In a meeting towards the 2023 harmonised elections, a recently elected councilor for Ward 1 who was sworn-in last week sparked contentious debate by asserting that women should not assume leadership roles in the political arena. The elected official’s remarks came as a shock to many, as he seemed to undermine the progress made towards gender equality and inclusive representation.
During an event that was organized by the Media Institute of Southern Africa (MISA) in Kwekwe towards the 2023 harmonised elections, Citizens for Coalition Change (CCC) councilor Alex Senge put forth arguments discouraging female political participation, asserting that women lack the necessary qualities and capabilities to effectively lead. Citing dubious stereotypes, Senge contended that women were more suited to traditional gender roles and should focus on familial and domestic responsibilities, rather than pursuing high-level political positions.
“…even if you follow the bible there is nowhere that we have heard of women being leaders or prophets. This is what it is. Even in our culture women have never been in leadership positions. Women should be supporting us men to assume political office and voting for us…,” said Senge.
Unsurprisingly, his remarks were met with swift backlash. Women’s rights activists and political advocates decried the candidates’ regressive comments, emphasizing that such views reinforce gender discrimination and hinder progress toward gender parity. Many highlighted the significant contributions made by women leaders throughout history and challenged the notion that leadership capacity is determined by gender.
“Firstly I do not blame that man. It is a socialisation process that as Africans we have grown up with. So we cannot blame him because that is how he came to know that women should always be under men. But also referring to the bible that he has alluded to, he should also know that there is a woman, Deborah who rose to fight and lead the man of Israel to save her nation. That means in the bible there were women who rose to be leaders, and who actually brought up issues of importance.
“I want to encourage women who want to become leaders that a woman is the greatest leader of them all because she actually starts from the family. Take a look at every family in the world, you can see that every family is led by a woman, and imagine if the same person can lead a family. That goes to tell us that women tend to lead better. Even when God created a woman, he created him with a unique feature, unique thinking, and a unique nature that makes her successful in whatever endeavors they may be partaking in with so much passion, determination, and courage. So that alone should give us women the empowerment, or the courage to tell ourselves that we are the greatest leaders in the world. Some of these countries that are successful are being directed by women, because women lead families in every aspect.
“Even our forefathers noticed it a while ago when they said musha mukadzi (a house is what it is because of women), they had realised that women bring order to the house. If you bring a woman into any situation you witness sanity in every situation, you see empowerment when a woman comes to a place of authority, and this all begins in the home. This is a time when we have to groom our girl child so that they grow up knowing that they have equal opportunity and ability with anyone in the world, but this can only be possible if we as mothers can rise and assume leadership positions that are important in the world,” remarked Florence Guzha Director of Ebenezer Women Social Entrepreneurship Trust.
Critics also emphasized the importance of diverse representation in political decision-making bodies. They argued that excluding women from leadership positions not only perpetuates gender inequality but also deprives society of valuable perspectives and experiences. Studies have consistently shown that diverse teams, including gender-balanced ones, tend to make better decisions and are more effective in addressing a wide array of societal issues.
“Our culture is dynamic…we are a transitioning society. His perception is not wrong, people still believe and understand the bible, and its teachings in different ways. So people have different perceptions when it comes to various beliefs, and cultures how we should be nurtured, and how the society should operate. It is not wrong that he said women are not born leaders, yes women were created to be helpers of males. But in the society that we are living in now, things have actually changed, we are transitioned helping does no longer entail just doing house chores, and managing every domestic care work that needs to be done at home. Helping also requires that we see our community, and society developing beyond growth, growing a nation, and developing it are two different things. We can grow a nation, but the people that are in that nation, are not responding to the needs that they want in their day-to-day lives could change their livelihoods, to change even their standards of living.
“So it important for people to understand why women should be part of decision-making processes, and platforms…to be as leaders, to help within structurilisation and also implementation of some of these policies and systems that actually promotes the development of the country. We are just not there to fill in position in a patriarchal mindset. Women are here to help. But, help how? We are now helping in terms of decision-making processes, to try and influence the progress, and development of our nation. It is time now that women become leaders, it is time now that women should push and foster change within their various communities, institutions, and other platforms of influence that they would be in.
“I do not personally support such a perspective, I do believe that our coalition and organization is…through women’s rights, through development of women in various areas of economic empowerment, social and other areas that we feel women can excel and do better and use the capacity that they would have gained, building around them to also feed in other areas of their lives for development. We are not happy that society is lingering behind, and not ready to adopt new systems of women as leaders. It is something that we are trying to work towards lobbying, working towards advocating for change.
“As you can see from the current statistics when we look at the 2023 elections, there was a decrease in the number of women candidates compared to 2018. In 2018 we had 26 women in the National Assembly, and now we have 21, and such a reduction is caused by perceptions made by such a councilor who condemn women from even trying to enter politics. Yet we are saying our society is democratic, our society is there to promote gender equality and all other goals for gender parity. So we are saying that the decline in the number of women who are actively and meaningfully participating in decision-making processes has decreased because we are not doing much or we are forcing women who do not want to be part of the structures. It is because of the societies that they are in,” said Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe Midlands Chapter Chairperson, Nozipho.
Kwekwe Residents and Ratepayers Association Secretary General Alex Homela said that there is no need to look down upon women because anyone can become a leader.
“Anybody in the country, anyway in the world, everyone can be a leader because of his or her qualification and also because of his/her behavior, period. We do not want to use segregation to say women should not be leaders. If a man is dump, the woman can lead, because man you are failing to lead. So anybody can be elected to be the leader to be the President at any given time. Do not say women should not lead, and that they should just support. That is wrong,” he said.
The controversy surrounding Senge’s remarks highlights the ongoing struggle for gender equality in political representation. As societies strive for progress, it is essential to foster discussions and debates that challenge gender biases and encourage meaningful representation for all individuals, regardless of their gender. Such exchanges can bring about vital change and steer us towards a more inclusive and equitable future, where everyone has an equal opportunity to participate and lead in political fields.