by SALLY NYAKANYANGA | Zimbabwe
Is Joice Mujuru an ally of women or is she practicing ‘femocracy?’
Various explanations have been given in relation to women who have managed to occupy spaces of power but then fail to push the women’s agenda forward. Nigerian feminist writer Amina Mama’s research paper published by CODESRIA entitled Feminism or Femocracy: State Feminism and Democratisation in Nigeria, looked at Africa’s first ladies as femocrats.
Mama explicates that whilst feminism strives to liberate women from oppression, femocracy advances the interests of a small female elite and in the long-term undermine the women’s agenda by upholding the patriarchal status quo. Therefore, Mama describes femocracy as a feminine autocracy running in parallel to the patriarchal oligarchy upon which it relies its authority and which it also supports completely.
Taking a look at female players in the Zimbabwean political landscape, current contender for Zim’s highest political office, Joice Mujuru, has been accused of turning her back on women when she was in office and the same questions are now being asked regarding her presidential election campaign and style of leadership.
The million-dollar question then is, is Joice Mujuru practicing femocracy?
Mujuru’s National Executive Committee is dominated by men, with Mujuru as the President, John Shumba Mvundura, First Vice President, Samuel Sipepa Nkomo as Vice President, National Chairperson Dzikamai Mavhaire, Secretary General Gift Nyandoro, Treasury General Wilbert Mubaiwa.
Though Marian Chombo heads the Women’s Wing, key decision-making positions are occupied by men. Margaret Dongo, in her response after her fall out from Joice Mujuru’s led party, highlighted how Mujuru is a female figurehead surrounding herself with men.
The Editor of this publication, Edinah Masanga, who has been in the open supporting – for the sake of women’s empowerment – Mujuru’s bid for the office declined to ‘judge Mujuru’ adding she also feared ‘she could be elitist.’
‘Look I cannot judge her, but the thing is she seems to be elitist. I wanted to have a conversation with her on all these issues but it’s hard to get past her male handlers. It could be also that we are not a big shot newspaper so that we are too small for her so I cannot comment on the issue. I can say one thing for sure; I have requested meetings with high-level dignitaries on issues of public interest before and I can say our experience with Dr. Mujuru is miles away from the treatment that I got although I’m just a woman on the street. The former Prime Minister’s office for example and many others. So that there is an ethos when it comes to Dr. Mujuru which I can’t quite get. A deliberate distancing from the women which seems to come up over and over again,’ she said, adding, ‘I stand behind all women who are running for office. The numbers mean a lot to me.’
Writing on her blog in an article titled ‘Why I am rallying behind Joice Mujuru,’ Masanga painstakingly tried to make a case for Mujuru to be forgiven of her Zanu Pf past, saying, ‘she cannot be made to take all responsibility for the atrocities committed by Zanu Pf’, explaining that if given a chance she could ‘surprise’ the people with feminine inspired leadership.
‘I am a sucker for women who seek power so that I can sleep with the devil when it comes to that and so I still stand by my earlier writing although I am no longer so sure anymore,’ said Masanga.
As Zimbabwe heads for an election next year, with Mujuru leading the dubbed People’s Rainbow Coalition – are women heading for Canaan. The women’s agenda is still critical and needs committing, genuine and persistent players to be realized.
It is crystal clear that having a female leader is important but addressing the issues of women is most significant.
Why are women politicians failing to rise in Zimbabwe?
Politics, christened the dirty game, has seen few women making it to influential positions in many political parties in Zimbabwe despite high demographic numbers. Even though women make up 52 percent of the population in the country, women politicians continue to occupy peripheral positions as men dominate political spaces and key positions.
The Zimbabwean political film always has a male main actor with supporting female actors who all ‘die’ before the film ends. This has been the case since the colonial regime though there have been sporadic cases of women who sailed against the odds and succeeded. In the 1990s, Margaret Dongo broke new ground by becoming the first woman to form her own political party and winning her Sunningdale constituency as an independent.
Since then, other women-led political parties have followed, with former Vice President Joice Mujuru joining opposition politics when she formed her National People’s Party after she was sacked from the ruling party ZANU-PF. Other women contenders are Marceline Muchemwa with her African Democratic Party as well as Barbara Nyagomo from the Progressive Democrats of Zimbabwe.
Although women have formed their political parties, they are still not progressing at the same rate as the male-dominated traditional parties in the country.
Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Pamela Mhlanga mentioned that women-led political parties are new players in the political game, there are a number of tactics and strategies that they still need to learn and use as compared to their male counterparts who have been in the game for a while now.
“Women are trying to get traction and finding their feet in the process building their ground and capacity but that doesn’t mean women don’t have a solid agenda. It’s sad that even up to now women are not seen as leaders, society is still cynical about women leadership,” Mhlanga told the International Women.
There are a lot of cultural and traditional beliefs that inhibit women from participating and gathering ground in the political arena. Mhlanga added that women leaders are not taken on the face of it but their ability to perform.
Sexists statements, intimidation, and harassment have also been alluded to as an inhibiting factor resulting in most female politicians not challenging the male counterparts in political party structures.
Former British Prime Minister, the late Margaret Thatcher once said, any woman who understands the problems of running a home will be nearer to understanding the problems of running a country. However, Thatcher’s administration was snubbed by many feminists as it never resulted in any meaningful change towards women empowerment or inclusion in decision-making spaces. During the course of her reign, Thatcher never promoted a woman from the Commons into her Cabinet. Margaret Thatcher was at the helm of the United Kingdom premiership from 1979-1990.
Jacqueline Sande from the Zimbabwe People’s First party, said women have been marginalized for too long, it is, therefore, a tough task to climb the structures of their party and occupy positions of influence.
“As women, we are stigmatized against and labeled unsavory names for daring to be involved in politics. Our challenge is to be taken seriously in leadership as society doubts our capacity and ability to lead,” Sande added
According to HIVOS, even though progress has been made in increasing the participation of women in politics in Zimbabwe, women’s participation in government at all levels, from the local to the national, remains extremely low.
Prominent gender activist and lecturer at the University of Zimbabwe, Professor Rudo Gaidzanwa, suggested that women are constrained by their limited exposure to the complex systems and procedures and by the fact that they generally lack the funding to protect themselves during campaigns. Gaidzanwa further stated that electoral dynamics between political parties also have a negative bearing on women’s chances of election as decisions are often determined by the deals between men.
In Zimbabwe, women make up only 35 percent in the house of assembly, with 60 seats on proportional representation and 26 elected directly to the constituency seats and 38 elected in the Senate.
Glanis Changachirere, the founder of Institute for Young Women Development, which provides support for young women in politics said, “we should aim to empower women from the grassroots going up and from a tender age so that they grow up conscientized to their ability and right to participate in political and governance issues and to remove the myth that political and leadership positions are the preserve of males.”