2) Attacking women on their character and personal lives
In the political sphere, women face all kinds of attacks on their character and personal lives that is not the case with men. Fadzayi Mahere, a young lawyer running to be an independent MP in Mt Pleasant Constituency, for example, has been harassed and insulted for being single. Former MP Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga was labelled a “bra-burning feminist” and effectively accused of murdering her husband, an experience that contributed to her suffering from depression. Earlier this year, the opposition figure Thokozani Khupe was called a prostitute and physically attacked after questioning the legitimacy of the MDC’s political transition following the death of leader Morgan Tsvangirai.
Although male politicians are also criticised, the special kinds of extreme and personal attacks that are reserved for women reveal the sexism that is deeply entrenched in Zimbabwean society.
3) Dismissive stereotyping
As is the case in much of the world, Zimbabwe’s female politicians are denigrated for displaying the same qualities that may be admired in men. Rather than being treated in the same way as their male counterparts, women are dismissively stereotyped in ways that seek to control their actions. Assertive women, for example, are aggressive (ane hukasha). Quiet women are docile (imbodza). Women who are considered good-looking are sluts (ihure iri); those who are not are slobs (imbuya dzekupi idzi).
4) Creating standards that don’t exist for men
Zimbabwe does not have parliamentary term limits, yet with Jessie Majome reaching the end of her second term as Harare West’s MP, many people are claiming it is time for her to step down lest she overstay her welcome. While there is some merit to the argument that a turnover could bring new and progressive ideas, this argument is not being made in reference to any of the male politicians who have served much longer than she has – among them MDC leader Nelson Chamisa (an MP since 2003) and ZANU-PF Obert Mpofu (an MP since 1987). Majome’s cases serves as a classic example of standards being created for women that do not exist for men.
5) Talking the talk of gender issues, but not walking the walk
Zimbabwe’s politicians are all try to mobilise women’s vote during elections. They know that they would lose without it since women make up 52% of registered voters. Yet, once in Parliament, male MPs have consistently dismissed the efforts of their female colleagues to raise and discuss women’s issues. Typically, male politicians who utilise the rhetoric of gender equality in election periods drop it along with any genuine attempts to take action once voted in. This may create the veneer of progress, but the reality below the surface remains the same.
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