POLITICAL events of 2014 clearly made a dent on efforts to achieve gender equality in the leadership echelons of Zimbabwean society. It can be argued strongly that women lost their fledgling political influence in a significant way when the country’s vice-presidency was usurped from them. The extraordinary changes and shifts of political power in the ruling ZANU-PF party, in particular, made women appear more like pawns in men’s political chess games.
Ousted vice president Joice Mujuru took a humpty-dumpty style tumble from the power pedestal in December, putting paid, at least in the short term, and hopefully not in the longer term, the standing of women in the ruling party’s top leadership rung. The picture is even grimmer for Zimbabwean women if one takes into account the fact that a recent World Economic Forum report: The Global Gender Gap Report 2014, shows that it will take 81 years for the worldwide gender gap to close if progress continues at the current rate.
In reality, the gender gaps will never be eliminated until 2095. Despite rising levels of education, gender awareness and strict pro-women laws, change has been slow and the existing economic, political and social inequalities are increasing the gender gap. In the Zimbabwean Parliament today, women comprise 124 of the 350 legislators. There are 86 women parliamentarians in the National Assembly, compared to 185 men. From the 86, only 26 were directly elected to Parliament while the other 60 are in the House of Assembly courtesy of a constitutional provision which reserves seats for women.
To show the gender inequalities existing in government, women remain a tiny minority at the Cabinet table heading the “irrelevant” ministries. Many may argue that some countries have done everything in their power to provide women with equal opportunity as men, but why is gender equality still an issue today?
In Zimbabwe, women make up 52 percent of the population, but notwithstanding, have limited access and participation in the country’s public life. They have become targets of attacks yet they have been in the forefront of the movements toward national liberation, social justice as well as gender equality. Gender equality has been a long battle and discussion, and often resurfaces at conferences and in institutions.
Kofi Annan, the former United Nations secretary general, believes: “When women thrive, all of society benefits, and succeeding generations are given a better start in life.” In other words, without gender equality there is no meaning development.
Development specialist, Maxwell Saungweme, said the recent political events especially in ZANU-PF calls for gender balance in leadership of the country, which have taken the achievements of the women’s movement backwards. “It’s sad that Zimbabwe is not learning. We even have a much fewer women in parliament relative to men than other conservative countries like Afghanistan, Pakistan and Lesotho and what is more disturbing is the disunity among women themselves,” Saungweme said.
He added that women pressure groups need to come together and re-strategise. “They need to speak against fellow women de-campaigning other women and throwing the gender balance struggle backwards.”
The Millennium Development Goal 3 (MDG3) calls for gender equality and women empowerment, with a target of eliminating gender disparity in all levels of education no later than 2015. Indicators focused on ratios in education and literacy, wage employment and national parliaments. It remains the world’s greatest promise in achieving equality.
While MDG3 has helped boost political will, and encourage more development groups to invest in resources to promote women’s equality, broad progress towards gender equality has wavered, with persistent gender-based inequalities in health, education and politics.
Gender activist Edinah Masanga said the in-fighting in ZANU-PF was motivated by selfish greed and driven by a corrupt one sided approach which has dealt the women’s movement a blow. “First in the court of public opinion this will make society think that women’s empowerment must and cannot be taken seriously it shifts the debate to being about power and not about the need achieve empowerment of women.
“Secondly, unless corruption is dealt with in the ruling party women will always be on the receiving end because we are seeing more appointments being made in what I call personal interest safeguard fashion, and we know that men tend to protect one another and thus will keep appointing one another,” Masanga said.
She lamented the fact that the movement had moved back to square one because of the absence of any woman in the presidium. “We have to start fighting to get back into the presidium and then of course we have to shake off the traditional she-is-a-woman-what-can-she-do mentality.”
The achievement of 50 percent representation by women and men in politics and decision-making by 2015 may therefore remain a pipedream. Government has failed to honour its commitment towards 50:50 gender representations.