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By Everjoice J. Win

IN Shona culture we believe that November is an inauspicious month. You don’t get married or brew beer for the ancestors during that month, otherwise you will be cursed.

So it’s true then. Bad things do happen in November.

First Yasser Arafat died. Then Condoleeza Rice was named new US Secretary of State. And just when we thought nothing worse could happen, Joyce Teurai Ropa Mujuru was made Vice President of Zimbabwe. Does it get any worse? Well it did, when a South African female Minister told my colleague, “I am gender neutral. No let me correct that, I am gender insensitive!” We really should have known this was a bad year when Gertrude Mongella was elected Chair of the African Union Parliament!

One can’t help but be angry with little text and email messages congratulating me/women for Joyce Mujuru’s election as Zimbabwe’s new Vice President. There are female persons. Then there are women’s women. The only thing Mujuru and Rice share with other women is biology. How else is one is one supposed to greet the elevation of a woman who publicly declared, “There is nothing like equality, (between men and women). Those who call for equality are failures in life”?

Joyce Mujuru was lauded by patriarchal media when she made this assertion at a Salvation Army church women’s meeting in 1998. Neither has she been known to speak out for women’s rights issues in public, in parliament, (where she has sat since 1980), or in any notable forum. (The short stint as Minister for Women’s Affairs not withstanding). Women have entered the political arena in the SADC region in, (until recently), increasing numbers. We have learnt that unless we are present and participate equally at decision- making tables, our needs will not be adequately met. Equal political participation is our RIGHT. If we are human beings just as much as the men, then it is our right to be equally present in political offices. We do not need to justify our wanting to be in leadership.

"As many would say in Shona, 'Joyce Mujuru murume pachake'….She is a real man, and she can stay as one of the boys"

But we have equally learnt that it is not enough to simply want to be there. It is no longer sufficient to just talk about balancing the numbers. Those of us in civil-society who are called upon to support women in leadership, need to know what it is we are supporting them for. I refuse to support or strengthen the capacity of women to become thieves, liars and oppressors. I do not want to work with radar-less women who seem to think that politics is a value free science. What we need are women who will use their leadership positions to liberate themselves, and other women. Trading on their biology alone is not good enough. I am angry with these kinds of women who at every other time in their lives forget they are one of us, only to remember their vaginas when it suits them.

Women in leadership or aspiring to leadership have often argued that other women do not support them. They have argued that they are judged too harshly by society, particularly the media. They also say that the standards used to judge them are too high, and the expectations by women equally problematic. Most of these are valid arguments. But if these women make their views known so publicly like Mujuru, should we celebrate them as our own? If they don’t bring in a different vision or values to those that currently prevail, then why should, anybody be congratulating women about their election? Why should I be asked to vote for other women, when all I am getting is same old same old? Pardon me for staying with the devils I know. At least they are consistent in their mediocrity and bad leadership.

At another level though, the elevation of a Joyce Mujuru or a Condoleeza Rice throws the usual women bashers into a quandary. These are women who can hold their own. Joyce Mujuru has her own liberation war history credentials. Despite a number of newspapers’ attempts at casting Mujuru as only a front for her (so-called), husband, the woman has been there, done that and was over-due for higher office. She has been in cabinet since 1980. She has not been as involved in corruption scandals as have been many of her male cohorts. This is not the usual Jane-just-come that they can trash.

Yet still we have to ask why Mujuru is being elevated at this particular moment? What is it that Mugabe and his men have seen in her that they had failed to see in 24 years? This is the most worrisome aspect. Once again we see a woman being brought when things are so bad that she ends up getting the blame should nothing change for the better. This gives those who have never believed in women’s leadership to keep saying, “see we told you, what can this woman do?” Typical patriarchal style. They do it in the family – blame their wives. They do it every day – blame the sex workers, the witches, or their secretaries. The Mujurus meanwhile are so happy to be put in these positions they don’t stop to ask why me? Why now? The women on the outside also raise their expectations, hope against hope that this is the woman who will finally stand up for their rights. I am certainly not holding my breath on this one. As many would say in Shona, “Joyce Mujuru murume pachake”….She is a real man, and she can stay as one of the boys. What we need are a few good women whom we can identify with as one of our own.
Everjoice J. Win is a Zimbabwean feminist. She is currently International Women’s Rights Coordinator with ActionAid. She writes in her personal capacity.

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