As we draw closer to elections, constitutionally to be held by the 29th October 2013, Zimbabwe has been gripped with election fever. No day goes by without a headline or an article on elections or civil society organizations putting out statements or launching campaigns and programmes related to elections. What sparks my interest is the newly launched vote for a woman campaign which is aimed at encouraging women to vote for other women in the up-coming elections at whatever level, ward, constituency, senate, and even presidential.
In principle this is a great campaign because it aims to increases the number of women in decision making positions and thereby increases the chances of women’s issues being discussed in parliament. At a national level, in line with the new constitution, hopefully will bring about the gender equality we have been seeking for decades. The campaign has to be strategic as women need to vote for women they identify with and who can deliver once they hold the esteemed seat. This brings about the debate about what kind of women should be voted into political positions which almost always gets tempers flaring as it is asked why women need to have certain qualities to be voted into political officers but men do not? For me it is about a woman with potential, who recognizes her strengths and weaknesses and has the ability to ask and accept help where she is out of her depth. It is not about her educational qualifications and how well she speaks, but how well she can articulate an issue, be it in English or in the vernacular.
Historically, women do not hold political power; this we must accept and therefore we are not raised to aspire to take this power, our positions were to support the men and not question their decisions, this however is changing. The women that do decide to challenge this and hold political positions state that it is an uphill battle constantly: as a woman you have to work harder and prove yourself where men do not.
Women in power have challenges not only raised by men, but by other women who do not believe that women can hold political positions. In 2012, RAU produced a report entitled Do you have the PHD Syndrome? [available at www.researchandadvocacyunit.orgwhich discussed the lack of support that women give to each other. This was based on focus group discussions held with several women’s groups. The women discussed reasons why there are so few women in politics and what are the impediments for women to enter into those spaces. And they pointed out that women too often undermine each other!
There is need to address the PHD syndrome during this campaign as sweeping it under the carpet will not achieve the desired results. Recently speaking during a new global talk show, South 2 North on Al Jazeera, Joyce Banda the President of Malawi, the second African woman head of state after Ellen Johnson Sileaf, who came into power in April 2012 after the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, lamented the unwillingness of women to support and uplift one another. She said that in Malawi she is supported by grassroots women as she used to work with them before taking up politics. As she said, “The problem comes when it is now women that are higher up, women that are your level that usually won’t stand with you, that usually don’t support you”.
She said she was surprised to see the amount of support she gained from men during her ascendency to presidency. “Men came out more than women. There were more men than women fighting for me. Women at the top don’t support one another. Women don’t like female bosses,” said Banda. This needs to change and the vote for a women campaign can go a long way to change perceptions about women leaders and their support base.