The month of March is a month set aside to celebrate and highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society. Coupled with the celebration of International Women’s Day on the 8th of March, the month significantly salutes women for their courage, leadership and strength.
It is a time to celebrate women’s economic, political and social achievements. It seems unthinkable that historically women were not allowed to vote in electoral processes, as their place was defined and reserved for them – being the kitchen, domestic chores and reproduction. But that had to be addressed and over the last decades there has been a steady movement towards attaining equal rights. Although the notion of equal rights has been pegged against the values of culture and tradition, more and more women have been breaking out of the patriarchal cocoon and succeeding in various aspects of their lives.
These women dared to be courageous in the cruel face of adversity and we read about them or meet them and we admire them as we aspire to imitate their spirit and strength of character. From the first female pilot, the first female lawyer, the first female astrologist, to the first female country president – all these women stand as examples and symbols to every young woman because they are a testimony to the fact that one can be whatever they wish to be and dreams need never be limited especially on the basis of sex or gender.
Although women have occupied spaces that have traditionally been the preserve of men, there has emerged a new problem. Women are increasingly becoming their own enemies. It is sad to note that most women do not actually support or celebrate the successes of fellow women. Others still opt for male representation even if there is an equally competent woman vying for the same position. Of course it could be a cultural mind-set that is still set in some women that makes them believe that only men should occupy leadership positions, or could it be sheer jealousy?
Over the years I have noted with dismay how women have become so harsh and judgmental against each other. The last couple of months have seen social media awash with women meting instant justice on fellow women, through beatings and verbal insults, because of errant behavior, most notably adultery. While adultery is wrong, does it give rise to the justification of humiliations from fellow women? Or does it mean humiliation of women is acceptable when it comes from fellow women but mutates to “domestic violence” when it is done by men?
In Africa, women have fought viciously and successfully against stripping of women dressed in mini-skirts. Recently, in a historic first in Zimbabwe, two men were sentenced to a one year jail term each for stripping a woman who was dressed in a mini-skirt some time in 2014. This conviction was a major victory for women and especially women rights organizations that felt dressing is an expression of freedom; therefore one should not be limited in terms of dressing in a country that is free.
A few days ago a video went viral on social media showing a group of women disgracing another woman because of a case of adultery. This happened in Zimbabwe again. They stripped her naked and beat her, all the while filming her. It was a video whose contents were totally absurd and had to be taken down social media because of the extent of how gruesome and vulgar it was.
I was however taken aback by the silence of the women organizations concerning this incident. This was a clear violation of a woman’s rights or freedoms per se, in as much as adultery is a sin and prostitution a taboo in the country. Was the torture she faced justifiable because it was carried out by fellow women? Never mind the fact that the man who made the act possible was nowhere to be seen in the video.
It is a similar case in women led organizations where there have been an increasing number of reports of females in management and leadership positions being accused of verbally and emotionally abusing their fellow female employees. One female director blamed it all on patriarchy arguing that because women grew up in a patriarchal society it remains difficult to break out of the cycle or address the effects of male domination thus venting out the frustrations on female work colleagues.
I feel it is unfortunate to have such a mentality – blaming our own attitude problems on men. It is very disheartening to see the “empowered” women being perpetrators of violence against women that they feel are of lesser importance or relevance than them.
While it is important to celebrate the achievements and milestones attained by women through history to date, it is important that women on women tension be addressed in a timely manner before it degenerates into some sort of chaos. If women become their own enemies then who will young girls look up to for guidance and inspiration?
The empowerment of women should not be viewed a competition with or against men, it should focus on addressing building the capacity of young girls and women to fulfill their dreams against all odds, which are not only limited to sex and gender. As we conclude women’s month, may it not be the conclusion of women empowerment but a propeller to women’s emancipation with a renewed vigor and revived energy.