News / Africa

    Mugabe Dismisses Male-Female Equality

    FILE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is seen delivering a speech to a national congress of his Zanu PF party in Harare.
    FILE - Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe is seen delivering a speech to a national congress of his Zanu PF party in Harare.
    Anita Powell

    "It’s not possible that women can be at par with men," said the incoming chairman of the African Union, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe. He made the controversial comment in Addis Ababa on the eve the African Union summit, which begins Friday. Many are debating what the 90-year-old leader meant to convey by this statement.

    Mugabe's remarks on women not being on par with men, fittingly, come as African Union leaders tackle this year’s summit topic: women’s empowerment. 

    He spoke to VOA Zimbabwe Service reporter Sandra Nyaira on the side-lines of the summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia.

    "When it comes down to the ground, it's not easy for them. They get married, they must have babies, they must live at home, that's a problem… I’m saying it’s not possible that women can be at par with men. You see, we men; we want children. We make the very women we want in power, pregnant. You see, and we remain. It’s not possible -- that aspect only,” said Mugabe.

    It’s not entirely clear from these comments alone whether Mugabe is lamenting the longstanding inequality of women and calling for change -- or if he believes that this is the natural order of things.

    But it would not be the first time Mugabe, who turns 91 next month and has spent more than three decades in power, has courted controversy on gender. In 2013, he insulted his political enemies by calling them “mere women.”

    Muddling the picture further, Mugabe went on to call for equal pay for women and for better maternity benefits.

    “They must be paid if they are employed, they must be paid, and for that period, and not for the companies or government to say ‘ha ha ha we will give you only three months.’ It must be nine months right through,” he said.

    One of Zimbabwe’s top human rights lawyers, Beatrice Mtetwa, is a woman. Her first reaction to the president’s comments -- which VOA News played for her -- was incredulity and peals of laughter.

    But, speaking to VOA via Skype from Harare, she said if he meant that women should be inferior, that is no laughing matter. And Zimbabwean law, she said, supports equality.

    “I don’t believe the president could say anything like that. I mean, someone is pulling my leg. That is not possible, because there is a constitution that he signed only in 2013 and made into law which basically gives women in Zimbabwe every possible power and every possible equality clause with men,” said Mtetwa.

    She also noted that if Mugabe’s comments were meant to denigrate women, then they effectively disqualify Mugabe’s rumored successor -- his wife.

    “So if she had any illusions that she might be a powerful, respected political leader, she must go back into the maternity ward and start making more babies,” she said.

    So what did the president mean? Was he bemoaning centuries of subjugation and calling for change? Was he reminding women to remember their place -- which is apparently not in the halls of power, but in the home? Or is he reiterating what women around the world have heard for centuries: families and careers are not compatible, and in the opinion of men, family comes first.  

    What do you think President Mugabe meant, and what do you think it means for women's rights in Africa? Let us know in the comments below. 

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    by: Marcella from: Kenya
    February 04, 2015 2:28 AM
    It is utterly ridiculous and should not be condoned, such comments are the ones that take us back into the stone age times.
    These are reckless utterances that should not be tolerated. So what exactly did he mean...and why did he choose such derogative comments that make women be portrayed as lesser beings in society.

    by: williweb from: Phoenix Arizona USA
    February 01, 2015 3:15 PM
    Most of humanity has already come to grips with the equality of men and women issue. We all know who the hold-outs are.

    by: Steven from: Oslo
    February 01, 2015 7:42 AM
    So, whoever wrote this article was listening selectively, because he has no idea what Mugabe was talking about. Listen to the whole speech again whever you are. I wonder how you got the job.

    by: Chuol Gatluok Tonguan from: South Sudan
    January 31, 2015 9:50 PM
    Mr president want to separate the African women from the western women so that they can only follow the African women culture

    by: ED from: Canada
    January 31, 2015 4:17 PM
    I am not Mugabe fan but he is making himself very clear except to the idiots trying hard to make a controversy. Women the world over have a hard time balancing keeping a home, having kid and working a job at the same time. They are working and the kid get sick, they either have to leave work or worry and try and cope. Men keep working usually.
    The different between genius and stupidity is that genius has a limit. This writer gives stupidity a whole higher ceiling.

    by: Aaron Moyana from: USA
    January 31, 2015 1:48 PM
    This is an ambiguous statement at best. Why it was left dangling without qualification shows how his mental capacity is at this point. Perhaps he forgot to qualify the statement. This shows further that Mr Mugabe has outlived his potential. He needs to step aside and leave room for younger and better able bodies.

    by: Anonymous
    January 31, 2015 1:47 PM
    Africa and the world needs to struggle against female genital mutilation and women's slavery... we can't do it with such an old and conservative man in that position

    by: Abou Sylla from: United States
    January 31, 2015 11:46 AM
    This is a fun topic for discussion (lol)! For me, President Mugabe is describing the "nature" of what it is to be man and woman, which is true. We shouldn't judge him wrong on this, unless we are advocates for the deformation of what has been the "natural order" for mankind since the beginning. I agree with his recommendation for the nine months of support for women through their pregnancy and childbirth. When it comes to the positive capability of having power, I believe into women. Let me explain what I mean. When women give birth, their own ego (i.e., self-worth; importance) splits into multiple parts (like an atom) to accommodate their new, and very personal, circumstances. An unbelievable energy is released from this splitting that occurs in women. It is an extrordinary event that no man has any capability of matching. She can now take care of her infant, her man, her own self, and much more. It is a fierce power that can clearly judge when to attack and when to defend, and what action to take. And, guess what? When it comes to the politics and governments, let's try having an administration made up of twenty women with only eight men on board. You will see what I mean. To Mugabe now, that is why it is not good to be a liar or a dictator because even if you say the truth, it gets smashed. I don't give him wrong for this.

    by: Anonymous
    January 31, 2015 8:13 AM
    "It’s not possible that women can be at par with men." Neither is it possible that men can be at par with women. Until one day science develops or mankind evolves so that we are all hermaphrodites.

    That's what Mugabe should have said.

    by: Nigel from: Australia
    January 31, 2015 7:25 AM
    It is hardly surprising that he is sexist, he is also the most racist lunatic on earth.
    In Response

    by: Wie from: from Holland
    February 01, 2015 2:47 AM
    Hello Nigel with the respect of the president Mugabe you delivery your messaged direct without respect at all and called him racist you're from Australia were the people of indigenous Aborigines have been in slave by white migrants in Australia. Pr Mugabe he didn't spoke racism he said his words only for African women please respect him as African leader in where you are there is racism
    In Response

    by: Nigelia
    January 31, 2015 8:20 PM
    says a person from Australia, land of racism.
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