By Juliet Mucharozva
Zimbabwe this year celebrates 41 years of independence and women are still lagging when it comes to exercising their political rights. In the fight for independence, women fought side by side with men for political, social, and economic independence yet after independence they still do not have the full independence as their male counterparts.
Notable women such as the late Sally Mugabe, Ruth Chinamano, Mama Mafuyana took up the front fighting for political independence not ousting the noble and gallant women freedom fighters who gave up their lives for everyone to exercise political freedom rights. However, it is sad that the dream of these women is just a fearful nightmare as after independence nothing much has changed for women political rights acquisition. Women in politics face awful discrimination, misrepresentation in the political space.
In an up-close interview with The Christian Voice, one woman in politics, Catherine Mhondiwa Gweru ward 13 councillor, emotionally outlined that the political space is not a friendly environment for women. Born in 1967 Councillor Catherine Mhondiwa was inspired by hardships that took place during the Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) era. She realized that if women could take charge in the leadership sector there will be great transformation in the country.
Councillor Mhondiwa engaged in various demonstrations advocating against political and social injustices. In 2013 she was elected as the Gweru ward 13 councillor and re-elected again in the 2018 elections under the MDC-A ticket.
“My passion has always been fighting for the end of injustices and being a councillor has helped me pursue my passion. However, there is still a lot that needs to be done in our country to fight against political and social injustices as women,” she said.
The councillor enunciated the struggles that women are facing to gain political mileage. She greatly emphasized on the “pulling her down syndrome” where women are crushed down by men not to be front leaders.
“Many men still find it uneasy to engage women in leadership. If men could start treating us as equals in the political field, we could be talking about a different situation right now where some women would perform even better than the men,” she said.
She urged women to choose each other when it comes to selecting leadership as other women also take cohorts with men in pulling down another woman. Mhondiwa urged the government and political parties to formulate policies that will support the representation of women.
“Women are also each other’s greatest enemies as we do not support each other in our endeavours and that needs to end. Political structures and the government should come up with women leadership programs to empower women with good leadership qualities. Besides such initiatives, society should embrace women leadership and they should know that some leaders are born naturally holding the leadership sceptre,” she said.
The low participation of women in politics is immensely caused by women lacking confidence and fear as the spaces have been dominated by men for ages. Society has restricted politics to men.
“Single mothers or women in general who have tried to penetrate through this fortified male fortress are shunned and booed left and right centre as good for nothing.” she said.
The Councillor who is the only female among seventeen male councillors also grieved on the struggles that she is facing in the council chamber. She recalled painful events after her second election, where one male councillor called her a strong head, and other colleagues shunned her to speak in the council chamber but to write on a piece of paper and give it to the other male counterparts to make them speak for her.
“Women are denied the right to freely exercise their political rights from the grassroot level to the parliament house; their voice is shunned or not taken seriously. Exploring the Zimbabwean parliament house, it has turned to be a battlefield house not a policy making house, where women political leaders are greatly booed when they try to contribute their views,” she said.
Councillor Mhondiwa said the proportional representation which was meant to fill the imbalance gap in the August House has been nullified by male politicians as bacose. These women are stereotyped as people who are holding seats on a pity ticket and they do not have constituencies therefore their voices are not recognized.
“When such things are said about us then how do you expect one to contribute to such an environment? People do not realise that the greatest destruction of a person comes through what is said about them,” she said.
In her ward, she has managed to deliver better service delivery such as clearing of refuse dumpsites and furnishing local polyclinics with solar energy as the health workers always face problems when electricity is down.
“I have also contributed to the installation of a water tank at the clinic. The Councillor formed a local soccer club meant to help young people in her community to desist from bad social behaviour.
Councillor Catherine Mhondiwa urged women to be brainy, self-disciplined, and principled to take up the political space.