Child Marriage in Zimbabwe: We need to talk about “respectable” womanhood

We need more than legal reform to end child marriage. We require a complete societal overhaul such that we come to recognise the agency of women and girls. Child marriage persists because of patriarchal hegemony and the misogyny that colours the way we interact with girls and their aspirations. It’s all well and good for Africa to put its foot down and say that we’ll no longer put up with it, but if we pretend that misogyny does not underpin this issue, we will whitewash the problem, not fix it. Frankly, we cannot get society to respect girlhood when womanhood continues to be a highly contested, often dehumanised, site. Girls then, operate under the double burden of being young and female. Further, we must accept that child marriage is not uncommon. BI am currently fascinated with the way in which our society’s construction of respectable womanhood feeds into the pervasiveness of the practice.

Legal reform is a start but will never be enough.

If ending child marriage were a matter of passing the right laws, Zimbabwe would be done. Our constitution says that you must be 18 to get married. Previously, girls could get married at 16 and 12 (civil marriage and customary marriage respectively). As soon as the Marriage Act and Customary Marriages Act are amended the issue has been dealt with, as far as the law is concerned.

However, Zimbabwe will struggle with enforcement. On one hand, marriage certificates are required in order to have a legally valid customary or civil law union, so we’d hope that the Registrar-General’s office has already been clamping down on who they issue certificates to. But on the other hand we know full well that a large proportion of Zimbabweans are in unregistered customary law unions. Many people go through the roora process, throw a party and call it a day, waiting to chata eventually, if ever. The roora process is decentralised; there is no way for the State to know when these marriages are taking place let alone actually stop them.

Further, we lack criminal sanctions for those who marry off their daughters or for those who marry children. Even if there were there, getting people to report the marriages in situations that don’t involve young girls, but say – teenage girls who have fallen pregnant, could be tricky.

The scenario we don’t like to think of as child marriage…but is

Many of us would like to say that we’ve never, seen/heard of/participated in an instance of child marriage. We’d like to distance ourselves, and attribute it to the hardships of rural society or the irrational decisions of fringe religious groups. But that’s not quite true is it? Child marriage happens frequently in our urban settings as an anecdote to teen pregnancy. We find out our daughter is pregnant, are aghast that she is “loose” and we encourage her into a hasty union that was negotiated on the premise that “if you break it you buy it”. Yes, we think of pregnant teens as damaged goods. This is a by-product of a lingering puritanical viewpoint that somehow equates a woman’s moral character with her sexual activity. Good womanhood in our society is premised, amongst other things, on sexual “purity” – the good old Jezebel-Madonna binary.

The role of “respectability” in perpetuating child marriage

In Zimbabwean society, marriage remains the gateway to respectability as a woman. We are constantly promised that respectability is a gateway to legitimacy: the full attainment of personhood and rights. I have written elsewhere on the problems with respectability politics. Women are constantly embroiled in respectability in order to “prove” that they deserve to be treated like grownups with legitimate ideas. Respectability comes with many ideas about propriety, often disguised behind classist notions of “ladylike” behaviour. Respectability is admittedly a useful currency when it comes to attempting to survive a system designed to devalue and harm you. This is why there are women patriarchs; they ride the wave of the benefits they get from being complicit in the oppression and policing of other women’s bodies.

Child marriage is a women’s rights issue. This is because girls face the same oppressions that solidify when you enter adulthood, but without the protections of an adult voice. See, patriarchs don’t just wake up one day and say that they’d like to perpetuate oppressive yardsticks. Nope, that’s the product of social conditioning that starts from girlhood. We teach everyone that for girls the key indicator of success is getting married, like a good respectable woman. The point here is not to suggest that marriage is inherently evil or oppressive, but rather to point out that in our society marriage is regarded as an objective good. It is never a bad idea.

Growing up, we teach everyone that women’s bodies are inherently shameful. We’re taught to have a disdain of those who explore their sexualities and treat their bodies as their own, as opposed to a precious commodity to hold onto (virginity intact) until it can be handed off to some man. Our puritanical perceptions of girls’/women’s bodies as inherently sinful and harmful mean that in the event of being caught in a situation where you are made “impure” there are attempts to regularise this through the respectability of marriage. Marriage is seen as a purifier.

Coming back to the teen pregnancy scenario, whilst the marriage might be a little hasty it is seen as killing two birds with one stone: 1. The shame is lifted because a marriage to regularise sexual activity has taken place 2. You have a husband, which you were going to need anyway in order to be recognised as a respectable woman.

Conclusion

Until we create a society that is willing to recognise the personhood and agency of women without the respectability marriage lends, we’re going to have a hard time rooting out the commodification of girls. As a society we need to ask ourselves some searching questions so as to weed out misogyny in all its manifestations.

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Why the Constitutional Court ruling on soliciting is both shocking and necessary

Today Zimbabweans all over the country woke up to headlines in national newspapers along the lines of “Concourt outlaws prostitute arrests” – courtesy of the Herald. We’ve been making a hullaballoo about this story because of the way in which we like to sensationalise stories to do with sex, and the way that we like to stigmatise sex workers – a situation compounded by the continued criminalisation of sex work. As I am not a sex worker, I cannot speak to the lived experiences of women who are, but I can speak to the legal implications of this particular case. We’ve tried to blow it out of proportion and make it seem as though the constitutional court is entering uncharted waters but really all that the ruling said is that: before you arrest someone without a warrant you must have proof or at least a reasonable suspicion that a crime has been committed. Further, if you are arrested you are deemed innocent until you have been proven guilty. This ruling was an assertion of some of the basic principles of Zimbabwe’s legal system. It’s shocking that this required re-stating.

The National prosecuting service, consented to the ruling because they knew that they were wrong on the law. Which leads me to wonder why they had chosen to prosecute in the first place? Is it standard practice to attempt to gloss over the shortcomings of the police in creating a docket, then proceed to hold people unlawfully in the hopes that they will not have access to good legal representation? I’m aghast at the shortcuts that those working in our legal system appear to take as a matter of course. How is it that you get into court, and start prosecuting someone before confirming that you are approaching the courts with clean hands? Yes, this case has turned into a fuzzy one where our constitutional right to liberty as Zimbabweans has been guaranteed, but at the cost of a year’s worth of legal work and court fees. Additionally, we forget how precious few people even have access to the courts in the first place.

What this case also reminds me of is the way that women are continuously penalised for existing in public spaces. The idea of respectability comes in to haunt us all because of the constraints that are put on our bodily autonomy and the idea that what you wear or what work you do is somehow tied to your morality. How many women have been harassed or detained by police or peace officers simply for existing? How many have then been faced with criminal charges for crimes that there’s no proof they’ve committed and then slipped through the cracks because they don’t have access to the services of lawyers who will ensure that their rights are respected? Further – why do Zimbabweans seem to be okay with this?

Yes, I’m glad the constitutional court upheld our constitutional rights, but it should never have gotten that far. The police and the prosecuting authority also need to have due deference to the principles of criminal procedure and to the values in our constitution. This is getting ridiculous.

Why asking: “What if it were your mother/sister/daughter?” sucks

Happy Thursday everyone! It has been an exceedingly long time since I posted anything and we should all be very angry at my exams for that! Today I’d like to talk about why relational rhetoric is the absolute worst. Don’t get me wrong, I absolutely understand the appeal: it’s an easy way to humanise and concretise issues that may seem really abstract and removed from people’s daily lives. It gets you through the door, and having a conversation about women’s rights in a way that people are receptive to. It’s great to be able to talk about women’s rights and feminism. However, my problem is this: when we employ patriarchal reasoning to legitimise our arguments we inadvertently reinforce patriarchal norms. Below I’ve listed three of the most irksome and yet basic tenets of patriarchy we reinforce when we engage people in this manner:

  1. Women are not really people: only men are people. This is the thing that really makes my heart bleed. We make it seem as though women only accede to the lofty office of human being when we a man can be found that cares about us, romantically or otherwise. Women are only embodied in the roles they assume for, or the services they provide to, men. Other than that nope. This also makes it easier to frame our rights as something other than human rights. They’re special interest – minority, rights because men are people. Women are just some grotesque deviation from the norm.
  1. Paternalism is okay. Paternalism is and has always been patriarchy’s go-to tactic when dealing with women. Patriarchy is constantly of the opinion that it, and by extension the men it artificially elevates, are in a position to make decisions on behalf of women. Paternalism actively excludes women from decision-making processes on issues that directly affect us because we are deemed to be incapable of reasoning. What is particularly key here is that patriarchy considers such intrusion into our lives to be a benign act, perhaps even a merciful one because “the poor dears don’t know any better.” Thus when we feminists/gender activists/ decent human beings ask people (usually men) to consider the plight of their female relatives, and make a decision on how they think their female relatives should be permitted to behave we are engaging paternalistic rhetoric. Indeed we are reinforcing the idea that patriarchy (and its intrusions) isn’t harmful, patriarchy is merely considerate. This place of paternalism and the “best interests” doctrine ultimately results in the exclusion of women from decision-making arenas. Furthermore, we’ve made explaining why patriarchy needs to get the heck out of women’s lives that much harder.
  1. Women are not capable of deciding what’s best for them. This is an idea that props up paternalism and triggers the “best interests” doctrine as applied by patriarchy and its institutions (e.g. the legal system). When we are asked to think in terms of the best interests of a certain group of people the implication is that these people are not in a position to think for themselves. Not only are these people incapable of making their own decisions but also any decisions they attempt to make will be harmful. Therefore, goes this reasoning, society has a vested interest in ensuring that this segment is denied any self-determination. What this segment wants simply doesn’t matter. This is how we usually deal with children and those the law considers to be incompetent. When we trigger paternalism we’re infantilising women and saying that patriarchy has been right all along. What we must be aware of is how deeply entrenched this type of reasoning already is – we need not aid it. It hasn’t really been that long since black women in Zimbabwe have been deemed capable of reaching adulthood (see The Legal Age of Majority Act passed in 1982). Furthermore the move to consider black women as capable of adulthood was greatly contentious; indeed at the time the drought the country experienced was blamed on the passage of the act.

So what can we use instead? Well my current tactic involves emphasising the humanity of women. I’m really trying to focus on the individual personhood of women and asking what gives society at large the standing to deny our right to be considered human beings with complete agency? I also try to remind everyone how we felt when the imperialist powers did the same thing to black people in general. I’ll let you know how it goes.

R-E-S-P-E-C-T: Respectability politics and Zimbabwean women’s organising

Happy Friday everyone! Today I would like to tackle respectability politics and how they continue to haunt Zimbabwean public life and public spaces, as I was so horrendously reminded last Friday. I realise that many people will most likely be familiar with respectability politics as they relate to black Americans or the LGBT movement. I’d like to add black Africans into the mix, which is a slightly different dynamic. We are not numerical minorities in our countries but we tend to be on the back foot in terms of power when dealing with transnational corporations and Western nations. Furthermore our very recent colonial and current neo-colonial experiences mean that we are still grappling with respectability politics in different aspects of our private and public spaces.

The basic ingredients of respectability politics are the following:

  1. A dominant group that considers a certain racial grouping to be inferior to them in mind, deed and morals. As such they declare that this segment of the population will not be entitled to the same basic rights or human dignity. Historically these are the values of the white middle classes.
  2.  The oppressed group is obviously not happy with the status quo. This group decides that it is going to prove the dominant group wrong, by not only upholding the same moral standards, but by meeting them and encouraging others within their segment to do the same. There are social sanctions for those who appear to be letting the side down. This way, it will become patently obvious that the dominant group has no reason to fear treating the oppressed group like people.

Respectability politics tend to hang out in the background of an overarching movement for civil rights and empowerment. It is one of the social mechanisms employed in order to gain public sympathy for a cause. The hope is that this public sympathy can be galvanised into public pressure, when combined with lobbying and agitating efforts. This desire to have a several-pronged approach to effecting change isn’t terrible and there is a lot to commend the use of existing structures to get what you want so as to not antagonise the powers that be. However, the concessions made to this form of self-advancement are great, and in the long-term harmful to members of that segment, particularly because they are not homogenous.

Respectability politics say that if you show up to a discussion less than the image of perfect virtue that the given society currently upholds, you are disqualified from claiming the benefits of human decency and safety. Respectability politics pose as quite revolutionary but really are just an internalisation of an inferiority complex coupled with an agreement to operate within the granted parameters, so as to not offend the sensibilities of the status quo. This strategy essentially leads to the reform of the bare minimum. This is compromise in the worst possible sense.

What I find particularly worrying is the way in which different kind of activists continue to rely on respectability politics to get ahead. I have in mind particularly, people involved in women’s empowerment. We tend to find ourselves in quite a precarious situation where we don’t want to disqualify our insight before we have been heard to speak. So, what do we do? Policies aside, there is a tendency to leverage our actual or perceived fulfilment of what our patriarchy considers to be the requirements of good virtuous womanhood. Our current respectability politics dictate that before we can bring up women’s rights we must be seen to be good wives who meet their wifely obligations, we must be good mothers, we must be sufficiently submissive and not be overly concerned with cultural reform. Indeed, we must be seen to walk the line of puritanism inserted into the African culture by colonialism really well and appear to be happy about it. This is not to say that there is anything wrong with being a wife or a mother, rather what is problematic is the continued implication that you fail at womanhood if you do not fulfil these roles. With the further implication that you are therefore not worth listening to. In order for our experience to be legitimised by patriarchy we must not only be virtuous, we must be seen to be exceedingly hardworking and must seem sufficiently grateful to be in public spaces. Preferably we are to pipe up and be vocal about (perceived) moral decay. There are several basic problems with this:

  1. There is a lack of stability in these rights. When we accept the idea that human rights are earned or need to be granted by a patriarchal institution, then we also accept that these same institutions have the right to take them back. We must always be on guard lest the powers that be decide that they don’t like how you’ve turned out and they would like to go back to the days of (your) glorious subjugation.
  2.  There is no space left for individual identity. When perceived virtue is leveraged in order to gain access to rights, the rights which are granted are perceived as being for that class of the wonderfully virtuous. A new conformity is required which is essentially a re-hash of oppressive patriarchal structures but with new varnish, namely holding up your end of the bargain and ensuring that society does not implode.
  3.  Encourages intra-communal policing. Rights that are earned through respectability politics essentially come with a good behaviour clause. Where there is a good behaviour clause read into the provision of basic human rights, people will become concerned that the rug will be pulled from under them for reasons beyond their control. Solution? Police each other, to ensure that no one is letting the side down. Impose on each other, offer unsolicited advice on the way to ensure that you maintain the appearance of virtue. Not just for your sake but for everyone’s. The way you live your life becomes a matter of public concern, as if you appear to be abusing the rights so magnanimously granted by patriarchy you will prove the old stalwarts of patriarchal hegemony correct.
  4. Victim blaming becomes not only acceptable but necessary. If the person who has been subject to a crime fails to meet the standards imposed by patriarchy, I mean, the demands respectability – then society becomes entitled to let themselves off the hook. Society can in good conscience say that the person brought the harm upon themselves as they were not following the recommended safety guidelines. Furthermore in order to ensure that in your complaining you’re not asking society to shoulder a burden that is yours and yours alone, the door is left open for intrusive, entirely irrelevant questions which seek to undermine the harm you have experienced. The classic example being – what were you wearing when you were raped?

These are some of the things that we really need to keep in mind when we attempt to further our causes on the basis of our being acceptable or recognisable to an oppressive society. There tends to be a very unequal trade off when we rely on respectability to provide dividends. I remain unconvinced that there are no other options.

On Feminist Communication

Hello again after (an unintentional) two-week hiatus. I’m back and just in time to wish everyone a happy (almost) International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is Inspiring Change and the focus is supposed to be on celebrating the achievements of women and the strides made in our empowerment, whilst not forgetting all those areas that still need work. For my part International Women’s Day had me pondering the diversity of the people who respond to the title “woman”, as well as the diversity of their needs. In short I have been thinking more about intersectionality, but in practical terms. How can we incorporate the information we have into various women’s movements? Communication.

 

My last couple of blog posts focused on blackness, and some of the challenges that black people face be it the implication of inferiority by the powers that be or the burden of self-loathing. Besides those hopefully being informative and interesting, they were designed to show that unless your life is affected by certain kinds of oppression there are lot of things that you will not understand, things you will miss – oppression that you will help to perpetuate. Unfortunately for all of us, racism and sexism are far from being the only forms of bigotry. If we think for a moment of the complexity of the web of  emotions, cultural and social input, political considerations and self-interest behind every manifestation oppression, and the ways in which these various forms of oppressions can interact within the life of one person, it becomes a little bit clearer that there can be no one size fits all approach to women’s empowerment – feminism and the women’s movement needs to be flexible. Feminism needs to continue to be responsive to the lived experiences of women, as well as responsive to its own missteps. All this done in recognition that it is in the interests of the women’s movement to do so as ‘there is no easy or automatic sisterhood between women since sex/gender relations are not the only set of power differentials in operation for any women.’ (Griffith)

 

Now “communication” may not sound like a radical enough notion for some of us, right up until we realise that we learned how to communicate within patriarchal societies and there is the risk of incorporating a lot of patriarchy’s bad habits into our interactions with others. Patriarchy has always claimed certain rights for itself, including but not limited to the power to define/label, the power to determine truth and the power to assign power. When enquiring into other people’s forms of oppression from a position of privilege in whatever area, be it for example heteronormativity, we risk mimicking the way in which patriarchy interacts with us as women. This is one of the most basic and most visible ways in which women participate in the oppression of each other. We need to check ourselves and our behaviours in the same way that we ask people to check themselves and their behaviour in terms of sexism.

 

We tend to like to blame our missteps on ignorance, and very often it is true. What is appalling however is how often we fail to take the time to learn. We expect those with “minority” experiences to be wholly responsible for our sensitisation of their needs. This is not true inclusivity. Audre Lorde in her article Age, Race, Class and Sex: Women Redifining Difference, laments the fact that it is the oppressed that are expected to build bridges that connect them to the mainstream. It is the oppressed that are supposed to re-package themselves and make themselves intelligible to the ruling classes. The oppressed must learn to speak the language of power. It is up to women to make themselves understandable to men. The poor need to make themselves heard by the rich, and it is up to racial minorities to ensure that they are seen by white society. All the oppressed are supposed to go out of their way to educate others as they are the ones to blame for being subversive and falling outside the paradigm of what is to be considered appropriate and acceptable. How often do those who are in positions of power plead ignorance as the root cause of any and all gaffes they perform? What is particularly interesting is that this ignorance is often accommodated and any apparent efforts made to connect are rewarded. This luxury isn’t afforded to those who fall on the wrong side of dominant yardsticks. This isn’t good enough. Privileged women don’t need to meet other women half way – they need to walk all they way there. 

 

We need to move beyond the place where we are aware of the need to recognise the intersectionality of oppression and get to a place where we are actively combatting it. There is the risk that some people may heed that call of “my feminism is intersectional or my feminism is bullshit” by attempting to find token members under various forms of oppression and think that they’ve done their bit for intersectionality. But tokenism is not the goal here. Indeed patriarchy has long been skilled in finding women to advance its position where necessary. How often have women been beaten by the stick of “well she made it through – clearly there’s something wrong with you” when confronted with sexism? What is necessary is an on-going conversation that cuts across all segments of society, not a conversation that begins only when things have gone wrong and there is a conflict in interests. This does not mean that every women’s group in the world needs to have close interaction with every other one, but there is certainly the need to do so within any given society and certainly before we campaign on behalf of other women whose societies we don’t understand. We need to begin advocating with local women, as opposed to advocating for them. We need to lend our voices to their causes, not drown out theirs.

 

Patriarchy has always been fond of silencing. That is, patriarchy has always enjoyed being able to pick and choose which voices are legitimate and which are subversive. When attempting to understand the experiences of other women we need to be wary of attempts to question the legitimacy of their views when they don’t appear to fit with accepted knowledge or with our worldview. For example, we must not be surprised when certain women feel their interests best protected by political groups that many have been led to believe are despotic and repressive. Furthermore, we must be willing to understand that within different societies, segments of women are going to prioritise different things in terms of feminist advocacy and agitation. There mustn’t be an assumption that we all need to be on the same page with everything all the time, there must instead be a spirit of co-operation and interest in the developments occurring in the world and within the women’s rights movement.

 

The power to define allows us to undertake all kinds of shenanigans. Under patriarchy, men have defined their point of view as the objective truth. Without regard to intersectionality and the multifarious experiences of women within any given society, dominant women are at risk of doing the same. It is dominance that allows them to attempt to reach all kinds of conclusions on behalf of everyone else, with the added unwillingness to heed criticism. As feminists we are aware that contributors to oppression don’t need to be malicious. When oppression is institutionalised, it is perpetuated by the simple fact of not being actively confronted. It’s the same with other kinds of oppression. As we advocate for the rights of women, it is important that we advocate for the rights of all women.

 

It may seem odd that the article seems to have a “them and us” mentality at least partially. This is in recognition of the fact that there are a plethora of power relations at play at any given moment that require navigation at any moment. The fact of the matter is that we are not all the same. This isn’t inherently problematic. The problem arises when we make the fact of difference seem to matter so much. 

Engaging men: the malice problem

I anticipate “engaging men” to be a topic that I will have to return to several times. There is much to be said about engaging men in gender issues and it is not a topic that can be comprehensively covered in a single article. Instead I have decided to address what I have noticed to be a preliminary concern amongst some people when it comes to acknowledging the presence of patriarchy and acknowledging playing a role in oppressing (other) women. Namely – no one feels evil and apparently everyone feels attacked.

For the past week I have been contemplating an issue I have decided to call “the malice problem”. The problem is essentially that there is the underlying expectation that oppression be carried out through positive actions – i.e. actually doing something as opposed to omitting to act, performed with malicious intent. In the minds of many, the image they have of oppression involves lots of blood, gore and untold, constant, physical violence, coupled with cruel unfeeling perpetrators who fully intend to cause harm on unreasonable or irrational bases. Furthermore these perpetrators seem to enjoy it because they are obviously evil. If all these requirements are met then assertions to do with being victims of oppression will be considered valid. The thing with patriarchy is that it is often perpetuated by people choosing to just live their lives and to colour within the lines. All this living performed whilst being seen to play nice and appropriately without coming off as angry or hostile. Patriarchy does not require malice in order to exist – and thrive. It just needs one to fail to challenge the status quo. This is not to say that people in any way lack agency or that patriarchy isn’t sometimes actively maintained. I am merely asserting that when we choose not to confront patriarchy and actively disrupt patriarchal discourse we are instead choosing to perpetuate it. Furthermore patriarchy is perpetuated in very mundane ways.

In the article, Media coverage of women in relation to Property and Inheritance Rights (PIR) in Zimbabwe, Nyathi and Dewa identify a worrying trend within the reporting of gender based oppression within newspapers surveyed[1]. The problem is essentially two-pronged: firstly women are often presented as ‘powerless victims’ whose progression in society can only be engaged through the benevolence of men. Secondly the men who are accused of engaging in gender discrimination are presented as particularly evil or villainous. What this essentially does is on the one hand strengthen and legitimise calls for increased paternalism lest our poor women keel over and die because they don’t have men to prop them up. On the other hand by choosing to use sensational examples as the yardstick for gender discrimination, it prevents true introspection or analysis of the effects of patriarchy on the lived experiences of women. The paradigm that this framing of gender issues creates is one where the problem isn’t that patriarchy and its gross cousin paternalism exist, rather what is problematic is that some of the men within this system are using their correctly vested power incorrectly. As the reporting is presented within a patriarchal framework, essentially calling other men to arms, the radical possibilities of having gender disparity in the media is lost. Instead the fallacy that there can be no gender discrimination in the mundane or seemingly innocuous goings on of life is created. We have stumbled upon “the malice problem” which allows people to reject the idea that they are implicated in the oppression of women simply because they do not meet the level of malice patriarchy informs us to expect. So when some feminist, say – me, comes over and asserts that patriarchy itself is problematic and oppressive what people begin to hear is, I hate men and you are evil.

Feminists are often accused of fundamentally hating men. Not men who think that engaging in the subjugation of women is an appropriate thing to do, just men, in general. Point blank. This is an accusation that clearly rests on a basic misunderstanding of what patriarchy is. Patriarchy isn’t just a man or a group of men, rather, it is a complex system of social structures in which there are unequal power relations between men and women, with men having a privileged position of power and authority over women (Weedon 1987). We are said to consent to patriarchy through the socialization process, which assigns gender-based roles along with an appropriate “code of conduct” for all, based upon stereotyped conceptions of “masculine” and “feminine”. This code is imbued with all the gestures and attitudes that will be considered appropriate for the sexes (Millet 1970). This means that we are all taught the ways in which to perpetuate patriarchy or, behave appropriately, as patriarchy is often packaged. The key here is that each and every member of society can be implicated in patriarchy. It is not just a man thing. What is male is the concentration of the benefits accrued.

Nyathi and Dewa assert that ‘patriarchy can be understood as an overarching discourse which subjectifies all who subscribe to its ideals… patriarchy is at its most powerful when men and women operate within its belief systems and willingly accept its general principles.’ This means that the simple act of behaving appropriately and following social convention can be an act of oppression because we uphold the values and assumptions that brought these norms to fruition. Thus oppressive acts can be performed by both sexes and both sexes may have a stake in the perpetuation of patriarchy. Furthermore, after having put a lot of effort into properly conforming to patriarchal society some people regard attempts to reject its norms to be a personal affront, as patriarchy rewards or praises those who will dance to its tune. How often in a polemical debate do we find women both on the side of radical re-ordering of society and on the side of the status quo?

 Whilst the fact of the pervasive influence and impact of patriarchy in society poses a challenge to those who would otherwise like to plead innocent on the charge of being oppressors of women, it also places a large impetus on those of us who claim to be committed to the true emancipation of women. It is quite clear that left unchecked patriarchy has the power to enter any discussion and distort it to fit its purposes. In many ways it is a learning complex structure that is able to adjust to changing social climates, particularly because so many people are invested in the maintenance of the status quo and so many people are indifferent to its operations. Patriarchy will not simply die out if left alone long enough. Rather it will become deeper entrenched. This means that in order to have a true impact we have to make an active effort to disrupt patriarchy’s discourse. Which means actively rejecting the ways in which we were socialised and in fact acting in some ways that will disrupt the peace. When we choose not to carry the burden of being offended by the hand of patriarchy in every aspect of our lives we choose to instead to be implicated in patriachy’s oppression.

Simply being aware of gender disparities is not enough. Indeed under our new constitution it is acknowledged that the State must take positive measures to rectify gender discrimination and imbalances resulting from past practices and policies. This is something that Zimbabwe realised at least a decade ago – the reversal of oppression requires actual acts or amends to be made. Recognition of a problematic situation does not a solution make. If we could grasp this for the purposes of fighting against the grasp of neo-colonialism, isn’t it high time we used similar reasoning for the emancipation of women?


[1]Both public and private publications were used