Worry over sexist abuse of female MPs

HARARE - Zanu PF lawmakers Tafanana Zhou (Mberengwa North) and John Paradza (Gutu West)’s sexist slur on MDC’s Manicaland proportional representation MP Lynette Karenyi–Kore about her ample body features and appearance during parliamentary debate raises many issues about how women parliamentarians’ credibility is being undermined by humiliating sexist remarks in the 9th Parliament.

In the vast majority of cases, such remarks are being made in Parliament by male colleagues — from opposing parties.

And it is not only Karenyi-Kore — who is also the MDC women assembly chairperson — who has been subjected to remarks of this kind, with Harare West MDC MP Joanna Mamombe subject of regular and widespread comment, attacks and derision as “hure raChamisa (MDC leader Nelson Chamisa’s prostitute).”

MDC-T president Thokozani Khupe has also been called “hure, hure” several times in sexist innuendo and sledges used as part of the political artillery used by her political opposition.

The use of sexist abuse and slut-shaming mainly by male Zanu PF MPs has galvanised protests by female legislators in the legislature.

This also comes as male parliamentarians trade rumours and innuendos to suggest that a female MP “sleeps around”, is cheating on their spouse or is a sexual predator. The purpose of this information is only ever to damage the woman’s name and character.

Observers said as more and more women enter the political domain, they are shifting away from a role that confined them to the private sphere and are entering a world where their legitimacy is being openly-challenged amid resistance taking the form of sexist remarks, intimidation or harassment.

Directed against women in politics, such behaviour is particularly troubling, female MPs said.

It might once have been considered “something one had to deal with” or “just part of politics”, but women as well as men are increasingly calling it unacceptable, and having no place in Zimbabwe’s parliamentary democracy and culture.

Speaker of the National Assembly Jacob Mudenda has been alerted to the issue and encouraged to address it, in particular by defining the issues at stake for Parliament’s proper functioning, inclusiveness, representative character and willingness to achieve gender equality.

Mudenda acknowledged that the issue that had been raised was a serious matter hence “I do not invite debate but there are two levels of approach”.

“The first level is that where the occurrence takes place the matter should be reported to the police,” Mudenda said, adding that “the second level is administrative”.

“I will therefore study the matter and use our own systems to find out the truth of the matter and then act accordingly,” he ruled.

The sexist action has been slated as a long-standing tactic hindering women’s progress towards equality and undermining the foundations of democracy.

Even outside Parliament, female legislators said they were being sexually violated. 

Last week at the public hearings of the Motlanthe Commission of Inquiry, female legislators said they were subjected to inappropriate body searches.

MDC female parliamentarians raised complaints that they had been touched and searched unsuitably by police officers on numerous occasions.

“Wedu wee tanzwa nekubatwa maz*m* nemagar* nevana vadiki (We are tired of being touched inappropriately by these young police officers),” said one of the female legislators who declined to be named.

The female legislators also said they were groped as police forcibly removed opposition MPs from Parliament after they refused to stand up for President Emmerson Mnangagwa.

That came after the speaker asked a number of opposition members to leave the chamber, accusing them of disrespect just before the presentation of the 2019 National Budget.

When they refused, he called in the police and scuffles ensued where one of the female legislators alleged that a male police officer pulled her by her trousers while grabbing her inner garment.

Karenyi-Kore told the Daily News on Sunday that women parliamentarians face routine sexual harassment from their male counterparts. She said it seems difficult for men to accept women as equal partners in the political arena.

“It’s very difficult. Although we are equal, men will never view us as equals; they simply feel women cannot do it. They think just because of her roles in the home a woman should bring that nature into Parliament and be submissive even in making her contributions,” she said.

“Women have been subjected to verbal attacks. When a woman stands, some men start describing the structure of her body; some even call out mukadzi wanhingi.

“This has forced some women to stick to their seats most of the time; they don’t have the confidence and courage to stand. After five years have lapsed, people out there will think female members of Parliament are not doing anything yet it’s because of the fear that has been instilled in them by some men in Parliament.”

She said women have even been viewed as sex objects in Parliament, noting that they have been subjected to verbal abuse by men whom they would have turned down.

“Some of the men even have the guts to propose love to the female legislators; once a woman shows that they are not interested, then they are in for it. Each time you stand to make a contribution, you get all sorts of degrading comments,” she said.

“There is more to it; even the females who work at the Parliament building have been victims but unfortunately they have suffered silently.

“I had decided to report to the Speaker but then I thought he would just call them and caution them outside Parliament. I felt I should make my speech in the august
House before the budget so that I would give strength to some of the women who have been scared.”

Karenyi-Kore said women need to be strong, unite and fight against gender discrimination.

“I feel women should be stronger; if we stand and speak with confidence, they will respect us. Men should know that a woman is not a tool or a sexual object. The male MPs who make all those sorts of comments do not contribute meaningfully in Parliament; they just heckle,” she said.

“We are supposed to be strong women; otherwise there will be no women in Parliament; we need to stand strong and united. Abuse is not only physical or rape; we have been abused emotionally in so many instances.”

MDC-T legislator Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga said the allegations of women abuse in Parliament were very disturbing.

“Those are very serious allegations raised in Parliament, particularly when Parliament as the custodians of the Constitution should protect the rights of women,” she said.

“We wait to hear what the speaker is going to say; I personally want to hear what he is going to say about the men who are allegedly involved, when we meet in Parliament next week. We can’t have such in Parliament.”

Misihairabwi-Mushonga said women need to have self-respect in order for society to respect them.

“Women have to take themselves seriously in order for them to be viewed as serious. If women cannot take themselves seriously, they won’t be taken seriously,” she said.

The legislator said women lack support for one another and are in the habit of dressing each other down.

“Women were on the front of abusing Priscilla Chigumba when she came to Parliament. They were also part of the crowd that shouted to Thokozani (Khupe) calling her
hure, hure (prostitute). It is us female parliamentarians who abuse each other in some instances.

“I am very disappointed in women especially in this past election. I remain a feminist but right now my sympathies for women are very, very, low. I am rather focusing on children’s issues.”


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