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AS we delve deeply into the national elections process, I can’t help but worry about the state of politics regarding women in the country. I will not talk about those who reportedly go missing around this time only to show up dead with missing body parts. Those are children and women who become easy targets and victims of a process that is meant to bring empowerment and progress. I will not dwell much into that today because that deserves a standalone conversation on its own.

From the most commonplace acts of harassment and sexual harassment, to misogynistic and sexist verbal attacks, much of it increasingly online, women are persistently undermined and discouraged from being politically active. I remember the last term when a certain community had discussions on an online group where they talked about why they could not vote for a certain female candidate, and one of their reasons was that she would sleep with married men since she didn’t have a husband; a speculation based on assumption and disrespect, which was very damaging to this lady’s political career.

That is not the only harassment and misogynistic attacks I’ve seen online. Most recently is the attack on the character of LaZwide, the Siphofaneni Member of Parliament (MP), who is wife to the former MP of the same constituency. It’s like women aren’t regarded as capable if they are not connected to a man, and when they are connected to a man, that will still work against them. I regard our generation and the generation before us, generally, mentally aware, but the things we do to each other when it comes to politics are hard to believe. This is violence against women and the aim of such violence is to preserve traditional gender roles and stereotypes and maintain structural and gender-based inequalities by preventing participation of women in decision making.


Political adversaries are not the only culprits; women can be subjected to violence by their peers, family members or friends in an attempt to discourage them from entering politics. Women will be treated, silenced and attacked, and the silence from friends and family regarding this only promotes impunity for the perpetrators. Urgent action must be taken by the country’s authorities to prevent and combat gender-based violence against women in politics and elections. No one should be able to make damaging statements and get away with it. I remember a few years back when the only female MP was interviewed and asked her view about the reason women had not been voted into Parliament that year and she said; “It’s because those who contested liked wearing pants, women must stop wearing trousers.” I was shocked at her ignorance and the audacity to reduce politics into clothing.

All women in politics must be empowered to tackle the culture of silence against-gender based violence (GBV), to speak up and report such violence to appropriate national  mechanisms, in order to hold the perpetrators accountable. Only then can we achieve equality between women and men in political and public life and eradicate GBV. I’m always at awe when I listen to some politically powerful women who are good examples internationally. They call out any atrocity against them, they have no time to massage patriarchy or sugarcoat their anger and disapproval at some of the statements by their opponents. That’s power! That means they are demonstrating how they will use their voice to speak for other women once elected, how they will not let the voices of men rule over theirs and that they will ensure that there is equality in decision making and the distribution of resources.

It is a known fact that while the percentage of female voters and women candidates fielded by civil society organisations has increased in all aspects, the percentage of female representatives in national bodies is directly the opposite, it is almost insignificant. Women do not participate in politics due to fear of harassment and humiliation. It is clear that we do not have a legislation that deals strictly with offenders to prevent violence against women in politics in the country. We know that where laws are in place, prevalence tends to be lower and fewer people think that violence against women in justifiable.

We also need to deal with the fact that even those who do get elected into positions of power have a limited or marginal role in important discussions within their right. Just a few months ago, when there was a limited number of MPs who could attend a sitting because of COVID-19 regulations, it is alleged that female MPs had to fight tooth and nail in order to be ‘allowed’ to attend. What does that even mean, to be ‘allowed’? As if they do not have as much right, and as much power to contribute as their male counterparts. My wish is that as we continue with the elections process, we take into consideration all of this and correct it if we want a balanced representation.