Inside Politics

Odds stacked against female politicians

TICHAONA KATSVAMUTIMA IN CHINHOYI

The emergence of firebrand female politicians across the political divide is a breath of fresh air but the terrain is rugged and requires a thick skin, analysts have said.

They say it was not so much about the credentials of the female politicians, but rather the operating environment whose odds were currently stacked against women politicians.

Analysts believe the trajectory that one has to traverse involves a journey fraught with landmines, booby traps, pits and all manner of painstaking hurdles.

Politics, they said, is not to be mistaken for normative democracy, is a veritable hard-ball where survival is for the fittest.

This, therefore, means a career in politics is a domain for those who have taken a deliberate decision to take on these seemingly insurmountable and painful experiences head-on.

This becomes more challenging for the womenfolk who venture into the field. 

As a result of societal construct and biological make up it has always been an uphill journey for female politicians to straddle up the political ladder.

Female politicians’ odds are stacked against them, worse when they face “politically-engineered” arrests.

A number of Zimbabwean female politicians have found themselves either as detainees at police stations or inmates in prisons for various offences and crimes.

Opposition MDC-Alliance Mashonaland West women’s assembly provincial chairperson, Abigail Usai has been arrested several times and thrown behind bars on “political charges”. 

She was recently arrested alongside 11 fellow party activists for allegedly violating the Level Four Covid-19 national lockdown regulations for gathering at the party’s office to hold a meeting.

They spent two nights in police cells. 

Usai, who is a veteran politician having been elected Karoi Urban ward 9 councillor in 2008 and served until 2018, described her arrest as intimidating.

“We were harassed by the soldiers and police officers who came to arrest us. It was particularly painful and intimidating as a woman to be surrounded by a group of armed men while you are unarmed,” narrated Usai.

She said the conditions in police holding cells were appalling and called on the government to urgently improve them.

“In prisons and police cells there are no toiletries such as soap and there is no running water, no food and it’s worse when you don’t have relatives bringing you food,” she said.

“There are no sanitary pads, and the government must make them available. As a woman if you are faced with such a difficult time (menstrual period) you notice men staring at you which is demeaning and embarrassing, so the government must seriously look into this.”

Usai said nursing female suspects were ruthlessly being separated from their babies. She said they should be given preferential treatment and be allowed to attend court cases from home as detaining mothers together with their children in cells exposed minors to diseases, especially during this Covid-19 era.

Nursing mothers, she opined, were not a flight risk and would not abandon their children who most need their attention, love and care.

The MDC Alliance provincial women’s assembly boss, however, urged opposition female activists to remain strong in the wake of persecutions, which sometimes come in the form of arrests on trumped-up charges, she said.

“I want to strengthen your resolve. Our treatment as opposition women politicians is far different from that of ruling party women politicians who, if they commit serious crimes, are not the least ill-treated or harassed.

“But if a female opposition politician commits a minor offence, they are ill-treated and the offence is blown out of proportion as if you have committed murder all in a bid to tarnish the opposition,” Usai claimed.

“This will come to pass, let us be steadfast and resolute to free our country. Let’s be courageous, things will get better, one day we will be happy…”

She added: “I have been emboldened by the arrests and l will not fear being jailed to free Zimbabwe but stand for total independence. The country is on the precipice, let’s fight for change.”

An increase in the number of women participation in politics would inevitably result in the promulgation of “gender-sensitive” policies and legislation that elevate their statuses in society, Usai said.

The road also travelled by main opposition party MDC Alliance Vice President MDC Alliance legislators, including party vice-president Lynette Karenyi-Kore has not been without pain and suffering.

“I’ve been arrested more than 10 times. As a female politician what pains me is after being arrested you are put in a cell or remand prison where you know the infrastructure is dilapidated, where you know the conditions are not conducive for human beings,” Karenyi-Kore said.

“It’s worse for those breastfeeding mothers.”

Karenyi-Kore, who is a former inmate at Mutare Remand Prison, said her constitutional rights were infringed when she was denied the opportunity to see her family when one Christmas she spent behind the high walls of prison.

Following numerous arrests and imprisonment, Karenyi-Kore said she was more determined to push for political change.

“We are there to fight for our rights; we will not be moved by being arrested. In fact it gives us more courage to fight the regime,”  Karenyi-Kore said.

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