Women have a glorious chance to speak

HURE is a Shona word used to describe a woman thought to be of questionable morals. A hure is a slut, a prostitute, a woman of loose morals, of easy virtue. It is a word often used in fits of anger because it is loaded with negative emotion. To call a woman hure is to dress her down. And that is how leader of the MDC-Alliance Nelson Chamisa describes women with whom he has a fall out politically.

There have been attempts to be squeamish about using the word hure in the media. Inventive social media commentators have tried instead to refer to the “H . . . word”. Unfortunately that doesn’t change H to Happy, Honda or Hero. Let’s not glorify that stinking word. The H still refers to hure. It is insulting and demeaning. That is what MDC-Alliance senior members, including its presidential candidate want it to do; they have domesticated it in their party to describe our mothers, wives, sisters, daughters and every female who crosses their path by disagreeing with their brand of politics.

If you happen to be a woman from Matabeleland you become a hure and a dissident to boot.

The word is used liberally by drunkards to describe most women found drinking beer in bars. It is one of the ugly manifestations of patriarchy in Zimbabwean society, because it never applies to men sharing the same bar with women.

The latest victim of this MDC-Alliance tagging binge was Zimbabwe Electoral Commission chair Justice Priscilla Chigumba. She ‘earned’ the appellation of hure for rejecting the Alliance’s patently illegal demands for her to open to the opposition the process of designing, printing and distribution of ballot papers. The Constitution, in Section 239, gives that mandate solely to ZEC.

Somehow the MDC-Alliance wants Justice Chigumba to bend the law, or to ignore it or to be discretionary in its application to suit their demands. The risk, which the good judge seems to have avoided, is that when dealing with people of erratic disposition, you budge once and they will keep demanding more until there is no more law or clearly defined rules of engaging with political parties.

We are very concerned that the MDC-Alliance and its leader Nelson Chamisa have been the most divisive party in this whole election campaign: threatening to stop the elections, to camp at ZEC offices to push their demands and to announce their own election results in defiance of the law.

They have gone further to target women for attack because of their gender. Their mentality remains in the Stone Age for people purporting to bring to the fore a modernised, youthful generation into politics. In their thinking, women should not disagree with the leader of the party. In a more traditional sense, to them women still belong to the kitchen. Once they raise their heads to show they can think independently, they become ma hure.

We expected women of Zimbabwe to seize on these flagrant insults to make a statement for themselves, to draw a line in the sand. To say they cannot support or endorse such parties or individuals for national leadership. That the word hure belongs to foul-mouthed drunkards in a bar or pub, not a tear-down catchword for any woman who dares challenge men for public office.

The silence by women’s groups is an endorsement of opposition violence against the dignity of women, a tacit acknowledgment that they are inferior, that they belong to the kitchen, that they are sex objects and belong to the pub, not the political arena.

It is a painful conclusion to draw, but there is no other rational explanation for women’s silence in the face of naked sexist abuse. They cannot expect to fight patriarchy through a conspiracy of silence.

Monday next week affords women across generations and the political divide a historic moment to take a stand and speak eloquently for or against this growing sexism in a party that pretends to herald a progressive new brand of politics yet in its daily word and action is atavistic, masculine and crudely macho. It took a visitor, Mary Robinson, to say this is not it.

Could it be that our women overall are happy to be treated as bar ladies, until a donor shows up with cash to sponsor a feminine sensibility in them?

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