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Zimbabwe women cast away in the new dispensation

When President Emmerson Mnangagwa came to office last November, he vowed to usher in a fresh new era for Zimbabwe.

Six months into his administration, the jury is still out on whether he has meaningfully broken with the past.

But at least on one front, Zimbabwe today looks just like it did for much of former president Robert Mugabe’s 37 years of rule.

Despite provisions ensuring that “both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level” in section 17 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution, women are still profoundly marginalised when it comes to positions of power.

In President Mnangagwa’s new cabinet, just 3 of the 22 roles available were assigned to women.

Moreover, following the recent party primaries, women will account for barely 10% of the ruling ZANU-PF’s candidates in the upcoming general elections.

At the same time, the most prominent women within the government in recent years have been cast away.

Though not necessarily a champion for gender equality, Grace Mugabe was pushed out at the same time as her husband.

Meanwhile, Joice Mujuru was expelled from ZANU-PF in 2014 after serving as Zimbabwe’s vice-president for a decade.

The gender balance in the opposition does not look any better.

While trying to position itself as the true party of progressive change, the Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) is similarly male-dominated.

The party may be reaching out to Zimbabwe’s large young population by endorsing the 40-year-old Nelson Chamisa as its leader, but there are no similar efforts to include the half of Zimbabwe’s population made up of women.

The MDC’s patriarchal leadership and attitudes have also been on display recently.

Following the political rally held by the MDC Alliance at White City Stadium in Bulawayo on 7 April, for example, all seven speakers who took the stage were men.

Meanwhile, Chamisa has been heavily criticised in the last few days after a video emerged of him joking with supporters on a visit to the UK, saying: “If Mnangagwa wins 5% in a free election, I will give him my sister. I have a sister who just turned 18 and is looking for a husband.”

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