By Tony Reeler
“Women discriminate and degrade one another, they are overcome by jealousy and don’t like other women to be promoted.” (Woman from Chivhu)
One of the major problems that blocks effective action in stopping gender violence is the lack of solidarity among women, what some have called the PhD syndrome – “pull her down”. It is not a trivial problem, and, over the years, Zimbabwean women have raised this as a problem. Some of this lack of solidarity seems to be derived from women’s lack of confidence in themselves. In the Mass Public Opinion Institute gender survey in 2002, only 29% of women stated that “women are more receptive to women leaders.”And in answer to the question, “in your opinion, do women pull each other down?”, 75% of women answered in the affirmative.
So, women are not in favour of women leaders, and, those that are, probably cannot count on the support of their fellow women. But maybe things have changed since 2002?
In 2013, a majority (94%) of the sample of women stated in research done by RAU and The Women’s Trust (TWT) that they would vote for a woman candidate, which is encouraging, but this was minimised by their responses to two other questions. There were differences between rural and urban women, but the trend was apparent. Nearly half (49%) of rural women, and more than half (58%) of urban women, felt that there were so few women parliamentary candidates because of the PhD syndrome. As for support, only 38% of rural women and 21% of urban women felt that older women had done a great job in supporting younger women.
Added to this picture, the Afrobarometer survey in 2012 demonstrated quite dramatically that nothing had changed since the MPOI survey in 2002. 89% of rural women and 91% of urban women stated in the affirmative to the question, do men make better leaders than women?
So, how can solidarity work when women hold such contradictory views? They want more representation, but do not believe that those women that they might elect will be as good as the men. They want to elect women, but believe that women won’t get elected because women themselves will not only support other women, but will actively undermine them. And they don’t believe that older women do much in encouraging younger women.
Why should this be the case? Well, we see the symptoms. The disease is diagnosed quite simply by some women from a focus discussion group in 2010:
“Usually in our culture women don’t decide for themselves, you’re supposed to seek permission first from your husband so that you can do something. Secondly those women who participate in politics mostly are labelled prostitutes. So you won’t feel comfortable if you’re a woman and say you want to become an MP or something, they will say, “look at that prostitute” so it discourages women from participating. And in our culture we always know that men are leaders so it’s another factor which discourages us. The other problem is our patriarchal societies, the cultural beliefs in our society, women think that they are inferior and cannot stand on their own. Sometimes it’s fear of the unknown and sometimes it is ignorance.” (Women from civic group)