University of Zimbabwe
Engendering the Public Sphere; Between Modernity and Tradition? The Dynamics of Shaping and Reshaping the Public Sphere with Reference to Zimbabwe’s Political Landscape
The world in general has experienced the division of the society into public and private spheres as a consequent, in most cases, of the patriarchal nature of the societies. The private sphere has for long been identified as the preserve of women while the public sphere has been identified with men. The public is identified with decision making, control, economic participation and authority and as a sphere of cultural politics. Today calls are being made to reverse patriarchal thinking and engender the public sphere and do away with the idea of viewing women as inferior and taking them as capable and equal participants in the public sphere. The 21st century has moved to accept women not only as capable leaders but also talented persons. The African public sphere has been affected by both modernity and tradition in its attempt to address the issue of gender equity. This paper argues first that the African public sphere is an imagined concept and a social construct by the society. As a result, the public sphere has been shaped and reshaped, defined and redefined owing to struggles between tradition and modernity and women and men in trying to engender this sphere.This paper argues that the public sphere though trying to fit in the globalisation process where gender has become fashionable, tradition has remained afloat and very significant. A gender concept that has become powerful in the African public sphere is masculinity as opposed to femininity and gender equality. In as much as gender equity has been accepted, the African society has remained dominated by several masculinities. However, as this paper argues, this is done not to address the woman question but to use women in the ensuing fights between the society’s existing masculinities. This paper examines the question that “Is the numerical increase of women in the African public sphere part of affirmative action or it is a career punctuated by talent and leadership qualities in governing the African public sphere?” The other issue relates to women as a class and the inequalities that come with women representation in the public sphere. All these issues constitute the dynamics of making and remaking the African public sphere as modernity and tradition are at continuous loggerheads. The paper examines these ideas using Zimbabwean politics and women politicians. Politics has been chosen because it is the most significant public sphere that allows women into public governing organs of decision making and authority.