On the 8th of March every year, people around the world march, rally or gather around in conferences to reflect on the roles played by women and the progress made in dealing with the challenges they face. The theme for this year’s International Women’s Day is #PressForProgress which is a realization that progress has been made but a lot still needs to be done. This day is particularly important to Zimbabwe which has entered a ‘New Dispensation’ of many possibilities.
In a period of uncertainty, the only certain thing is Zimbabwe will be different from what it has been for the past 37 years. We are therefore presented with an opportunity to go it all in to deal with our past challenges which include the glass ceilings on women and male exclusivity in decision making. It’s prudent that we learn from our mistakes as we chart our way forward.
The gender gap is widening despite concerted efforts to raise the status of women in various fields of endeavor. Men’s earnings are increasing more rapidly thereby widening the pay gap despite numerous initiatives to break glass ceilings and force salary disclosure. The Global Gender Gap Report of 2016 by World Economic Forum states that it will take more than 217 years to close the gender parity gap.
Not only are women being paid less than the man in similar jobs or positions but women remain confined to jobs and industries with lower average pay and are more likely to undertake part-time work due to domestic commitments like child care. Only 22% of senior managerial positions in organisations are held by women.
Women in Zimbabwe remain alienated in politics and are still seen as minors in the field. The sexist, misogynistic and violent nature of politics has kept many women out of the political arena. The way Joice Mujuru was hounded out of ZanuPF and her portrayal as a sex pest that rose to prominence through bed hopping are unfortunate realities of Zimbabwean politics. Further to that, People First elders in Didymus Mutasa & Rugare Gumbo sought to give her a ‘queen bee’ status that left her at their mercy.
Such benevolent patriarchy was the driving force behind installing Grace as Mugabe’s successor by the G40. The cabal made of males wanted to manage Grace in her seemingly powerful capacity as leader of both country and party. The media was quick to blame her for Mugabe’s demise. ZanuPF saw an opportunity to sanitize Mugabe by placing all his misdeeds on his wife’s head. In a society that already judges the woman, Zimbabweans forgot Mugabe’s wrongs of 37 years and decided to focus on Grace’s side shows.
The violence on Thokozani Khupe and her harassment speaks volumes of how even a party like MDC that tries to be modern and inclusive still can’t fathom to have a woman at the helm. It is no doubt that Nelson Chamisa has charisma and age on his side, but he also enjoys male priviledge where there is an unwritten consensus that the next Zimbabwe president can only be a man.
The #metoo movement which saw women coming out to share their stories of sexual harassment bears witness to the rampant acts (reported or unreported) of sexual harassment. In the wake of Harvey Weinstein’s scandal, more women in showbiz including award-winning Lupita Nyongo came forward relating their horrid experiences.
This should be a lesson for Zimbabwe as we advance towards true gender justice. Progress has been made towards achieving an inclusive society but there is need to up the tempo in efforts to undo deep rooted patriarchy. Many women victims still take the blame for the harassment and a good proportion of our population still do not understand what sexual harassment means. Society still glorifies male sex predators finding reasons to shame the women victims.
Zimbabwe is at a juncture where it’s possible for a wholesome shift in the way we think and act. We are at a point where we can embrace modernity and inclusivity for the benefit of everyone. This is a chance for our mothers, sisters and daughters to start seeing the benefits of a ‘New Dispensation’. The New Dispensation means nothing if it only benefits the male elite!
We are at that point when all genders should start making breakthroughs without some benevolent male benefactor that will claim the credit at the end of the day. This is the moment when young students find their way through college unhindered. We are presented with an opportunity to create a gender just system that assimilates both male and female into professional fields without the woman having to pay more with her body. A gender just society that rewards competence is possible.
An inclusive and Gender just society should be the bedrock of a new Zimbabwe.
For the good of the Republik!