In the last few days, I like so many other women who believe in women’s rights were both saddened and outraged by the suggestion by the Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, Justice Rita Makarau, that women who hold no title to their homes should ask their husbands to write them letters as proof of residence so they can register to vote.
By that statement, Makarau dragged the women’s movement back to the dark days of suppression of women’s rights. Makarau is not from North Korea. She was born of female warriors – great women represented by that great female warrior Nehanda. Zimbabwean women fought alongside their male counterparts for the liberation of their country from colonialism and from the minority rule of the late Ian Douglas Smith. They earned the right to seat at the table of first-class citizens once reserved for men.
That suggestion from Makarau was the most disempowering statement I have heard from a woman who should know better in a very long time. It is a tragedy of monumental proportions that a woman who should be fighting in the corner of women finds nothing wrong with perpetuating patriarchal sentiments and requirements. Women have come a long way since the days of Nehanda. In 2017 no Zimbabwean woman wants to be treated like a “minor” who has to beg for a letter from her husband so she can vote.
By fighting side by side with men Zimbabwean women earned the right to vote and the Constitution should protect that right. What does Makarau suggest unmarried women who own no homes do so they can also exercise their right to vote in 2018 – ask their fathers or brothers for letters?
The whole idea of proof of residence will not only disenfranchise women but the young people who have no homes of their own and any other Zimbabwean who has no title deeds. Since independence in 1980, women fought tooth and nail for equal treatment. We can not keep on taking ten step backwards for every one step forward. Universal suffrage is a right, not a privilege.
To me this is all calculated to play in favour of Zanu PF which has been feverishly dishing out residential stands to a potential voting constituency – the youth. The opposition lacks access to state power and trappings and cannot easily lay hands on land with which to buy votes – in itself a shameful practice. And this happens only because we live in a country led by people with no scruples.
When we marched and held endless advocacy meetings to get the legislature to erase discrimination against women, we never expected that we would end right where we started – women being treated like children and being stripped of whatever sense of equality they might have believed they had. Makarau, who gave so many women hope when she was appointed the first black female judge in independent Zimbabwe, must have weighed that statement before she uttered it. She must have known that women would ask #Rita why?
We have enough oppressors we do not need fellow women to disenfranchise other women. It is despicable and disempowering to suggest that women bet on a good relationship with their husbands to get letters that will hold the key to whether or not they will get registered as voters in a country they fought for. Women died for the right to vote #Rita.
Women raise families, start and run successful businesses and hold senior positions. Yes, some are nowhere near the corridors of power and that is quite a large number of them. Most are street vendors with nothing to their name but this is their country too and when you pinch them they feel the pain when you cut them they bleed and that little hope of voting out a dictatorship in 2018 is what is keeping most of them holding on.