http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/323/43666-remove-RM.jpg“The democratic forces in Zimbabwe will not be sincere if we conclude that the problem of women is the same as that of men. The same stereotypes that should have been buried with past generations are rekindling and this is not an allegation but an honest observation.” Chipo Mutuma warns that unless women’s...read more
http://www.pambazuka.org/images/articles/323/43666-remove-RM.jpg“The democratic forces in Zimbabwe will not be sincere if we conclude that the problem of women is the same as that of men. The same stereotypes that should have been buried with past generations are rekindling and this is not an allegation but an honest observation.” Chipo Mutuma warns that unless women’s rights are integrated into all aspects of society in the post-conflict era, “freedom will have to wait for another day”
THE challenge that has affected black people at large and Africans in particular has always been that of gender equity. Like the wording itself, the question of gender has belonged to varying morphology or should I say the various interpretations of that morphology. Words such as gender streamlining, gender sensitivity etc have been used as the rallying call for the fight for the advancement of women in a particular society.
Yet the struggle for the advancement of women has historically and unfortunately been hosted in other more pronounced often generic struggles for emancipation. Thus historically the universal suffrage movement tended to give effect to the rights of the commoner to vote and yet in so doing it became a precursor to the right to be extended to women as well.
Similarly the rights of black women in America in the 1960s found itself concealed if not cocooned or even totally eclipsed in the black consciousness movement of that time which in essence was the debate for the rights of black men to be accepted as equals in the American society……in itself largely androcism and not feministic.
Although women like Rosa Parks became the immediate and posterior symbolism of the struggles of that time her heroism was within the fighting for the generic rights of all black people. Her heroic figure translated later into the change of belief among black American males that black women were in fact capable of equalling them in several spheres of life. Well it came much late in the day though as women in black communities would still be subjected to violence even as America was opening up to Afro-Americans.
Similarly in the Zimbabwean context we have women who have come to symbolise heroic struggles against oppression. Mbuya Nehanda easily comes to mind and so other than iconic figures such as the late Pedzisai Mazorodze, Sally Mugabe, Joice Mujuru, Grace Kwinjeh, Margaret Dongo and others. Their roles mainly were on an agenda that sought to bring change to the entire community rather than one section.
Yet in some instances people often forget to accommodate the other views that they may represent; and to me this is where the feminist agenda comes in. On so many occasions I have had the chance to speak to my cousin Julius Mutyambizi-Dewa on how the issue of women is being tackled in the transitional period between now and the new Zimbabwe given that he is senior in the Movement for Democratic Change.
One of the issues we have touched on is the danger that these issues can easily be diluted or totally forgotten in negotiations as people tend to look specifically at broad themes such as in Zimbabwe's case land; citizenship rights, the economy etc all of which are important but are still not free from the inherent risk that if they do not address the pieces within they will explode with unfulfilled yet important constituent issues that were not addressed on time.
I have two cases in point. The Chilean case and the Iranian case, both of which represent strong women participation during the revolutions yet after the revolution women found themselves worse off than they were during the dictatorships. In Iran women were better during the time of the Shah as he was opening up the space for genuine participation of Iranian women in the governance of the country.
Ironically it was Iranian women who kick-started the revolution that expelled the Shah but as soon as the Islamic Revolution succeeded they found themselves having to operate within the confines of Sharia law that allows them to be killed for adultery while the adulterous man only has to make do with a little canning. It is total injustice and bad salaries for heroes! Similarly I am not so sure whether the issue of women was ever discussed at the Lancaster House Conference.
The delegates were predominantly male and the women cadres were in fact represented by the late Josiah Magama Tongogara for ZANLA and Lookout Masuku and Dumiso Dabengwa for ZIPRA. Worse still ZANU's Women's Wing was a very late phenomenon with the effect that its voice may not have been heard at that time. Issues that purely affected women as represented by cadres and those in war zones were not addressed and the chimbwidos who had ended up carrying unwanted babies from the struggle were left alone, abandoned in a society that quickly developed new stereotypes for women who had participated in the war.
Wearing jeans and trousers for the first time in predominantly black communities they were prostitutes first and foremost and parents discouraged their sons from having affairs with ex-combatants, a problem that later faced Umkhonto we Sizwe women in South Africa in 1994. Those who had babies were worse off as they did not know their babies' fathers. Confined to the unshakable stereotypes of an unforgiving society they found themselves filling beer-halls as prostitutes as they could not get jobs and unlike their male counterparts it was very difficult for one to be employed in the then integrating army or police force if you were a mother.
These stereotypes continue even in this era. The democratic forces in Zimbabwe will not be sincere if we conclude that the problem of women is the same as that of men. The same stereotypes that should have been buried with past generations are rekindling and this is not an allegation but an honest observation. For example it is people's mentalities that those girls and women who are active in politics and Civil society in Zimbabwe and at the Vigil and MDC UK and Ireland here in the UK are loose yet this is an unfortunate stereotype.
We will need an intervention from the Party that recognises this fact and approach issues of equity within this sphere of thinking. One hopes that the leadership of women in the Party will be able to consult widely to get input and then transform that into any post-conflict arrangement that shall emerge through whatever processes. The feeling that one has is that the legacy of the MDC should be that almost every issue was tackled.
This calls us to action and address as a matter of urgency unfortunate abuses that are going on in Zimbabwe as the social fabric falls apart, cases of women who are abandoned by husbands who flee to seek greener pastures but in most cases end up founding other families, cases of daughters who are being sacrificed by families seeking to survive the current scourge of economic hardships and all other related issues.
My feeling is that these things need to be discussed now and not tomorrow; an approach is needed that sets the tone for the future and realistic development of a truly equitable Zimbabwean society which has as its focus the total development of both men and women. Unless this is done it is my feeling that this current transition will be incomplete and total freedom will have to wait for another day.
* Chipo Mutuma is the secretary for the MDC UK and Ireland Women's Branch. She is writes in her own capactity. Email|: chipomutuma at yahoo dot co dot uk
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