‘For most of history, anonymous was a woman’ (Virginia Woolf, 1929); we are under no illusion it was wrong back then and that it still is wrong today. The 21st Century Mthwakazi must address gender inequality as a human rights matter of urgency.
According to the 2012 population census, Matabeleland’s population male/female sex ratio was between 87/100 (Bulawayo) and 95/100 (Matabeleland North) yet the sex ratio composition in positions of socioeconomic and political influence in the region today is skewed in favour of men.
The gender inequality tragedy must not descend into a sociopolitical and economic travesty. Women have to be heard and seen! The central moral challenge for Mthwakazi nationalists today must be gender equality; Mthwakazi has to actively promote equal access to opportunities in leading political roles for both men and women.
Mthwakazi must work tirelessly to challenge and change such social norms as perceptions of male superiority and female weaklings. Women have been socialised into believing that they somehow have an innate and exceptional tendency to nurture hence they are perfect for such domestic roles as raising children while men raise and expand their socioeconomic influence beyond the home parameters. Objectively determining how much of this perceived innate ability is nature and how much is nurture is difficult to measure.
Boys should no longer be brought up to protect girls and men must not see their role in social interactions as essentially that of protecting women; women should not be objectified. In the same token women must not entrust men with the responsibility of constructing a world they (women) want, women themselves must create the world they want. It must not be women’s expectation to be given power rather, they must be prepared to take it; men are not exclusively entitled to powerful roles outside the home.
Admittedly, there are limits to what Mthwakazi nationalists can do to promote gender equality across the region but there is scope to significantly alter the Mthwakazi social and political world starting from within the different political organisations. Nationalist organisations can and they must stop the current social world that expects women to fit in a world built by men for men; the rules of the game need to change and all barriers to the advancement of women within the different political entities must be removed.
I do concede that one of the nationalist organisations is led by a woman and there are women within the executive committees of some organisations yet I have reservations over their real executive influence. Besides, Rwanda, women’s representation in African politics is a source of great worry. Within the Mthwakazi political scene the political influence of women is questionable to say the least; MNP has a female leader who is hardly seen in public, and hardly articulates her beliefs and her vision for the party. She is basically surrounded by a horde of men making her a mere symbolical figure.
Male driven political perceptions and gestures of gender equality with no visible transference of real power to women are mere acts of deceit that need to be challenged by society. In particular, I have reservations over the broader influence of MNP’s exclusively female wing aptly named the Women’s wing that exists, as does the youth wing, outside what the party calls the Main wing that is predominantly made up of male executive.
Most women’s wings in African political institutions tend to be dominated by blindly loyal women who socialise young women into mere cheer leaders and obedient fans of male leaders as opposed to promoting a genuine gender equality agenda that challenges the status quo.
Over and above their Women’s Wings, pro-Mthwakazi groups must draw a clear process of integrating and empowering women within its structures and processes that will ensure proportionate representation of women as well as ensure women within the party exist in their own right not as an extension of male dominated institutional interests.
The utility of a political reconfiguration that will oversee an increase in the political representation of women within the Mthwakazi agenda cannot be overstated. All barriers to women empowerment must be removed. Gender equality is essential in reducing poverty; the current world that has seen women being expected to make their niche in a socio-political world created by and for men has failed society. Men and women are not the same but equal; there is no moral justification in preserving institutionalised gender inequality.