Is it war between men and women?

Very few issues in Zimbabwe today raise people’ hackles faster than that of gender. According to the Oxford dictionary the word gender simply means ‘a grammatical classification corresponding to the two sexes.’ When you talk about gender you are supposed to be talking about maleness and femaleness, or even being sexless. Not so in Zimbabwe. If you mention the ‘gender issue’ you are treading on dangerous ground.

Whenever the subject of gender is brought up, some women become aggressive. To them the subject of gender only means one thing – men oppressing women and treating them like second-class beings. Recently, Vice-President Joyce Mujuru came under fire for her comments during the memorial service of her late husband, General Solomon Mujuru.

She raised the ire of some women and women’s organizations by describing how she silently endured 32 years of marriage to a man who drank heavily and was a womaniser who often did not sleep at home. When he came home late she did not reprimand or confront him but washed his feet, fed him and made him comfortable.

She described herself as a mother and God-fearing woman who was true to her husband right to the end. She said she could have confronted him, but as both of them were trained fighters she feared it could turn into a war. Mai Mujuru was immediately accused of betraying the women’s movement and of misleading young women by instructing them to be subservient to men. In an article in the Standard of 12 May, entitled ‘Domestic abuse must never be tolerated’, Madam VP Connie Tadzingwa praised Mujuru for being a role model in the way that she participated alongside men in the war of liberation. She then went on to lambast her saying, “VP Mujuru moralised about the sacredness of the marriage institution, in the process giving advice to this country’s daughters-in-law on how to conduct themselves before their husbands and the extended family. Is subservience the model behaviour for our children? “If subservience is at the centre of marriage, then it’s not worth it. Marriage must be premised on mutual respect otherwise women will continue to be trampled upon and all the efforts to empower and enlighten them will go down the drain. They say love is blind but blind love surely does kill. Any decent man must earn the respect of his wife and children.”

Veteran writer and journalist, Grace Mutandwa, was more conciliatory. She said, “It is her prerogative to give such advice and it is up to women to take it or leave it, but I believe marriage should be a partnership and not a master and servant relationship.”

Before the ink was dry on her pen’ Grace got this rejoinder from Ryan Mbuya Mashayamombe: “Mujuru has not taken women back 500 years. It is organisations to which women like Mutandwa belong that think the more bitches we have on the streets the better. To her, this is evidence of women’s rights and empowerment; what empowerment is that which allows women to hop from one bed to another?” President Robert Mugabe applauded Mujuru for persevering through her tumultuous marriage. He said she was a role model of resilience despite being married to a man who was not easy and could not be challenged. He said she deserved an award for being the most patient woman in marriage. He called her a champion.

When I quoted the president’s words to one fighter for women’s rights she said, “What did you expect him to say? He is a man.”

Pastor Sylvia Musasiwa, a mother and founder of a school for retarded children who was at General Mujuru’s memorial service said, “I congratulated Mai Mujuru for her bravery for saying what was on her heart. She was merely expressing how she as a Christian coped with a difficult personal relationship which could have ended in tragedy. She was not holding a public lecture on how all women should always be subservient to their husbands. Those who are criticising her are being unfair by taking her words and putting them out of context. As a pastor I support her because she was being faithful to the teachings of her faith. “The biblical teaching does not discriminate against unchristian and cheating husbands. It just says to obey your husband.

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Of course I don’t expect non-Christian women to accept it. Only Christian women can understand and accept it.” The truth is that if the gender issue becomes a war between men and women then we are all going to be losers. We are all products of our African background and culture which, like most cultures in the world, was patriarchal. Because of colonisation, industrialisation, travel, the media, and education that culture is changing very fast. The long accepted and workable relationships and roles of men, women and children are getting upside down.

For our society to survive, it must conform to the new realities and be able to manage the resulting cultural change. This is going to be engaging work for serious and intelligent men and women working together, and not in competition with each other, to manage that change. If it is going to be war between women and men, then God help us. – [email protected]

Post published in: Opinions & Analysis

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