By Grace Kwinjeh
THE standing committee of the MDC has just suspended its women’s league leadership in a top-down coup.
me step back and consider two views of women’s liberation.
“The emancipation of women is not an act of charity, the result of a humanitarian or compassionate attitude. The liberation of women is a fundamental necessity for the revolution, the guarantee of its continuity and the precondition for its victory”, said Samora Machel, the founder of liberated Mozambique.
For Machel, “to destroy the system of exploitation and build a new society which releases the potential of human beings is the context within which women’s emancipation arises.”
Here is another context and quotation: “Feminism is the radical notion that women own their vaginas,” according to an anonymous sister, with vagina meaning an expression of feminism, womanhood, strength, resilience, struggle, as well as our body and reproductive capacity.
The female body is a site of struggle which is why in war situations, opposing parties take pride in raping women.
A Congolese feminist, Christine Schuler Deschryver, estimates that in the conflict-ridden eastern DRC, “more than 200 000 women, children and babies are being raped every day, and right now, thousands of women and children are being taken into forests as sex slaves.”
In Zimbabwe, where I was jailed and tortured for peacefully participating in a protest last March, patriarchy has resulted in some democracy activists temporarily losing the value system that helped us to stand against Robert Mugabe’s tyranny in the first place. We are seeing regular instances of sexism and misogyny, sadly perpetrated by would-be liberators whose leadership is now marked by moral decadence.
Sexism is immoral and should be treated as such.
We would have short-changed ourselves as women if we agree to yet another reproduction of the debauchery, unfairness and inequality that we inherited at Independence, and that soon reared its head in Mugabe’s ruling party — he has authorised mass arrests of women for being on the street alone at night in1982.
That which united democrats in civil society and the MDC when we went to battle against Mugabe’s regime was a common understanding of what we want to achieve in a new Zimbabwe.
That included a clear vision of the positioning and placing of women, who have endured decades of patriarchal oppression passed on like a baton stick from one system to another, from the settler colonialists to the nationalists — and now sadly to the present-day liberators.
Even before the MDC was formed eight years ago, Zimbabwean women made great strides in fighting for their emancipation. We took on Mugabe before the boys even woke up to their own oppression.
The women’s struggle was led by women like Everjoice Win, Shereen Essof, Priscilla Misihairabwi, Nancy Kachingwe, Yvonne Mahlunge, Isabella Matambanadzo, Thoko Matshe, Janah Ncube, Lydia Zigomo, Rudo Kwaramba, and Sekai Holland, a fellow torture survivor and head of the Association of Women’s Clubs.
Our first fight was for recognition as equal human beings to our male counterparts. The Legal Age of Majority Act now recognises us as adults, we can vote, open bank accounts and even marry should we choose to — none of which were possible without the consent of a male connection, be it brother, father or uncle. We were perpetual minors.
The Matrimonial Causes Act now recognises our right to own property independently of our husbands or fathers. After we challenged physical abuse, parliament passed the Domestic Violence Act.
This background made some of us suitable candidates for leadership in the MDC.
At what point, then, did we women become minors once again, answerable to male authority, becoming subjects of agendas that have nothing to do with our empowerment or liberation for that matter? With the MDC’s attack on its women’s league, we are relegated once again to second class citizen position.
The first contact women like Lucia Matibenga (former head of the MDC women’s league), Sekai Holland and myself have with our bodies each morning after we wake up and take a bath, is the scarring inflicted by Mugabe’s police. These scars are deep, physical and psychological, but their political significance is that they can be the source of our liberation.
They are our badges of honour, marking us as comrades who have been on the frontline facing the enemy head on.
Zanu PF has a military history and what Mugabe calls “degrees in violence” that we all know of.
However, we have been too slow to address other forms of violence perpetrated against us by our brothers in the democratic movement.
We are told by MDC men, “it is taboo, it causes unnecessary confusion, divisions, we have one enemy”.
If we keep believing this, it means that like our sisters in Zanu Pf we may find ourselves on the eve of Independence in the same position they were in at Lancaster House.
Their leading woman in the state, Joyce Mujuru, was suddenly elevated to vice president but served merely as a place holder, for as the succession battle rages it is clear she is not Mugabe’s natural successor.
She has not pushed any women’s agenda beyond party politics and sloganeering.Everjoice Win, gender officer at ActionAid, insists that we will not unite with Mujuru for the sake of biology. Having a vagina does not necessarily mean we are the same.Says Win, “whatever ‘deal’ is worked out to resolve Zimbabwe’s crisis, women and their rights should be at the centre of it.
“We want feminists — women who care about the rights of other women and who are prepared to rock the patriarchal boat — to be in leadership positions and to be there when the deal is made.”
But of the top six dealmakers from two MDC factions and the government, only one is a woman. For a long time, women have been bashed into silence: “If you speak out he will beat you up more.” Yet whether we speak or not we still take a beating.
Now, at what may become a time of renewed patriarchy under the mantle of the democratic opposition, it is a historical obligation for any woman to stand up against the kind of bigotry that is being forced on us, even by our own brothers in the new liberation movement, a movement still not mature enough to treat us with respect.
* Grace Kwinjeh is an MDC official and writes this article as a visiting scholar with the Centre for Civil Society. — Nehanda Radio.