Yoliswa Dube-Moyo

The July 2018 harmonised elections saw women falling with a thump as only 26 Parliamentary seats out of a possible 210, went to women.

The 50-50 mantra that the ruling Zanu-PF and the MDC-Alliance had been running with over the years proved to be a farce after only a trickle of women made it into Parliament and local authorities.

It also proved to be an arduous task for the four female presidential candidates who garnered less than five percent of the total votes.

The four, Dr Joice Mujuru of the People’s Rainbow Coalition, Dr Thokozani Khupe of MDC-T, Ms Violet Mariyacha of the United Democratic Movement and Ms Melba Dzapasi of #1980 Freedom Movement Zimbabwe, failed to pull off any surprises.

The situation was comparable in local authority elections where the figures were more or less in the same margins, totally obscuring the expectations that the country was edging towards gender parity in politics.

The elections, in which women were largely condemned to the sidelines in both the ruling party and opposition parties, clearly showed that the political landscape remains jagged for aspiring female politicians and will remain that way unless there is a paradigm shift that women are capable leaders too.

Zimbabwe continues to fail to walk the talk of gender inclusivity as enshrined in the Constitution and other legal statutes, where Government appended its signature.

The country, however, desperately needs women at the forefront of making critical decisions and crafting policies affecting the country.

In a recent wide-ranging interview with liberation stalwart and the only survivor of the PF-Zapu national executive that was there at Independence in 1980, Cde Jane Ngwenya, said women are builders and critical thinkers who are a key component in making the dream work. 

“Let me tell you something MaDube; men only support you when they see a commitment to whatever you’re doing. From my experience, men will support you when they see that you’re confident in your resolve. I didn’t join the liberation struggle for men. 

“I was there as a person, labo bengabantu (they were also individuals). So, we would meet as a people with a common purpose. We would discuss the problems Zimbabwe was going through at the time. I see it even today. If you don’t believe in yourself as a woman, no one will believe in you. If I had called it quits based on my gender, people would’ve just said, oh well, usediniwe (she’s tired) but I stood – till this day,” said Cde Ngwenya.

She alluded to the “pull down syndrome” saying her biggest enemy was women who said a lot of bad things about her. 

“All the emotional turmoil I went through was because of women. They would say I joined the liberation struggle because I wanted men and wasn’t genuine. But today, I feel proud because women now get into positions of power, it was all because of my bravery. I faced a situation where women were not accepted. I worked with men; I was very protected but I was independent,” said Cde Ngwenya.

She added: “One of the guys once said ‘you woman’ to me during one of our meetings and the late Vice President Dr Joshua Nkomo responded saying ‘she’s not a woman when she’s here, she’s one of you’.”

In recent times, women have been clamouring for equal opportunities in various spheres with much success but more still needs to be done to mainstream gender parity.

“You guys are now fighting for equal rights, make sure you conquer. I can’t biologically change but I can work with a man and advise him better than any man. We used to see that a lot during the liberation struggle. While we were detained at Gonakudzingwa (Restriction Camp), some men would be crying under their blankets, some of them missing the wives they had left behind. But I never cried, I faced it. I’m so happy about what’s happening now. Women now want to get into leadership positions that were previously taken up by men,” said Cde Ngwenya. 

She said she hopes Zimbabwe would one day have a female president while encouraging women to take a leap of faith and become actively involved in politics.

“You’ll only know you’re important when you’re there. When you can see your contribution. No one will ever come telling you how important you are. Take a decision for yourself, yourself. Women should not shy away from politics. The conformity taken by women is amazing. They’re intimidated by words. Sadly, they’re also the ones that discourage and oppress each other,” said Cde Ngwenya.

She blamed the coming of “civilisation” by white colonisers for brainwashing societies into believing that women are second class citizens.

“Women are being intimidated by words. This was started by the churches. The church and the education system in our country is so blinkered such that you can’t see beyond where you’re told to focus on,” said Cde Ngwenya.

Apart from serving detention at Grey Street Prison, now Bulawayo Prison, Cde Ngwenya had time at WhaWha detention camp in Gweru before being taken to Gonakudzingwa Restriction Camp where she met several nationalists who were also incarcerated at the camp.

Cde Ngwenya who served as Deputy Minister of Labour, Manpower Planning and Social Welfare in the early 80s was involved in the formation of the Southern Rhodesia African National Congress in 1952, the National Democratic Party in 1960 and Zapu two years later.

She later crossed into Zambia via Botswana to join the liberation struggle where upon her arrival she found Cdes Jason Moyo, George Silundika and Edward Ndlovu in charge of Zapu and she became the fourth leader of the party.

Meanwhile, there are plenty of international conventions backed by domestic policies aimed at improving the representation of women in key positions, to which Zimbabwe is a signatory.

They include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), United Nations Security Council Resolution 1889, and 1820 of 2008, the Beijing Declaration on the Platform for Action (1995), the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Gender and Development Declaration which stipulates that countries must ensure that at least 30 percent women are part of political decision-making by 2005, and 50 percent by 2015.

The month of March, known globally as Women’s Month, serves as a reminder and an opportunity to take stock of the progress made for women’s rights. 

This year’s theme, “I am Generation Equality: Realising Women’s Rights”, aligns with UN Women’s new multigenerational campaign, Generation Equality, which marks the 25th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. 

Adopted in 1995 at the Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, China, the Beijing Platform for Action is recognised as the most progressive roadmap for the empowerment of women and girls, everywhere.

The year 2020 is a pivotal year for advancing gender equality worldwide, as the global community takes stock of the progress made for women’s rights since the adoption of the Beijing Platform for Action. 

It will also mark several other galvanising moments in the gender equality movement: a five-year milestone towards achieving the Sustainable Development Goals; the 20th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security; and the 10th anniversary of UN Women’s establishment.

The year 2020 represents an unmissable opportunity to mobilise global action to achieve gender equality and human rights of all women and girls, including gender parity in politics. – @Yolisswa