Zimbabwean Parliamentarian for Makonde, Honourable Jennifer Nomsa Mhlanga, with support from UN Women Morocco, UN Women East and Southern Africa Region (ESAR) UN Women Zimbabwe Country Office and Parliament of Zimbabwe, is attending a two-day Parliamentary Forum on the 2nd and 3rd December 2015, in Cairo. The Forum is organised by the Regional Office for Arab States (ROAs), in collaboration with the Arab Women Parliamentarian Network for Equality (Ra’edat). The ROAS and Ra’edat have invited women parliamentarians from Africa to this event to also speak on the experience of Africa on networking and on women’s political participation.
The Forum is organised within the ambit of the Regional Programme for the Economic and Political Empowerment of Women in the Southern Mediterranean Region (“Spring Forward for Women”) programme, in which the European Union and UN Women helped to establish a regional network of Arab women members of parliaments.
Spring Forward for Women provides a mechanism to advance the economic and political empowerment of women in the Southern Mediterranean region. The programme (2012-2016), supports women across the region, focusing on priority countries undergoing unrest, transition and reform, such as Egypt, Jordan, Libya, Palestine and Tunisia, to have greater influence in shaping the future of their countries while protecting their previous gains. It connects stakeholders to ensure that marginalised women in these countries receive capacity building, advocacy, information and partnerships that address the barriers that have impeded their access and engagement in economic and public lives.
Although each national context presents its own specificities, women’s problems of marginalisation and discrimination are universal. It is only the nature of problems that differs because women are not homogenous. This being said, women in the Arab States region face similar challenges and opportunities, and common patterns in political participation as can be found here in Zimbabwe, and elsewhere. The Arab States region has recently made gains on the number of women re/entering Parliaments, reaching a historic high of 15.9 percent in 2013 and 17.1 percent in June 2015. In most countries, the increase was largely supported by the introduction of quota systems or the appointment of women into traditionally male-dominated institutions, such as the legislative assemblies.
The appointment of women to parliaments and local councils is an imperative stride onward in accelerating women’s political participation, empowering women and girls, and contributing to financially stable and more inclusive societies. Proportion of women holding political office is one of the measures by which to measure a state’s commitment to gender parity. Women’s marginalisation in legislative assemblies invades on their political rights and has similar restrictive effects in other areas. National legislatures play a central role in formulating, implementing, and monitoring laws and budgets.
The ROA Forum takes place at a historic moment in time, following the adoption of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). It provides an opportunity to reaffirm gender equality and women’s rights as essential means for achieving peace and security, human rights, and sustainable development. The forum aims to provide the opportunity for networking and exchange of experiences and views between women lawmakers from the Arab States region and members of the other regions’ parliaments (see Africa, Europe and Latin America) for what needs to be done to move effectively on the gender equality agenda. The conference will: Introduce the newly-born network, its objectives and promote it to Arab women parliaments, media and international donors and stakeholders; Provide a space for strengthening alliances amongst Arab States women parliamentarians; Support exchanges and experience sharing in addressing regionally gender equality issues in parliamentary work from successful initiatives in the Africa, Europe and Latin American; Present a compilation of lessons learned, innovations, and good practices developed on supporting women parliamentarian in the Arab States region.
Today, this correspondent caught up with Honourable Jennifer Mhlanga, who presented a power analytical analysis to the problems facing women politicians in Zimbabwe and elsewhere, and called on fellow women politicians to stop viewing men as enemies perse, but to start looking inwards, first for transformation at personal level, and then for transformation at national level.
“I am concerned about the nature of politics we women in Zimbabwe and we women on the continent push. No doubt, colonialism and patriarchy did a lot of injustices to us, we were discriminated against, marginalised and socialised not to believe in ourselves. However, so many years after independence, we have been exposed to a lot of capacity building , learning and personal experiences of what politics entails, but as women we are still looking up to men to liberate us, at the same time we are busy refusing to accept each other as potential leaders of different institutions in our country. I often wonder why women despise each other and speak ill of each other once others get into positions of power. We need to transcend the “I, me and myself” and support each other to build a critical mass of female leaders. Only through working together across our individual interests can we succeed as women leaders. We need to present a different model of leadership, one that will show the world that we can do it. As long as we continue to despise ourselves and each other, we are giving back the gains to men. My problem of late, and in most cases, has not been with men perse. Men know us and our potential from home, we live with them in the homes, they even fear our potential, reason why they will strategise to make processes harder for us. The problem is woman to woman. We derogate, despise and neglect each other when we get to leadership positions and vice versa. A different mode of African women leaders should start with us standing up confidently and with courage, and supporting each other to confront all impediments for our success. We must leave behind the stereotypes that have been used to described us, and have in turn shaped us wrongly, let us leave those traumas and embrace positivity and transformation. We can do things differently as women, why do it in the same manner with men, why always seek to please others at the expense of our own agendas of gender equality, inclusivity and fairness.”
Honourable Mhlanga is one of the parliamentarians who has not yet received training on Transformative Leadership that has been offered to about 75 women parliamentarians by UN Women in partnership with the African Centre for Transformative and Inclusive Leadership (ACTIL), a sub-regional Centre of Excellency based in Kenya, yet her understanding and conception of women's political particiaption and leadership reality is rare and extra-ordinary. She is indeed a woman of rare timbre and fibre. The ACTIL model of transformative leadership centres on personal transformation first, to enable one to transform surrounding spaces, others and the world.
And yours truly tends to agree with Honourable Mhlanga, and I do so premising her arguments within the framework of Hegel, Marx, Engels et al’s “Law of Dialectics” philosophy, and using this to assess and measure the evolvement and development of women’s political participation and leadership on the continent of Africa.
Engels propounded three laws of Dialectics: “quantity changes to quality”, “opposites interpenetrate”, and “negation of negation”. I am interested in the first one, “quantity changes to quality” and in the last one, “negation of negation,” which I find to be cumulatively speaking to and building into each other.
In short, “Dialectics” is a theory of construing the world of both nature and society. This concept sets out from the maxim that reality is in a continuous state of modification and fluidity. “Dialectics” also posits that revolution and motion include conflict or incongruity, and can only logically happen through contradictions. In other words, instead of a smooth, constant lineal progression, society, nature or reality are interrupted by unexpected and volatile epochs in which slow, accumulated changes (quantitative changes) undergo rapid acceleration, and in the process quantity is naturally transformed into quality.
The philosophers mentioned above have indeed contradicted on the concept of ‘Dialectics”, with Marx viewing Hegel and Engels’ Dialectic method as idealistic and highly abstract, and calling for a more realistic method. Marx argues for “Dialectics” as the logic of contradiction.” All their contradictions aside, of interest to me, pursuant of a pan-African feminist discourse on the need for women to negate patriarchal models of leadership and present transformative ones, is the fact that in the “Law of Dialectics”, everything is in a perpetual state of transformation, motion, and change, and true to Marx, nothing simply “surges up out of nothing without having antecedents that existed before.” This being said, given the amount of support we women of Africa have received so far since independence, and despite the contradictions and backlash we still receive from patriarchy, we should be able to negate the patriarchal models of leadership and curve a new leadership trajectory that will take Africa to a 50/50 gender parity in all leadership positions by 2030.
Repeated discourses of our patriarchal and colonial past and present should not continue to box and disable us, but should rather be the catalyst for us to continously seek for transformation and better politics, and we can only refer to them for historical purposes, while safeguarding our gains so far. The history of our liberation struggles should continue to inspire us. Even if Ian Smith pronounced the "Never in a thousand years" declaration, Zimbabwean nationalists were still able to consistently persist in their quest for liberation. Dialetics is indeed the logic of contradiction, and without contradiction success cannot be measured. Likewise, without impediments the success of women cannot be owned by us as our own. We need to still rise up on our own and claim back our dignity.
When they joined the wars of liberation on the continent, women naturally proved to the world that was overlooking and underrating them that they were not David Conrad’s mutes, but equally capable beings who can stand side by side with men in governance and related peacebuilding processes. After independence of Africa, two renowned leaders are known for deliberately mentioning the agenda of women and gender equality in their post-independence political discourse, and these were His Excellency Mwalimu Julius Nyerere and His Excellency Robert Gabriel Mugabe. And women indeed further proved themselves beyond the liberation struggle discourse. In Zimbabwe, for example, the then women’s movement, (after Xai Xai and after establishment of the Ministry of Gender) and I remember the names of Thoko Ruzvidzo, Shereen Essof, Joyce Kazembe, Hope Chigudu, Hope Sadza, Honour Jirira, Shereen Essof, Pat McFadden, to mention a few, worked tirelessly, and hand in hand with the national gender machinery, to push for development and implementation of gender sensitive legislation in the country, that indeed changed the status of women from the colonially conferred minor status to sole decision makers, and in the process establishing the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and Network, a gender institution that has indeed stood the test of time and played a huge part on the transformaiton agenda in Zimbabwe. Women continued to work harder, and the late 90s witnessed the evolvement of more women sensitive organisations and institutions, such as the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, the Group of Twenty, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus and the resultant gender sensitive Constitution of 2013.
Women indeed negated the minority status conferred to them by colonialism and patriarchy, and continued to engage the state as a site of struggle for better political, social and economic trajectories for the women, girls and men of Zimbabwe. In my argument, thirty six years after independence, and following all the normative calls for gender equality, affirmative action and women’s empowerment, all the support for capacity building, all the specially reserved seats emanating from a gender sensitive Constitution, women of the land still seem to be trapped in a political quagmire where they continuously fight each other, derogate each other, call each other names and step on each other’s toes as they scuttle to support men into better positions, to push for male formulated agendas and to receive paltry favours from those in higher positions of power. At the same time women continue to call for more affirmative action, and I have heard arguments of, “We want the Constitution to change, and to extend the reserved seats to 30 years!” Noble idea, given the many years of suppression of women, but what have we done as women to prove that we can transform spaces once we get into parliament, or into any other positions of leadership? How differently and well have we shaped motions and debates, how differently and how well have we shaped wellness discourses for our subordinates in the workspaces that we lead, what role models have we inspired for our subordinates to emulate, and how differently and how well have we represented the aspirations of women at the grassroots levels? Some ambigous questions too: How well have we negated rumours as the basis for leadership, and how well have we helped to divide the very women under us, who we are supposed to groom and develop?
Colonialism left institutions, mechanisms and frameworks modelled alongside the aspirations and capitalist objectives of the colony. African men, coming straight from the bush to the throne, tried all they could to change spaces, but, unavoidably and by design, they still fell prey to effects of these institutions that exhibit colonial nostalgia, and they have as a result, and have in many ways than one, perpetuated the ideals of the oppressor by neglecting the security needs of the women and children, the marginalised and the differently abled. The most outstanding moment for me the day I watched the Belgians confering independence to Patrice Lumumba in the DRC was when the colonial repsentative advised Lumumba not to hesitate "...to call us back to Congo as soon as you encounter governance problems." So in their nostalgia and design, the colonisers never thought indegenous rulers would make it, because they had designed their institutions for our total failure. Rightly so, Africa women continue to call for 50/50 representation at all levels of leadership, from African Union to our own cabinets and parliaments, but does this call come with the realisation that we have to transcend the male-stream models of leadership and the malestream mentality in order to change the face of politics on the continent.
Mere change of gender without a shift in political consciousness may not necessarily bring us the transformaiton we desire. Whilst political participation is indeed a normative issue, we as women must also realise that politics is power, and power does not come on a silver plate if it is real power. To get real power we have to make ourselves attractive to and for politics, and we have to prepare ourselves mentally, economically and politically to compete with men for political positons, beyond what affirmative action has or may continue to offer us. We have to non-violently compete for power out of the hands of those who abuse it, and prove that we are women of worth. We do not want to be called “Baccossi” anymore, we want to be called by the names of the sheroes of the African struggle. (Baccossi is a term used by Zimbabwean backlashers to mock women who got into parliament on PR). We must negate the old practices of hate, rumour mongering, overpowering, selfishness and laziness, and work hard on all fronts for the Zimbabwe and Africa we want to see by 2063. We must negate the current leadership styles that centre more on self-gain than on nation building, and embrace a deep transformation and love that builds from the personal to the collective. We need to embrace Honourable Jennifer Mhlanga’s model of “power with” as opposed to “power over”, and we need to consider how good and enriching it can be to acknowledge the good that our fellow sister have and can do, and also work hard to do better. After the Cold War, men took it as priority number one to build whole institutions and departments of War and Strategic Studies, but as women we need a new form of thinking, one that turns weapons into sickles as we build our non-violent strategies for collective engagement towards lasting peace and security from the personal to the collective.
Go well Honourable Mhlanga, and bring us back enriching knowledge and skills.