Zimbabwean politics is dominated by males. This is not surprising, given the context of persistent gender inequalities that have existed in the country prior to 1980 and moving on post independence. These inequalities are exacerbated by an entrenched patriarchal system and culture, coupled with an electoral system that neither facilitates nor adds any value to the increased representation of women.
A breakdown of the statistics given in a report by the Electoral Institute for the Sustainability of democracy in Africa illustrates that in 1980 and 1985, there was a total of 100 seats and only 9 were taken up by women. From 1990 to 1995 to 2000, there were 150 seats and they were taken up by 21, 22, and 14 women respectively. In 2005 there were 120 seats and only 20 (16.67%) were taken up by women. In 2008 there were210 seats and only 30 (14.29%) were taken up by women.
Patriarchy is still entrenched in political institutions and political parties as indicated by the above numbers. Although at the grass roots level, women are very active in mobilizing the electorate and turning out to vote in large numbers, their passion and activism is not demonstrated in their numbers in positions of political power. The fact that only 16% of parliamentary seats are occupied by women indicates that a culture is in existence which does not see the need for women political leaders.
Women are having to fight for space an influence in the political arena and the battle for them is rendered more difficult due to the power differential that the patriarchal structure maintains. Women generally hold weaker social and economic positions and their insistence on entering a predominantly male space usually results in tactics aimed at undermining their intelligence, their worth, their self esteem and their efforts to contribute to the political debate both at party and national level.
In an article by Wole Olaleye entitled political parties and their contribution to the democratization process, he quotes a scholar who states “African political parties are plagued by weak organization, low levels of institutionalization, and weak links to the society that they are supposed to represent (Butler, 2008)”.
These issues that plague African political parties could be mitigated or minimized by having an effective presence of competent women, who are afterall more than 50% of the population. The issue of weak links to the society which they are supposed to represent would be minimized or eliminated because women could use their unique communication skills to reach target populations and help them articulate their issues and problems. They would therefore represent their constituents more effectively.
The sad fact of the matter is that politics in Zimbabwe is a dirty game played by those who are profiting from the status quo and who see the presence of women as a threat to the status quo and therefore their profiting. It is a shame that when a woman commits herself to a life of politics she is also committing herself to a life of intimidation, ridicule, torture marginalization, all because she is a woman who may decide that business as usual is no longer acceptable. Women in politics have been called all kinds of derogatory names, such as hure (whore), witch, psycho, deranged and they live under constant threats and disregard from their male counterparts. At the constituency level there are reports of women being raped and beaten as a way to force them out of politics, or as a way to silence them when they challenge issues of corruption within their parties.
Our political system in Zimbabwe would definitely benefit from an increased presence of women. However there are not many women who would voluntarily go into politics in its current state because it is just too difficult and they would sooner use their talents elsewhere. Rather than enter a space in which they are told both in words and in deeds to “know their place”, many women remain uninvolved. Other women have committed themselves to the deepening of political, economic and civil rights from a women’s movement perspective which has defined itself by a liberal human rights agenda. However this is insufficient to bring about the change in the political culture that exists in Zimbabwe.
Women have to engage these political and patriarchal structures and force their way to the discussion table and demand that their voices be heard in spite of the below the belt tactics their male counterparts will use to try to scare them away. They may seek to silence by referrals to the state of women’s vagina and buttocks, however this should not deter women from becoming the much needed agents of change for their own sakes and the sake of the country called Zimbabwe, which is crying out for some sanity in the political arena. Women are that sanity. Women leadership is essential to the progress of Zimbabwe.