There is a growing unrest in Zimbabwe and the citizens are demanding transparency and accountability from their leaders. The citizens are actively taking to social media to express their discontent and if there is a group to whom I think the “hatichatya” (we are no longer afraid) tag line would most apply to; are the political women of Zimbabwe.
In Zimbabwean political spaces, women’s opinions had often been side-lined, sometimes ignored because of gender prejudices. Traditionally politics was believed to be for men; from pre-colonial times where women were only considered relevant to provide the guerrillas with basic needs, to 2008 where violence and torture discouraged a lot of women from joining any opposition movement.
Proportional representation in parliament was introduced and there was hope that women’s participation in politics and their influence over party decisions would be more impactful. However women’s voices were still subdued.
The only time women’s groups would receive recognition from media would be when the Zanu PF women’s youth league was endorsing Robert Mugabe for another term in office.
At some point, the poster woman for gender inclusivity was Joyce Mujuru and she became the strongest and the loudest woman’s voice in Zimbabwe. She is said to have downed a chopper in the war and earned her war veteran credentials through the name “Teurai Ropa”. She had rose through the ranks and become the first female vice-president of Zimbabwe. Her voice was expected to represent women in our nation and for once, women’s needs were to be placed on the forefront.
All this was the known history about Mujuru until yesterday when the Sunday Mail published a story which in all senses downplayed her role in the liberation struggle to her alleged sexual encounters. Whether or not the article is true, or whether Mujuru really represented the voice of women or not is a discussion for another day.
Her influence was up until she fell from ‘grace’ and the good books of Zanu PF, to be implicated in corruption scandals, accused of looting from Chiadzwa Mines and the War Veteran Funds and plotting to succeed His Excellency President Mugabe.
Her voice became tainted. Even her credibility when she started a new party became questionable, because to the public eye, she only began speaking against Zanu PF after she had been ousted and publicly humiliated. However, a solidarity appearance for the hearing of War Veteran’s leader Lazarus Mahiya seemed to have created a more credible image for her.
Our loudest politically affiliated woman (who is reported to have catalysed the fall of Joyce Mujuru) became Grace Mugabe. Unfortunately, she became quite memorable for all the wrong reasons; blaming women for their own rape, promising to “baby dump” factionalists within the Zanu-PF party and accusing Joyce Mujuru of witchcraft amongst many other disappointingly counter-feminist statements.
Media has censored women
Because there was no separation between Zanu PF and the state, the ruling party monopolised the state’s media outlets. Female leaders who were in the opposition party were not given any form of access to the state broadcaster, Zimbabwe Broadcasting network or any of the radio channels that broadcast across the networks. Therefore the voices of Thokozane Khupe, Jesse Majome and Priscilla Misihairabwi among others were not amplified enough and the masses would only hear what the editors of Herald would allow us to hear.
From what we would hear it would be, Priscilla Misihairabwi Mushonga being ejected from parliament after trying to bring attention to the problem of importing used underwear in Zimbabwe. Or it be Mnagwagwa in jest telling women “I am grateful to the MPs who managed to show me pads. However, what they failed to do was to demonstrate how they are used,” How seriously are the voices of women in parliament being taken?
Even within Zanu-PF itself, only a few women, (Grace Mugabe, Oppah Muchinguri and recently Mandi Chimene) had been given access to the podium at rallies, the rest being stifled. Surely they do not rightfully speak for all of women! Furthermore their voices seemed to be rather aimed at pushing men’s leadership squabbles rather than bringing attention to the plight of women.
Zanu PF women’s league, as portrayed by the media, seemed to be more interested in playing a pivotal role in deciding who should and should not be trusted amid the factional wars and expulsions. Just a few weeks ago, it was reported in some media that they have decided that they no longer want the ‘vote of no confidence’, we wonder if it is them speaking or someone else who is trying to use their influence to their advantage.
The independent broadcasters are not innocent either! A few examples are how Zanu PF Member of Parliament, Shuvai Mahofa has been relentlessly mocked and while Thokozane Khupe has been hard at work with the #Beatthepot, the media has been more interested in speculating whether she is still in good books with Tsvangirai.
Either way, we the citizens are not hearing enough meaningful contributions from women’s voices when it comes to politics.
Emerging Social media warriors
Come present day, free and unbridled access to social media is fostering a revolution which has been phenomenal for allowing women’s voices to be heard.
The liberation war for women’s rights has moved from a different battle field.
Gone are the days where the only way to access a large audience was through television and radio.
Gone are the days when the producers of Zimbabwe Broadcasting Corporation and Zimpapers could dictate the type of information that only Reuben Barwe could report to the masses.
The great thing about the social movement is that it does now know the limitation of party structures. It is not prone to factionalism and it is the voice of the people no matter what position in society.
An image captured from last week’s march which portrayed a woman who seemed to be standing up to the riot police went viral on media with people commending her for her bravery. We did not have to wait for the mainstream media to capture the moment, it was all citizen journalism and social media.
The government’s threat that “generating, passing on or sharing …… abusive and subversive materials …… will be disconnected and the law will take its course” has inspired more and more constructive women’s voice penetrating public spaces and being amplified more than ever before. We see more legislators like Jessie Majome engaging the public to participate in law making processes, and Marcellina Chikasha who launched her own political party making use of alternative forms of media to promote citizen engagement.
Online media has also allowed other opinion leaders like Fadzayi Mahere to air their opinions and put pressure on the government to act. More women came to know more and join in the Thokozane Khupe led #BeatThePot campaign, just by following the hashtag.
The hashtag campaigns have started a revolution. Their impact needs, however, to be translated to power on the ground. Women are telling their own stories and as the voices become bolder, the next step is working towards gaining nominations for primary elections for the next national elections, voting and campaigning for the leadership positions we want and also occupying more influential positions in media.
Main Image, brave woman stands against riot police during the #notobondnotes protest. Image taken from www.twitter.com