||We took on Mugabe before the boys even woke up to their own oppression,
writes Grace Kwinjeh
The standing committee of Zimbabwe's Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC) recently suspended its women's league leadership in a top-down
coup. This makes 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".
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 shortchanged ourselves as women if we agreed 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 when he authorised mass arrests of women for being on the
street alone at night in 1982.
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
wanted 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 and were 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, fellow torture survivor and head of the Association of Women's
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 was possible without the consent of a male relative, 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 to wash our bodies each
morning after we wake up. We try to wash away the scarring inflicted on
us 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 in
the front line, 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
We are told by MDC men: "It is taboo; it causes unnecessary confusion
and divisions. We have only one enemy."
If we keep believing this, it means that, like our sisters in Zanu-PF,
we may find ourselves in the same position we were in at independence.
The leading woman in the state, Joyce Mujuru, was 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
Everjoice Win, gender officer at ActionAid, insists that we will not
unite with Mujuru for the sake of biology. Being women 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 a Zimbabwean visiting scholar at the Centre for Civil