“I did not go home to vote today. I already knew my ‘candidate’ was not on the ballot paper. All of the ballot papers, Presidential, parliamentary, local government. She was not there.” Everjoice – Zimbabwean Blogger
In the July 2013 election aftermath feminists around the country woke up from the post-election depression to some disturbing news. Following the re-election of President Robert Mugabe, a new cabinet had been drafted….as expected.
What was not expected was its constitution. The number of women headed ministries had also scaled down from 5 to 3! After all the work of paving for a new constitution to be drafted and ratified, after the campaigns for increased women representation, it had all come down to that insulting number: 3. [NOTE: A two person drop may not mean anything to others but in a country were the number of our female ministers is closer to zero than 10 each number counts] The press carried the story of how it seemed the new cabinet was mainly filled with party hardliners. By implication this would mean there are not many female party hardliners with the now ruling ZANU-PF party [I find this last point intriguing as all the ZANU-PF rallies I have ever attended or witnessed are often crowded by women singing, dancing, and chanting in colourful and ‘party-hardline like’ regalia]
The anger that rose after the pronouncement of the cabinet is testament to this one fact– women want more women in governance! Women feel men cannot adequately represent their interests at policy level.This has to do with identity and representation.
The politic of representation is a precarious topic. Representation assumes commonality between the represented and who they represent; a common identity. In speaking about identity Adams argues that ‘efforts towards cross-difference organisation call for an understanding of identity as fragmentary, unstable, inter-subjective and inter-contextual’ (Adams, 2002). Looking at our new female ministers in cabinet I struggle to find commonality beyond our skin and sex. At my age (29) many of them were already commanding high-ranking government departments. The elected ministers are women now in their 50’s and 60’s, women who went to war, wives, mothers, grandmothers, property (and farm) owners and Shona speaking women. I on the other hand am a single, soon to be 30years, half Ndebele half Shona, living on a sponsored stipend woman. How then can they represent me when they are nothing like me? Can sex and race alone be sufficient to make 3 women adequate representations of my individual aspirations as a young Zimbabwean woman?
Yuval-Davies (2006) in defining intersectionality posits that it relates to how the interrelation of social divisions makes discrimination to be experienced differently by different subjects. She argues that the magnitude of difference impugns a sisterhood between all women.
In this regard, how can the Honourable ministers begin to imagine the fear that I have in walking the streets of urban Zimbabwe at night for fear of being heckled, robbed or arrested on scanty loitering charges? Can the women electives understand the internal conflict of being a proud, educated African woman who does earn enough to support her parents sufficiently? Can the Honourable elect contend with the indignity I feel when men old enough to be my father make lewd proposals in the most public of places? No, I do not think they understand, for if they did they would speak up more, defend me more vigorously and guard my dignity more jealously.
While intersectionality was originally adopted to explain how women of colour and white women can experience discrimination differently it can also be taken to even explain differing experiences in women of the same race. Although the honourable ministers and I are all black women we are not of the same ethnicity, we are not from the same time era and our social class is markedly different. Which brings me to doubt their ability to speak for me. This is why to assume common subjectivity would be to essentialise womanhood and accept that the pressures presented by being a young woman in Zimbabwe are reductibly similar to the challenges of being a woman in general. Then again, to posit these hard questions is to also open the door to “illimitable process of signification” (Yuval-Davies 2006 p.11 quoting Butler 1990).
So I say; no one can represent me. No let me say it again no ONE woman can represent me. I need more women, more diversity so that in their complexities I can find pieces of my own identity, so that in their diverse political ideology I can find one who speaks my kind of politic which is neither leftist nor right, neither revolutionary nor modernist. Put simply I (we) need more women in the cabinet so that they reflect the diversity in the women of Zimbabwe; so that they can adequately capture the multi-layered, multi-secting issues that women in the country are facing.
And so with this I concur with blogger Everjoice (quoted on top) that my ideal candidate was not there in the elections; I add she is not there in the cabinet.