Andile Tshuma, Gender
In 2017, menstruation was cited as one of the reasons why a young woman could not inherit chieftaincy from her father.
Some Mlotshwa family members vowed not to allow the late Chief Mvuthu’s eldest and now married daughter, Ms Silibaziso Mlotshwa to succeed her father who died seven years ago just because she is a woman.
Her father, Chief Mvuthu passed away in 2014 and there has been a seven-year battle of succession ever since.
Instead, the Mlotshwa family nominated the late Chief’s brother, Mr Sanders Mlotshwa as his successor in December 2014 saying it is against the Ndebele culture for a woman to succeed her father as a chief.
When the constitutional court ruled in favour of Ms Mlotshwa, a cowry of hope shone and hope was restored on the future of women in traditional leadership and public life in the country.
This is a reflection of how existing traditional systems and cultural norms actively exclude and disadvantage women from standing at all levels of traditional leadership and public life.
It is also an example of how the country has been thriving under traditional leadership systems that are also responsible for making it more difficult for women to leave their traditionally domestic roles outside of their homes and participate in the upper echelons of national and international political activities.
Sadly, the Mlotshwa chieftaincy case is just one of many such cases in the country and across Sadc.
It reflects how society still views women and how there is still a long way to go in changing attitudes and norms when it comes to locating the women’s space in communities.
Last week, the South African Gender Progress Study (GPS) report was launched, with findings that showed that while some progress had been made, Sadc countries needed to continue fighting for gender equality and women’s rights.
The GPS report measures gender attitudes across all Sadc countries.
With an average score of 61%, gender attitudes in the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) are gradually changing for the better, but evidence of deep-seated patriarchal attitudes is still strong.
The gender attitudes research shows that, while 58% of women and men in the Sadc region agree or strongly agree that “women and men should be treated the same” while 52% agree or strongly agree that “a woman should obey her husband.”
Genderlinks reported that these are among the key findings of the South African GPS administered to 34,323 women and men of all age groups in 15 Sadc countries between January 2019 and May 2021.
The GPS is administered by country focal networks of the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance coordinated by Gender Links to better understand different perspectives on gender equality, so as to target efforts to change attitudes and behaviour in more effectively.
The Alliance comprises women’s rights networks across Sadc that campaigned for the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development adopted in 2008 and produce an annual Barometer to track progress against its provisions.
The GPS consists of 25 questions that respondents either strongly agree, agree, or disagree, strongly disagree with.
The responses are rated on a scale of zero (least progressive) to 100 most progressive.
According to Gender Links, on a positive note, relatively low percentages agreed or strongly agreed that “there is nothing a woman can do if her husband wants to have many girlfriends” (17%); “if a man beats his wife, it shows that he loves her (13%); families should spend less money on the education of their daughters than of their sons (12%).
The report highlighted that worrying findings included high percentages of those who agreed or strongly agreed that “a woman needs her husbands’ permission to do paid work” (31%) and “a man should have the final say in all family matters (28%).
In all but four other countries (Angola, Botswana, Malawi and Namibia) female respondents had higher gender attitude scores than male respondents. Overall, women scored 65% compared to men (58%). In all age groups, female respondents had higher gender attitude scores than male respondents, indicating that female respondents of all age groups were more gender progressive than male respondents.
According to the report, men held more negative gender attitudes in relation to gender-based violence questions, sexual and reproductive health and rights, harmful practices questions, and general questions than female respondents.
Young people in the 18 to 25 age bracket had lower scores (59%) than respondents between the ages of 41 and 60 with a mean score of 61%, which is disappointing in a region where the majority population are young, and high hopes are being pinned on them in the 2030 #GenerationEquality campaign.
Respondents with a tertiary level education had the highest scores (63%), than respondents with only a primary school level of education (58%).
The over-riding finding of the GPS is that patriarchy is alive and well in all countries, all ages, and all levels of education.
It also shows that there are no short cuts to accelerating advocacy campaigns to change those attitudes and behaviours that perpetuate gender inequality.
It further exposes the need for continued efforts in advocating for gender equality and campaigning for the eradication of harmful practices in countries.
The report is a reflection of the woman’s space in countries as the Sadc Gender Protocol Barometer of 2018, showed that there were only six female chiefs and 15 female headmen in the country out of a total of 272 and 452 respectively.
Research has shown that women encounter hurdles globally when attempting to participate in political activity despite the fact that many states have ratified international conventions and protocols, which provide full rights to women to enjoy participation in political activities in the Sadc region, the 30 percent average women participation rate is still only half-way to the target of 50 percent women representation required by the Protocol on Gender and Development of 2008.
Despite the fact that participation of women through gender equality is a prominent issue at the global, national, and district levels through the enactment of laws, policies, and conventions, women particularly in Zimbabwe continue to be under-represented across every area of political life by virtue of the lesser status ascribed to them by tradition and custom.
It should be noted that women’s rights under international conventions are universal norms to which all countries must adhere and women, like men, are entitled to exercise their human rights, which include fundamental rights and freedoms within the family and society at large.
Studies have shown that many societies are concerned that the promotion of gender equality would interfere with local culture hence they feel that gender equality should not be promoted for ethical reasons.
This, however, leaves women with the unpleasant situation of choosing between their rights and their culture.
These socially constructed and harmful cultural norms and practices of many contemporary societies are subjugating women to men and hindering their equal and influential participation into politics.
While the Government of Zimbabwe has subscribed to international agreements and instituted national policies to improve women’s representation, there is every indication that customs and traditions still constitute an obstacle to women’s enjoyment of their human rights. — @andile_tshuma