Can period stigma hinder women from political participation?

Mashudu Mambo

THE barriers faced by women in their quest to participate in politics has been a bone of contention over the years and this has undoubtedly seen a decrease in the number of women participating in politics.

In Zimbabwe even though progress has been made in increasing the participation of women in politics, women’s participation in government at all levels, from the local to the national, remains extremely low.

In 2018, there were 23 presidential candidates with four of them being women. This year, 12 presidential candidates have been nominated and only one is a woman.

It is important to note that women’s political empowerment and equal access to leadership positions at all levels are also fundamental to achieving the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and a more equitable                 world.

The decrease in the number of women in politics is owed to a number of factors that entail financial crisis, societal stereotypes, lack of support from fellow women and the different gender roles.

In a statement, Women’s Institute for Leadership Development (WILD), said nomination court results on candidates that will stand in the 2023 harmonised elections showed low levels of women participation.

“Progressively, the women and youth quota, and the zebra format were adhered to in the National Assembly and Senate list.

Joshphat Moyo aka Khulu Ndumba

“However, the 11 percent that is 70/637 women candidates nominated for the National Assembly direct election.

“It leaves women on the margins of decision-making, which is also detrimental to democracy and the reduction of the pervasive gender inequality gap. It also means women’s concerns and perspectives in issues of opportunities, public resource management and service delivery will not be prioritised,” the statement reads in part.

A number of reports have been published on the need for the media to support women in politics by giving them a platform to air their views without perpetuating stereotypes.

Speaking during a workshop organised by Gender and Media Connect last Friday in Bulawayo gender activist and Ward 17 Councillor Skhululekile Moyo said women were faced with a number of challenges that hinder them from participating in politics.

Among the different challenges experienced by women participating in politics, Clr Moyo said period stigma was one of the issues that held back women from participating in politics.

“As women in politics, we are faced with a number of challenges that entail societal stereotypes where we are regarded as people with loose morals other than people who fight for change.

“These stereotypes are not only perpetuated by our male counterparts but by fellow women who go around digging up our past instead of supporting us,” lamented Clr Moyo.

She adds: “As a woman, when l take up a position of power, there are also a set of rules that l am required to follow that are different from my male counterparts because of my biological nature.

“There are days during the month where l am told that l cannot stand in front of men or in a congregation because l am regarded as unclean because of my menstrual cycle”.

This often leads to women and girls feeling confined to their homes, being excluded from public spaces, or considered to be bad luck or harmful to others for about a week every month.

It is also important to note that menstrual hygiene management (MHM) rarely appears in donor strategies, national government policies or advocacy agendas leading myths, misconceptions and misinformation to feed into stigma which can be hugely damaging for many girls and women who menstruate around the World.

Clr Moyo highlighted that these cultural beliefs were an oppression to women as they make them feel inferior.

“These beliefs oppress us as women because my biological nature will be used as a defence by my counterparts to stop me from fulfilling my cause and competing fairly.

“Patriarchy has forced women to opt for less recognised positions and this has made their voice unheard because they believe that they are inferior and this hinders them from taking up positions and participating in politics,” said Clr Moyo.

Studies have shown that in part, stigma exacerbates certain cultural beliefs about menstruation. Rather than simply being acknowledged as a natural bodily function, it is considered rude or embarrassing to discuss periods in some communities around the world.

Another gender activist Ntombizodwa Ncube said religion was also a hindrance to women’s political participation as politics was viewed as “ungodly”.

“Religion has hindered women from participating in politics as they view it as demonic and ungodly.

This has made a number of women opt for minor positions as they believe that these senior positions must be occupied by men.

“We have seen a number of women who are reluctant not only in participating in politics but to also vote because they believe that politics separates them from God,” said Ncube.

According to a traditionalist Joshphat Moyo popularly known as Khulu Ndumba from Cowdray Park in Bulawayo cultural beliefs that made it impossible for women to compete for political power were still existing and had to be observed.

“This belief that during her menstrual cycle a woman is not supposed to stand in front of men emanated from our forefathers and it is also a taboo for a woman to even cook for her husband during her menstrual cycle because culturally she is regarded as unclean.

“Referring to a woman as unclean was a respectable way to define her state. This stops her from standing in front of men,” said Khulu Ndumba.

Khulu Ndumba indicated that women who stand in front of men during their menstrual periods make them lose their dignity.

“It is believed that if a woman stands in front of men, she makes them lose their integrity and demeans them.

“This practice is not an oppression of women but a custom that must be observed. A number of men have lost their dignity because women no longer follow these cultural beliefs,” said Khulu Ndumba.

Reverend Nhlanganiso Moyo from the Presbyterian Church said the belief that politics was ungodly has led to the oppression of women.

“This is belief is abusive, lacks knowledge and respect for feminine species and does not give women their rightful place as human beings.

“The Hebraic or Judaic ethical systems looked down upon women, who were regarded as second class citizens. Purely, it was a lack of knowledge on their part,” said Reverend Moyo.

He said that there was no need to link the biological nature of women to leadership.

“Menstrual periods do not interfere with one’s leadership skills. The same people who regard women as unclean want the same women to be their partners and still find their biological system as an error to declare them unclean and unfit for leadership,” argued Reverend Moyo.

According to a United Nations Women (2023) report as of January this year, women represent 22.8 percent of cabinet members heading ministries and leading policy areas globally.

The report says there are 13 countries in which women hold 50 percent or more of the positions of cabinet ministers

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *