By Bonolo Makgale and Nyasha M Mpani

"The revolution cannot triumph without the emancipation of women” — Thomas Sankara. Women on the African continent make up 50% of the population. Yet they continue to face discrimination, inequality and lack of access to equal opportunities. 

While women make up such a significant proportion of the population on the continent, it is reported that women only generate one-third of the continent's gross domestic product (GDP).  

Current statistics indicate that the world will not be able to achieve the goal of gender equality by 2030. This reaffirms some of the exclusions women face, particularly relating to economic and political participation, and the barriers that prevent them from participating and contributing fully to the development of the continent.

Research suggests that if women were to participate fully in the economies and politics of the continent, an additional US$316 billion would be added to the GDP of the continent.  Since the adoption of the Beijing Platform of Action, some notable qualitative and quantitative progress towards increasing women’s participation and representation has been made, especially at the legislative level. Evidently this progress is slow and uneven across all regions of the world, as there are still significant barriers to women's participation in public and political life that stem from economic, social and cultural issues, as well as from stereotypes about women that manifest through hate speech and name-calling.

As Zimbabwe prepares for its upcoming presidential and parliamentary elections, there is a concerning  prevalence of hate speech and name-calling, particularly targeting female politicians. This is damaging an already fragile reputation of Zimbabwe’s political landscape. The persistent use of derogatory terms, exemplified by a recent incident in Kwekwe Central, President Mnangagwa's hometown, where a Zanu PF member referred to Judith Tobaiwa, a female aspiring Citizens Coalition for Change (CCC) MP, as a “slut/prostitute” because she is campaigning to retain her parliamentary seat, emphasises the urgent need for a transformative shift in the political discourse. 

Zimbabwean politics has a long history of patriarchal dominance and misogyny, which has been deeply entrenched since the reign of late former President Robert Mugabe. Male politicians from both the ruling party and the opposition have resorted to hate speech and negative name-calling as a nauseating political strategy to dominate and intimidate women, discouraging their active participation in political processes. Zimbabwe's national legal framework for the inclusion of women in politics is provided for in the Constitution, and specific policies and legislation are enacted to further this goal. Non-sexism is one of the founding principles of the Constitution. Gender and sex are among the grounds upon which discrimination is prohibited, as enshrined in section 19 of the Constitution. The Constitution also provides that legislation be enacted to prevent and prohibit discrimination and further the protection of the right to equality. The Constitution further provides for political rights in section 19, which is aimed at ensuring the full participation of women in political structures and processes, including contesting and holding public office if elected. This is the broad legal framework relating to women's inclusion in politics in Zimbabwe. Additionally, in 2008 Zimbabwe ratified the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples' Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (Maputo Protocol), which, among others, obliges the State to foster participative governance and equal participation of women. Article 9(1)(a) of the Maputo Protocol, in particular,  guarantees women’s right to participate in elections without discrimination.

Acknowledging that this issue is not new in Zimbabwean politics is disheartening. Former female parliamentarians such as Priscilla Misiharambwi-Mushonga, Jessie Majome, and Thokozani Khupe, among others, have endured similar attacks. They were unjustly labelled “sluts” simply because of their different political approaches. Thokozani Khupe, for instance, faced derogatory name-calling when she challenged Nelson Chamisa for the presidency of the opposition party MDC in 2018, after the passing of Morgan Tsvangirai. Linda Masarira’s hope of contesting in the upcoming Presidential elections hangs in the balance due to expensive nomination fees. She and others have lodged a court challenge. She has also faced a series of hate speech from those who disagree with her political ideology. CCC spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere has been subjected to cyberbullying by supporters of the ruling party, who have resorted to derogatory language. While these women have developed coping mechanisms, the name-calling and bullying they face have discouraged numerous potential female leaders from pursuing their political aspirations. Zimbabwe’s current Parliament only has 34% female members, falling short of the desired 50%, even though the country has adopted a quota system through the Constitution to encourage women political participation.

As Zimbabwe enters full-throttle election mode, it is crucial for all political parties to refrain from using hate speech and derogatory language against women politicians, as witnessed in the case of Judith Tobaiwa in Kwekwe Central. It should be explicitly clear to male politicians and supporters of all political parties that resorting to baseless name-calling hinders the progress of women in politics and perpetuates harmful stereotypes suggesting that women are unfit for leadership roles. Considering the significant contributions of remarkable female luminaries who played a pivotal role in the liberation struggle, such as Sally Mugabe, Johanna Mafuyana, the late Father Zimbabwe Joshua Nkomo's wife, Julia Zvobgo, Ruth Chinamano, and Sabina Mugabe, it is crucial that we dismantle barriers like hate speech that hinder gender equality and parity. Rather than perpetuating these barriers, we should strive to create an inclusive environment that enables women to participate actively in the country's political discourse. While tensions are expected to run high during this period of political campaigning, the government must acknowledge that such acts not only harm the status of its political landscape but deter potential female leaders from entering the political arena.

As Zimbabwe prepares for its upcoming elections, let us rally together, transcending party lines, to reject hate speech and derogatory language targeting women politicians. Instead, let us celebrate the diverse ideas and perspectives that women bring to the table. Let us foster an atmosphere where all aspiring leaders, regardless of their gender, can thrive and where Zimbabwe can truly harness the collective power and potential of its people.

This article is republished from News Day under a Creative Commons license. Read the original article.


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