Why discriminate women?

HARARE - When President Mugabe fired Joice Mujuru and appointed Emmerson Mnangagwa and Phelekezela Mphoko as vice presidents, he did not just reduce the presidium to an old boys’ club.

He also betrayed the hope we all had that Zimbabwe would soon confirm its ultimate commitment to gender equality by electing its first female president.

Mujuru’s ouster means no woman is now within striking distance of the presidency.

The journey to this regressive moment witnessed the most insidious example of sexism and women-hating by a head of State.

Mujuru joined the liberation war at 18, and at independence, Mugabe himself appointed her Zimbabwe’s youngest Cabinet minister.

She served in all of his administrations since then and did not tire in improving herself technically, and she returned to school to attain a doctorate at the University of Zimbabwe.

What is insulting here is Mugabe’s notion that women, however educated, should not dream big. It’s his suggestion that women are incapable of defending Zimbabwe’s interests.

His attack on Mujuru was a misogynistic attack on all women.

During the run-up to the 1996 presidential election, there was speculation that former party cadre and freedom fighter, Margaret Dongo, would challenge him.

She had just made history by shellacking Zanu PF in Harare South running on an independent ticket.

The Constitution automatically disqualified Dongo because she was under 40.

Still, Mugabe felt so threatened he declared that he would not allow Zimbabwe to have a “petticoat government.”

In the last 50 years, Zimbabwean women have scored inspiring firsts no Hollywood director could have scripted.

The inspiration came from Mbuya Nehanda, the first ground-breaker and ceiling crasher.

Nehanda inspired women to sign up and fight side by side with men during Zimbabwe’s struggle for liberation.

Nehanda inspired men to accept women as equal partners.

There was no equivalent of the fearless Nehanda on the Rhodesian side. The bombastic white male encouraged white women to be content with staying “at the rear, on the ‘home front’ supporting the Rhodesian war effort in their role as mothers, wives and ‘dumb blondes’.”

That’s right the white male encouraged white women to “be a dumb blonde.”

This week, Mugabe gave this backward attitude.

Now we know that he only speaks of gender equality to woo female voters.

Poor Grace “DisGrace” Mugabe!

On her way to the seat at the table of national politics, she made herself available as a potent weapon against other women. She cruised to the helm of the powerful Women’s League by destabilising the former vice president.

But for months, Dongo has been deconstructing the Mugabes. She recently received death threats.

Grace Mugabe is the perfect example of a woman used to advance powerful males’ political and personal interests.

Mugabe’s attack on Mujuru gave expression to the sexism currently bedevilling traditional institutions of political power in the Western world.

The 2014 Global Gender Gap Report, released in October, reveals that Asia, the Caribbean, South America and sub-Saharan Africa are well ahead of the West in terms of electing women as legislators, prime ministers and presidents.

Even as the vice president of a pariah state, Mujuru was part of an unstoppable global movement.

Her 10 years as vice president coincided with the beginning of the women’s century.

It witnessed the election or appointment of female heads of State and government in more than a dozen countries, including Argentina, Jamaica, Bangladesh, Germany, Chile, Brazil, Malawi and Liberia.

On women’s representation in Parliament, Zimbabwe currently outranks my adopted home, Canada. The Global Gender Gap Report ranked Zimbabwe 29 out of 142 countries, and Canada is ranked 52.

Here too, where the institutions of power were created by and for men, male politicians still struggle to overcome inbuilt sexism.

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