be hoodwinked by detractors who will be busy building their economies, while the country suffers. In simple terms, the protest did raise hairs.
The success of #ThisFlag or #Tajamuka is not the subject of this article, reference to their perceived flaws should make society aware that in any revolution or protest for that matter, there is a possibility of lapse in strategy. This does not take away their merits nor does it undervalue the issues that give birth to their existence.
Triumph of a Women Led Protest
Despite the stereotypes, sexism and flaws accompanied by #BeatThePot, the outstand thing about it is that women took to the streets to fight against the system. Women who are often perceived to be behind the protesting men, took to the streets to make a statement. If for nothing, to make history and be documented in future as some of the women who have boldly taken a stand and spoken for themselves. That said, there is a great need to have women basing their protests and disgruntlement for that matter on policy issues that equally affect them as empty pots.
Women beating pots the protest in Bulawayo. Image taken from www.shutdownzim.net