26 July 2017

Zimbabwe: Women in Politics - Pawns On a Chess Board?

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Mantate Mlotshwa remembers the first time she learned the game of chess. Inspired by the game of mental warfare, she ponders the position of women in society.

I was in form two when I first joined the chess club. I knew nothing really. I remember my coach taking me through, firstly, the names of each of the pieces on the board and lastly, the whole concept of checkmating. Back then, I was merely intrigued, but looking at it now, I realise that beyond the fascinating board game lies a reflective political model that defines Zimbabwe today.

Politics mirror chess

My childhood view of politics received validation when I learnt that the pivotal objective of the game of chess is solely to protect one's King and checkmate that of your opponent. It did not matter how many pawns, knights, bishops and even a queen was sacrificed in achieving this primary mandate because they merely served that purpose. A lot of young women in Zimbabwe feel as powerless to act outside the mindset they have been socialised to exist in, as I assume every inferior piece on the chessboard would feel, had it any emotion. I intentionally single out the young woman as a victim of inferiority complex because the political model of Zimbabwe, among that of other African nations, blinkers the political aspirations of a girl to a systematic "preferably support your husband's political ambitions, but should you be the vivacious, radical female drunk in empowerment, pursue your political interests cautiously, with no solid expectations of being heard above the voice and opinion of your male counterparts".

Women can only be pawns

Unless justified, as I will do shortly, this claim that the socialisation process undergone by Zimbabwean children disempowers and discourages the political aspirations of the female child could be easily considered far-fetched by many, whose programmed view of politics is like the principles of chess; static and ultimate. Two incidents that I encountered not so long ago substantiate my disappointment and concern for the interests of young women. The first one was a speech delivered by the president of Zimbabwe at a ZANU PF politburo session following the removal of Joice Mujuru from her former position of VP. I watched in terror and panic as President Mugabe unapologetically stated that he would never allow a woman to lead Zimbabwe again. He felt justified, and resolute! Yet, in that declaration, he had said enough to not only abort the dream of every girl who aspired to one day preside over Zimbabwe, but also certified the view that women are incapable of sound and critical decision making. Undoubtedly, a DNA of undermining women at all leadership levels in governance was conceived. This was a king, rendering women pawns, necessary for his protection and strategies against the opponent, but easily disposable.

My experience in Junior Parliament

My reasoning would no doubt be questionable if I do not relate the second, equally disheartening encounter I had concerning female leadership. As a vibrant, well-known former member of junior parliament, I was not shocked to gain the attention of one of the well-known provincial youth committee members of Zanu PF soon after the appointment of Tinaye Mbavari as the first in a very long time, female junior child president. His countenance as he asked, "How do you elect a girl to lead junior parliament?" still flashes vividly in my memory. It was not just the hurt that made me turn away from him, but an overwhelming sense of betrayal. I had spent my one year of office in junior parliament working to prove myself an able leader. Their attention and supposed investment in my various projects of community and youth development were nothing but a front. The political model of junior parliament as a miniature of senior government is designed, like the king on a chessboard, to groom and protect the potential of the boy child to lead, the girl child merely there to help achieve that sole purpose.

Years after I graduated from junior parliament, I still wonder how many more young women shy away from governance because the system is friendly towards them. Defeated, they allow themselves to take the role of chess pawns, subjected to just one step forward and a constant fear of being disposed. A handful of these feel lucky when, like bishops and knights in the game of chess, they are promoted and allowed a bit of free-play, and even then, restricted either to diagonal or L motion across the board. Made to feel superior to the pawn, the aforementioned group of females are the most easily crushed, because their hope eventually reaches the inevitable dead end when the king is checkmated.

More than mere pawns

The simplicity of my twisted perspective of the Zimbabwean political model brings to question an injustice in the grooming of young people for leadership. Young women can lead and their voice in governance allows for their interests to be made a priority.

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