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Kicking out paternalism

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I have never been too fond of radical feminism or any form of extremism for that matter; finding it to be an aggressive, usually narrow and unhelpful approach to conflict resolution.

Radicalism is often reactionary, manifesting as a reaction to some undesired reality and is usually the preserve of those who feel they have something to defend against all costs and something to fight for against whatever odds.

As an activist, I have found that radicalism has its place, its use and its benefits in pursuing the elusive goal of attaining social justice for womankind.

Some weeks back, I read with glee, that Emilia Muchawa and a group of women had broken into song and dance protesting the negligible female representation in the constitution-making process’s committees and even had the gumption to threaten to derail the process altogether.

Now I reckon there are those who found such conduct distasteful, extreme and even uncalled for – but every once in a while, it is necessary for discontent to erupt into something more than passive resistance.

I do not know whether these women intended to make such a vocal display of their displeasure but I would like to think it was neither premeditated nor meant as a gesture of disrespect for the process – I’d like to think it was a spontaneous and extreme reaction to long suppressed frustrations that women have felt at having to be side-lined time and again in critical decision-making processes.

And I daresay, no one can argue that women’s grievances are legitimate and their frustration a natural consequence of ineffectual words never put to practice as our country has a great gender policy on paper and absolutely nothing to back it up on the ground.

The transition from theoretical gender policy frameworks to the implementation and practice of the same has yet to manifest; and while one can appreciate that it is not easy to reverse the thinking of years and that gender equity will be a process – one expects to see a degree of commitment towards living up to the words enshrined in the treaties, legislative instruments and laws which Zimbabwe has signed, ratified and enacted.

From the CEDAW to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, and other treaties focusing on the need for gender parity, Zimbabwe has made a commitment on paper that is yet to manifest in actuality; so with the imminent crafting of a new Constitution, women have every right to insist – no – to demand equal representation.

Article VI of the Global Political Agreement having stated without equivocation that the parties are, “Mindful of the need to ensure that the new Constitution deepens our democratic values and principles and the protection of the equality of all citizens, particularly the enhancement of full citizenship and equality of women,” it is only natural that a deviation from these noble goals be met with resistance, and if need be, outright mutiny.

However, cognisance must be taken of the fact that men folk have deeply internalised cultural values and have often related to women on a paternalistic level – an unfortunate consequence of being born and raised in a patriarchal society.

Having said this, I found the gesture made by Emilia Muchawa and the other women present at that gathering to be a definitive act of kicking paternalism to the curb.

Emphatically, Zimbabwean women are making a statement they have no use for paternalistic gestures; men do not ever need to make decisions (regardless of how well-meaning the intention) on behalf of women.

We can and we will speak for ourselves.

In this context, my view is that paternalism is premised on two considerations; the first being that men adopt a benevolent and ‘fatherly’ attitude towards women and by assuming this attitude they (men) then make decisions ostensibly meant to benefit women without the inclusion, consent or will of the women themselves.

So perhaps, it was with good intent that these men gathered, figuring that they would ‘know what was best for women’ and go ahead with the business of crafting the constitution without the permission, participation or involvement of women.

Inexorably, the women’s movement in this country has over the years consistently challenged and resisted patriarchal and paternalistic attitudes – suffice to say, the constitution-making process presents the most volatile battlefront yet.

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