Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA
VERBAL and emotional abuse are among the worst forms of violence that women in our country suffer, yet glossed over in the campaign against gender-based violence (GBV).
The mud-slinging of women on non-issues, mostly over matters men would go blameless, is the major reason why women are shy to come out in public and vie for leadership positions.
Apparently the culture of character assassination of women to deliberately deride their achievements and dampen their morale to explore their potential in different spheres of human endeavour, is one tool that some people in our patriarchal society take pleasure in.
The faint-hearted women would succumb to sexist innuendos from people who have no respect for womanhood, but the bold women would be undeterred by gender-based defamatory attacks.
Perhaps some of you may be wondering what I am driving at.
I am referring to the tendency by society to disrespect childless women and subject them to ridicule as though not having children takes away from one’s mental faculties.
In the latest incident that came five days after we entered into the 16 Days of Activism against Gender-Based Violence, a parliamentary went to town maligning a woman leader because she has got no children.
Well, for the sake of not injuring the victim of unwarranted disparaging remarks further, I will not mention names, but rather say that it is wrong to cast aspersions on women leaders based on non-issues such as childlessness or marital status.
The criticism of women leaders should be issue-based. Mind you, the intelligence of women, or men leaders for that matter, cannot be measured in their ability to produce children, neither in terms of marital status.
If a leader is good then one just has the required leadership qualities and this has nothing to do with how many children they have.
Similarly, childlessness is not a disability, mentally and otherwise, therefore it does not take away from someone’s ability to function as a productive member of society.
If a woman leader errs, she should be taken to task based on the perceived shortcoming, as opposed to insulting her intelligence because she does not have children.
Sadly we live in a society where people want to deliberately injure women’s feelings and silence them for lacking certain things that conservatives consider as the norms of success or ‘true womanhood’.
This is the reason why women are qualified or disqualified from holding decision-making positions on non-related issues such as marital status, ability and inability to have children.
Little wonder, we have few women offering themselves to run for public office as members of Parliament, councillors, council secretaries or as political party officials.
Aspiring women leaders who happen to ‘fail’ the harsh and unreasonable morality test are subjected to a smear campaign, while their male counterparts in similar situations are held in high esteem.
It is surprising that some women will actually campaign against a fellow woman vying for political office on account of her being single or divorced because the society we live in makes us think that they cannot make good leaders.
Well, it’s good that in the middle of such negativity against women, we have bold and determined women who have defied the odds to climb ladders in political office, the corporate world and many other decision-making positions.
For instance, we have female ministers, MPs and chief executive officers who are blazing the trail in their spheres of influence despite their negative perception by conservative members of society.
We actually need more of such courageous women who will fight and fend off unwarranted criticism by male chauvinists.
In Europe there are two powerful female prime ministers, one of them described as the most powerful leader in the world, who have no children and no one there makes a fuss about it.
These are women of substance hard to find and they command a lot of respect the world over.
I guess it’s about time Zambians also learnt to look at the leadership qualities of a woman without subjecting her to sexist benchmarks.
My piece of advice to Zambian women is that make no mistake to think that the road to a gender-inclusive and fair society will be a rosy and smooth one. Along the way are many obstacles in form of innuendos, gender stereotypes, smear campaigns and discrimination based on gender.
To have 50 percent of women in decision-making positions, we need strong-spirited women who will soldier on without feeling pity for themselves over unwarranted sexist attacks from detractors.
Being called barren, umushimbe (spinster) or prostitute (for no reason) is no reason for a woman to feel discouraged from pursuing her desired career.
Personally, I feel, though mocked, there is no cause for a person to feel ashamed about situations they have no control over because our destinies are determined by God.
From a Christian perspective, we have certain things because God has given us, and do not have some things because God has not given us yet.
Pouring scorn on people we feel do not have certain things is like trying to mock God, the Giver.
Rather, it is the mockers of women leaders who should feel ashamed and mend their ways.
For example, it is unacceptable for an honourable parliamentarian to issue disparaging remarks against a woman leader on matters bordering on womanhood.
When I listened to the audio of the sentiments that the parliamentarian in question made against his victim, I could not believe it that such words could come from a high-ranking leader.
As far as I am concerned, the remarks constitute pure GBV or emotional abuse of a woman.
The victim could actually sue for defamation of character if she wanted, because the sentiments are quite injurious.
It is good that the MP has apologised to his victim, but sadly the impact of his injurious words is greater than that of his apology.
In a nutshell, there is nothing wrong with holding women leaders accountable for their actions, but rather diverting from real issues and bringing in petty issues is.
And leaders in different realms of influence should play a leading role in ridding our society of all forms of GBV against women.
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Gender Focus with EMELDA MWITWA