Zimbabwe's veteran women politicians fear there are no younger women coming up through the ranks to replace them. Measures to improve women's representation have achieved little and young women are absent from the traditional entry points into politics.
Tabitha Khumalo, deputy national spokesperson for Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai’s Movement for Democratic Change party (MDC-T) says there has not been much effort in any of the country's political parties to encourage and support women in politics.
Khumalo, who was a constitutional reform team leader for the MDC-T, says the drawn-out process of drafting a new constitution including nation-wide consultations with the public represents a missed opportunity.
'I am disappointed with the lack of capacitation of women during this (constitutional reform) exercise,' she told IPS.
'Political parties merely concentrated on proportional representation but neglected to say whether this would be by merit. It is not enough to say women must be allocated equal slots as men and end there,' she said.
The veteran politician says there are a few powerful and active women in Zimbabwe's politics.
'We have a handful of women like Gladys Dube, for example, who have made their mark to change the colour of both the writing of the constitution and local politics. But it is always the same women being called upon to wear different hats. So what happens when we grow old and there are no younger women to take over from us?' asks Khumalo.
(Dube is the MDC-T Senator for Mabutweni, a poor working class suburb in Bulawayo and is also the deputy chair of the Constitution Select Committee.)
But she she does not see many women working their way up through the structures of political parties today.
'Some of us are from the labour movement, and ours is a road less travelled by women,' she said. 'We have been arrested and getting here has been no easy walk. I believe we still need to have more active involvement for women in national politics despite the obvious challenges.'
Khumalo says there hasn’t been any emphasis on recruiting young university-educated women into the political ranks, which has meant there is no continuity in grooming more women into Zimbabwe’s political movement.
These views are echoed by Sylvia Chiume, a gender expert and academic who says the nature and history of local politics has not encouraged young women to follow that path.
'It can be seen even with student activism at tertiary colleges. Not many girls take up the gauntlet and it is known that politicians in Zimbabwe cut their teeth at university campuses fighting for students’ rights,' Chiume said.
A good number of senior politicians who form part of the coalition have their roots in student politics, and prominent names include Deputy Prime Minister Arthur Mutambara and Finance Minister Tendai Biti, both products of the University of Zimbabwe’s Students Representative Council.
'There is little encouragement for the girl child to fight for their rights and I think it all goes back to our cultural baggage, even if there is always talk about women’s emancipation,' Chiume said.
'Changing these attitudes will take longer than we expected but it does not mean we should not keep pushing.'
Khumalo believes university curricula should encourage female students to take up politics, adding that 'synergies must be created' among different political persuasions if women’s interests are to have broader representation.
Party loyalties still divisive factor
Zimbabwe’s political landscape has been marred by rabid political loyalties and activists say this has divided women and presented different templates about issues affecting them.
'The problem is that there is a ‘me, myself and I syndrome’, where some women politicians want to be praised for pushing the women’s agenda when we should be united in changing men’s perceptions about us. It is true some politicians do not take us seriously because of that,' Khumalo said.
'We are united by the same roles and duties as Zimbabwean women, we are affected by the same issues of reproductive health and there should be no perceptions that if one woman speaks up they are representing a hostile constituency,' she said.
It remains an arduous journey for women in politics here, and as Khumalo puts it, 'If childbearing is seen as a national duty, then women must also have a voice in national politics.'
© Inter Press Service (2011) — All Rights ReservedOriginal source: Inter Press Service
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