By Nancy Samuriwo
MDC Alliance spokesperson Fadzayi Mahere says she has observed that when she addresses a press conference or posts important information on social media, people tend to divert attention to how she looks and “sexualize” her appearance.
Mahere has disclosed that her audience also judges her and demands to know why she has no kids or why she is not married while others spread unfounded rumours that she is in a sexual relationship “with X man”.
Mahere made the disclosures in a wide-ranging interview with Ukrainian activist Yuliia Sachuk, the Head of Fight for Right OPD and the Disability Research Center, which was published this Thursday.
The interview was part of The Changing the Face of Politics podcast series, an initiative by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) launched to accelerate the pace of change on women’s political empowerment.
Yuliia had asked what prejudices, stereotypes, and or other forms of discrimination Mahere faces as a woman in politics, and how she manages to overcome them.
“One of the things that I’ve observed is often when I open my mouth to say something, instead of engaging with the content, sometimes my audience will say, but why aren’t you married?” said Mahere, who is an advocate of the law.
“Instead of taking issue with the government and fighting the government, (people say) get married and have kids, that should shut you up.
“Sometimes people sexualize my appearance… so I’ll be doing a press conference and then people are like, oh, your hair looks beautiful, nice lip stick, or, you’ve got such a pretty face. Or if I gain a bit of weight, people say, oh, are you pregnant? What is that?”
If it’s not the judging, it’s the fake news and trolls she has to deal with, Mahere disclosed.
“There’s also the trolling and the fake news, the disinformation campaigns that are very easily sexualized in the political context. So people make up fake scandals.
“People will just allege that you are having a sexual relationship with X man. That’s enough to sometimes discredit one in the eyes of the public.”
But Mahere, who holds a Masters Degree in Law from the University of Cambridge, says she’s not the type of poltiician to sit down and mourn over cyberspace bullies, trolls and fake news mongers.
Revealing her strategy, Mahere said: “I made a decision early on when I joined the political space that I was not going to be a victim about it. So I’m not the sort of politician who’s going to sit and sing every day about how it’s so unfair that people do this and do that.
“Rather, what I focus on is what I can control. In other words, my competence, my delivery. Once people learn that you are a leader of integrity, that you’re transparent, that you prepare to be accountable, you approach you know, feedback and criticism with a measure of humility aiming towards growth.
“People do start to see beyond the fact that you’re a woman. Occasionally I will take it upon myself to speak very clearly about things that work against women participation in politics.
“In a nutshell, those are some of the things that I faced. Obviously online bullying. But, for me, it’s now become water off a duck’s back.
“I stay on message. I remain principled, I speak truth to power and no amount of slandering me will, will ever shut me up. No amount of putting me into jail.
“And jail is worse for women than it is for men because we experienced different things physiologically you, you get put in a jail cell, which has no water and you are menstruating and it’s COVID.
“So, some of the persecution does become more acute because you’re a woman, but you know, that should not deter us. Women are courageous. Women are strong, women still have an important part to play, even in dictatorial regimes, even when they’re particularly targeted because of their gender.”
Mahere also said it was important to have women in leadership positions so as to inspire more women to break the ceiling in their territories.
“One of the big things that increases women participation in a democracy is seeing other women in positions of leadership. I’m on the HEJ fellowship with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and I remember one of the meetings we had in Monrovia, just sitting in a room with president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf with President Joyce Banda from Malawi, with the Mayor of Freetown, Yvonne Aki Sawyerr, speaking to MP’s from Ghana like Dr. Rawlings and just the number of other powerful women was enough to motivate and inspire me.”
Meanwhile, Mahere said she remains hopeful for Zimbabwe as the country has all the resources it needed but what was holding progress was lack of ethical leadership. She reckoned she wouldn’t have joined politics if she didn’t believe that Zimbabwe could be transformed.
“This country has everything it takes to succeed. And all that we need — the last catalyst, the last ingredient — is ethical leadership. Zimbabwe is a success story waiting to happen, which is why I always describe myself as a hopeful Zimbabwean.
“I would not be involved in opposition politics if I didn’t believe that the people can form a broad alliance to win Zimbabwe for change.” – HOURLYHITS.COM