Sunday, 5 June 2022


Ahead of the March 26 by-elections, Councillor Leah Chidamba found herself being the butt of countless crude jokes on social media.

A racy picture of Clr Chidamba, who was then running for the Ward 20 seat in Chitungwiza, wearing a black crop top and tights, went viral on Twitter and other social media platforms.

The picture elicited offensive commentary from scores of social media users.

Many questioned her moral standing and fitness to stand for public office.

Surprisingly, social media users deliberately ignored another picture that she had posted on her social media accounts, where she was resplendent in academic regalia after graduating from a local tertiary institution.

Instead, it appeared everyone’s focus was on the first picture.

Clr Chidamba, who eventually won the seat on a ZANU PF ticket, had become a victim of what is termed doxxing.

This is a form of cyber violence involving the publishing of private information about certain individuals on the Internet with malicious intent.

Doxxing is ubiquitous on Zimbabwean social media.

Overtime, it has become the tool of choice used by political adversaries to sully opponents. This tactic is, however, disproportionately deployed against female candidates.

In Clr Chidamba’s case, doxxing was used to devastating effect, ostensibly to push her out of the race or at least blunt her campaign efforts.

But she told The Sunday Mail that she was never going to allow online abuse to distract her from achieving her goal.

“I had big issues to deal with − peoples’ problems,” she said. “It’s sad that our societies have no sense of respect for private life and somehow reduce politics to a clothing debate.

“It’s so puerile. Politics cannot be reduced to that; people’s welfare is far more important, don’t you think?”

She said she never paid much attention to the cyber violence that came her way.

Had it not been for her tenacity and the will to fight, Clr Chidamba could have found herself in the same position as scores of other women politicians in Zimbabwe − walking away from it all.

A toxic combination of patriarchy, misogyny and violence in Zimbabwean politics has ensured that it remains a space dominated by men.

With social media now a potent tool for political campaigning, an increasing number of women politicians could find themselves unable to participate on account of the rampant abuse they face on these platforms.

Illustratively, only 18 percent of the candidates that stood for local authority elections in the 2008 elections were women.

In 2013, it had dropped to 16 percent before plummeting to 14 percent in the last election. Clr Chidamba reckons that society views women politicians as people of loose morals. Often their marital status is used as a tool to discredit them, she said.

“People think women in politics are harlots, which is not fair and untrue,” she said.

“I am happily married and I have a very supportive husband who is always with me in everything I do. What people say, I don’t know where they get it from and it’s such a shame.”

She said politics knows no gender and should be focused on service to communities.

Her experience with cyberbullying has, however, failed to break her spirit.

She said: “If you know what you want in life, put earmuffs and go for it.

“People will always talk, especially those looking for fame. Some people spread rumours out of jealousy and envy.

“One should be goal-oriented; without which you will never go anywhere when you are faced with perilous times.”

She said social media was supposed to be a platform for robust debate.

Instead, it has turned into a cesspit of fake news, abuse and egregious violence against the fairer sex.

“In my thinking, people need to be busy and work towards reducing social evils and improve lives of the general populace,” she added.

While social media has provided an alternative and inexpensive communication tool for poorly-resourced female politicians, experts say these platforms have also amplified online violence against the same women.

Social media has fashioned new types of gender-based violence, while also precipitating gender inequality, hindering women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of their human rights.

Faced with the harsh realities of dealing with cyber violence, some aspiring female politicians have cowered into their cocoons out of fear of being shamed, labelled or degraded on account of their physical appearance.

For Zimbabwe Electoral Commission commissioner Mrs Netsai Mushonga, the prevalence of violence against women on social media is a growing problem.

Having experienced cyber bullying herself during the run up to the 2018 elections, Commissioner Mushonga said social media users tend to gang up against women, particularly those who speak their minds.

“There is also cyber bullying targeted at election managers like myself and other female commissioners,” she said.

“In 2018, I was very active on social media in the run up to the elections and after.

“I remember someone threatening to harm me physically.

“I think our chairperson also suffered the wrath of this violence on social media.

“This is something that happens in the elections, which we abhor.”

Labour, Economists and African Democrats party president Ms Linda Masarira is a hyperactive social media user.

However, her posts on Twitter are often trailed by a barrage of unsightly comments about her physical appearance.

She said authorities need to enforce the recently enacted Cyber Security and Data Protection Bill in order to protect women.

“I do not foresee the elimination of cyber bullying happening any time soon,” she said.

“But what we can do as mothers is to try and change how we socialise our children, teach them to be peacemakers, to love their neighbours and not to use insults to demean others.”

She said most abusers hide behind anonymity.

“We need to strengthen the legal framework through the Cyber Security Bill so that tormenting someone on social media is criminalised.

“There is also need for advocacy on how the cyber laws work because that is something a lot of people do not know and understand,” she added.

A 2018 report at the 38th session of the Human Rights Council by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on Online Violence Against Women notes that acts of online violence may force women to retreat from the Internet.

It indicated that 28 percent of women who had suffered ICT-based violence intentionally reduced their presence online.

“Other common outcomes are social isolation, whereby victims or survivors withdraw from public life, including with family and friends, and limited mobility, when they lose their freedom to move around safely,” reads the report. Sunday Mail


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