Is Zimbabwe ready for a female president?

October 16, 2014, 11:53am

Is Zimbabwe ready for a female president? 

by Maggie Mzumara 
Grace Mugabe has recently indicated at her "Meet the People" rallies that she is ready to step up to the presidency fuelling speculation that she could be the next in line to the top office in Zimbabwe.

AS we inch towards the 2018 elections, the country looks poised to seeing some women names on the ballot as candidates for the country's highest office - the presidency - in an apparent wave of the feminisation of political leadership. It is in the air and it is catching. 

It is spreading across the political parties. This phenomena of women taking the reins of political leadership. Only last month veteran politician and freedom fighter, Sekai Holland, assumed the position of interim leader for the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) Renewal Team.

A few months ago, an accountant, Marcellina Chikasha launched the African Democratic Party for which she is the president.  "This male dominated terrain actually challenges me in a very positive way," she says. 

"There are a lot of positive things about being a woman coming in with a different perspective on how we should work and improve our lot as Zimbabweans. I do not feel intimidated or scared at all and I expect that there will be some gentlemen in the game, even if this is politics."

Across the ideological divide is the First Lady Grace Mugabe, who has been on a campaign trail for what has come to be believed as a bid for higher office than the Women's League secretary it started out as.  Is this feminisation of political leadership unravelling on the Zimbabwean political landscape, a sign of the times? A maturing of the country's politics in a nation of patriarchal dominance to make way for feminine representation at the very highest of levels? Does it mean Zimbabwe is ready for a woman president?

"Yes,Zimbabwe is ready for a woman President and the likes of Joice Mujuru (have shown that they) are equally capable," says political analyst Rashweat Mukundu.  Another political analyst, Earnest Mudzengi, agrees that Zimbabwe is ready for a female President. "The country is ready for a woman President. When Mai Mujuru was appointed Vice President no one complained which shows people are open to the elevation of women at that level," Mudzengi said.

But women participating in political power is not a new phenomenon. It is an age old practice, points out Jestina Mukoko executive director of the Zimbabwe Peace Project. "Women have participated with men at the highest levels even during the liberation struggle and I would safely say Zimbabwe has been ready for leadership by women for a while now but somehow their paths to the most high post have been littered with obstacles," says Mukoko.

"Yes, Zimbabwe is ready for a woman President. Asking that question is part of the problem itself," says lawyer and legislator, Jessie Majome. "It connotes that there is something quirky and abominable about a woman President. Yet there isn't." Calling into remembrance Joice Mujuru's ascendance to the vice presidency in 2004, Mukoko says somehow women's rise stunts. "A few years back when Vice President Joice Mujuru was elevated to the presidium a question was asked if women wanted her to end at that position and most thought that was an indication women would be able to break all the barriers, but years later that hope is quickly disappearing," Mukoko says, and urges caution.

"If the appointment of Sekai Holland as interim president of the MDC Renewal (Team) is sincere I congratulate them (the party) but I will hate to see insults being hurled at her by men some months down the line." Women bring to the leadership table distinct advantages that add undeniable value, Mukoko says. 

"In the work that we do in communities we have learnt that women are industrious and good at resolving conflict which are attributes which make excellent leaders," she says.

Mukundu concurs.

"We have women leading various entities in business, civil society and politics and as many have shown capacity." He adds, "If Zimbabwe overcomes gender prejudice by having a woman President we can be assured that we stand a good chance of overcoming as many other social ills and stereotypes. The challenges that Zimbabwe has faced since 1980 demonstrate that leadership capacity is not a gender issue, if it was Zimbabwe would be a paradise and maybe it's time a woman also leads."

"A woman would bring a different perspective to State power. Women do things differently from men. I see us getting a more empathetic government, " says Majome. The effective participation, however, of women in top echelons of leadership can only occur in a conducive environment.  

"It will take a lot of political will at all levels and at the same time the transformation of our society from being patriarchal to see a woman ascend to the highest office. From the stand point of heading an organisation that monitors politically motivated human rights violations, I think political violence both physical and verbal has to be eliminated for women to have confidence to compete for public office even at the local level let alone at the highest level," Mukoko says.

She is quick to point out that the gains of the early years of independence which saw many women in Parliament as well as the cabinet have been eroded by a number of factors.  

"Men are failing to respect quota systems of their parties and more than three decades after independence very few women have made it into cabinet ‘presumably' because not many women possess the requisite qualifications," Mukoko says.

Mudzengi points out that indeed there may be a number of factors which hinders women from rising to the apex. 

"There may be certain factors that may hinder women from getting to the top. Some say women do not support each other, but all in all I think it is possible to rise beyond all of that," Mudzengi says.
 
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