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Betwixt and between The State

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Anybody and everybody knows that Zimbabwe’s GNU has a great many problems to deal with.  They are problems which cut across all sectors of society (education, health, agriculture, arts & culture, economics, etc.).  Some are optimistic about the future.  Some are skeptical.  Many are in the middle, or flat out uncertain about what the future holds.  One thing is for sure.  Zimbabweans are tired.  Their fight for democracy has been long and exhausting.  The pains have been both physical and emotional.  Which makes it all the more painful to suggest that the fight is far from over.  Even if the GNU could instantly fix everything and Zimbabwe became the world-renowned utopia north of the Limpopo, my stance remains the same.  I would still say that fighting for and sustainably implementing democratic practices of governance are permanent endeavors.  For any and every nation.  Citizens have an important role to play in the check and balances of democracy.  That role involves a balanced approach of working with and supporting the individuals and institutions charged with implementing democratic practices along with identifying and taking action when there are transgressions from democracy.

I’ve been thinking about all that in the context of an excellent article I read by Everjoice Win entitled:  When sharing female identity is not enough: coalition building in the midst of political polarization in Zimbabwe.  Win does not state what I will proceed to suggest in these exact terms, but subtly this line of thinking is within Win’s adept analysis.   The women’s movement in Zimbabwe has never really rebounded from Operation Clean Up of 1983. During this operation, The State violated the rights of ordinary citizens by arresting thousands of women for the “crime” of being on the street alone.  This came out of ill-conceived belief on the part of The State that no woman would be on the street alone unless a prostitute.   The ensuing advocacy led to the formation of the Women’s Action Group (WAG).   These moments are historicised as the birth of the post-independence women’s movement in Zimbabwe; in many respects, an accurate historisation.

However, these moments also signal a second birth.  That of challenging The State.  I am purposively using capital T and capital S to make clear that by “The State” I don’t just mean government.  Rather, I mean the political ideology of authoritarian rule and in turn, the masculine ideology of using The State as an avenue to control, not only women themselves, but also to control definitions of the concept of woman.  WAG emerged as an organisation which put front and center an agenda of challenging The State.   A great many women’s organizations came onto the scene once WAG was operational.   Some followed suit with WAG and challenged The State.  Others took more depoliticized paths.  Some were co-opted by The State.  Through all of this, the issue of challenging The State or working with The State remained a sticking point within the overall women’s movement.   As Win notes, “political and ideological differences were concealed by the language of gender and development, with its depoliticized messages associated with national development.”

In 1999, this dynamic played out again, in relation to the founding of the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA), the Constitutional Commission (CC), and the Women’s Coalition (WC).   With interest in ensuring women’s rights were part of the constitutional review process, the WC had to choose a path:  The NCA (Civil Society) or The CC (The State).   The formation of Movement for Democratic Change (MDC) this same year complicated the terrain even more.  The ‘which path to choose’ dilemma existed, not only for the WC, but also for all development or issue-related movements and organisations.  Of course, it’s not neatly an either or choice; there are ways to make strategic and selective linkages.  And many issue-specific organizations did and continue to do this well.  But still.  Somehow, I think this dilemma around The State has been particularly troublesome for the broader coalition of women’s organisations.   In summarizing the terrain around this time Win notes, “The crisis has left the women’s movement in disarray…  A major blockage for the WC is its lack of a clear position on its relationship with the State.”  Win’s article was published in 2004, so perhaps the WC has cleared the blockage.   However, I have a sneaking suspicion the WC, to this day, remains problematically betwixt and between this issue of relating to The State.

Thus, to connect the dots begs the question:   As the GNU (hopefully not a new The State) comes to fruition and hopefully succeeds as a democracy, is a women’s movement ready to take on the need for discussions about The State, which have been, to some degree, relegated to the sidelines for 26 years?  Perhaps what is needed is, not a GNU, but rather, some WUGU (Women United Government United).

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