13 September 2013

Zimbabwe: Shock As Mugabe Says Few Women Educated Enough to Be Ministers

There has been an angry response to President Robert Mugabe's condescending remarks regarding the near-absence of women in his Cabinet.

On Wednesday, just after swearing in his new appointees, Mugabe implied to journalists that the three women he included were all he could manage, as there were not enough educated women to choose from.

Only Oppah Muchinguri (Women's Affairs), Olivia Muchena (Higher Education), and Sithembiso Nyoni (Small & Medium Enterprises) made it into Cabinet.

"Give us the women. This time we did proportional representation, but there were just not enough women. Women are few in universities. It's no longer necessary to do affirmative action; it's free for all," he said.

"Education is for all now. It is mixed. The yield is the same. It is no longer necessary for us to have affirmative action. Let women contest alongside men without any preferential treatment," Mugabe told the press.

Mugabe further said that despite the affirmative action efforts aimed at promoting women's access to education, women had not utilised these opportunities and "simply failed to emerge".

But women's groups say they are disappointed with such an attitude, especially coming from the country's President who should know better.

Writing on Facebook Betty Makoni, founder of the Girl Child Network, said: "To think our President today says that after 20 years of sweating in schools we are not educated as Zimbabwean women is shocking.

"I think giving most political cabinet positions to men is like a father who treats boy children better than girls. Zimbabwe might be amongst countries with the highest number of educated women," she wrote.

She went on to say that with this attitude boys grow up with a negative feeling towards women and women end up seeing themselves as inferior.

Responding to Makoni's post, former broadcaster Lydia Mavengere said: "I get the feeling he (Mugabe) doesn't like a good sensible argument or challenge from a woman. As a result he chose the few he perceived to be the least antagonistic. For men like that, it also helps them live in their comfort zone where women are seen and not heard.

"But we all know Zimbabwean women are great, featuring amongst the most educated most hardworking and most resourceful," Mavengere said on Facebook.

In yet another comment posted on Facebook, feisty feminist-activist Everjoice Win said she couldn't care less about Mugabe's appointments.

"Please don't ask me for comments, or ask me to get engaged. I never cared why Hitler didn't have women in the leadership of the SS. I did not lose sleep over the lack of women in the 5th Brigade when they massacred my mother's people in Matebeleland.

"I certainly am not going to care now how many are in that Retirement Home Inc Cabinet," Win added.

Speaking on behalf of the umbrella Women's Coalition, Virginia Muwanigwa told one newspaper that member groups were disappointed that the composition of the Cabinet disregards the new constitution.

She added: "We are particularly disappointed because it is not just about the Cabinet, but what the Cabinet represents in the lives of people of Zimbabwe."

Speaking to SW Radio Africa Friday Merit Rumema, of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, said they were disappointed that Mugabe had actually reduced the number of women in Cabinet.

"We had hoped there will be more women this time considering that there is a pool of 60 extra women to choose from as a result of the parliamentary quota system.

"The new constitution also makes provisions for the inclusion of technocrats in parliament and so in terms of capacity there is enough of that in parliament.

"Some of the women have been parliamentarians for more than 30 years and surely they know what they are doing and can head ministries.

Rumema said it was "abnormal" to have just three women in the Cabinet, adding that the President had demonstrated a lack of commitment to the various international agreements he signed on gender equality and equity.

"The regional protocol on gender, which the president signed, says there should be 50-50 representation of women in key roles by 2015 but just two years before this year, this is the kind of Cabinet, and situation, we find ourselves in."

Rumema said ZWLA was in the process of compiling a list of all the educational qualifications of women parliamentarians, to prove to Mugabe that there are enough educated women to head ministries if that is the criteria.

Rumema was also cynical about the ministries that Mugabe had reserved for women, saying they were "soft" portfolios that lack clout.

"Without taking anything away from the women, as women's groups we would love to see a woman heading the finance, or legal affairs ministries for example because they are capable. You begin to wonder whether this is patriarchy at play, politics or attitude," she added.

Kumbirai Mafunda, of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights said Mugabe had insulted women.

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