Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Politics can be a problem for women in Zimbabwe

Women are growing increasingly frustrated with their government in Zimbabwe. The women want to have a political voice and involvement, yet they find that the government only wants involvement under their own terms.

An article from the Inter Press Service looks at this conflict in Zimbabwe. Women are courted for their support and involvement in issues the government itself wants. Whenever they speak up to criticize life or politics they are instead thrown into prison.

Writer Ignatius Banda talks to several women who chose to keep their identities secret for fear of government reprisal. They say that the double standard forces many women into silence and apathy.

Activists argue that politicians and "political correctness" have hijacked women’s push for equal opportunities. This, they say, has pushed to the periphery or even outlawed gender activism, save for the daredevils who tackle government head-on.

"Just look at how many women have ended up behind bars in the past few years for daring to take to the streets and speak out about the violation of their rights," Thelma Dube told IPS. Dube spoke in the wake of nationwide police bans on street marches planned for this year’s commemoration of International Women’s Day.

Women like Dube – a gender activist with a Masters degree - are now afraid to identify themselves as "feminist activists" because, she says, of the "backlash" this has invited from men.

"I do not see many women, educated or not, coming out in their numbers carrying banners and demanding to be heard even with this talk in government about respecting women’s rights," Dube said.

In February, Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA) activists were arrested in Bulawayo before they even took to the streets, while others were arrested alongside prominent pro-democracy activist Munyaradzi Gwisai for treason early this month, allegedly for being part of a group that was plotting "Egypt-style" street protests.

According to a Mar. 1 WOZA statement, the women arrested in Bulawayo were held under appalling conditions with the rights group alleging that their arrested members were subjected to torture by the police.

Although the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development has been at the forefront of pushing for women’s economic empowerment and constitutional guarantees for gender equality, rights groups like WOZA say this is not enough.

"It is difficult for some of us to digest such messages as we are always arrested for marching and campaigning for the right to feed our children and send them to school," said a WOZA activist who also asked that her name not be used. She has already been arrested on several occasions in Bulawayo.

"Marches that are pro-government are allowed but not ours, which are basically apolitical, so it is difficult to take the gender affairs ministry seriously," she said.

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