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Zimbabwe: Women's Lib Online and Unplugged

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

In a country largely described as conservative, where women are generally reminded of their place by being told what they can openly discuss and what they cannot, a society many see as being still steeped in that African time-warp, the Internet has offered a priceless platform to discuss issues that otherwise remain taboos. After all, this is Zimbabwe where the president is world-renowned for his strong views against issues such homosexuality.

Women bloggers and Facebook users especially have taken up these platforms to discuss issues relating to their sexuality and everything else that no doubt would make President Mugabe blush. They have created on these platforms everything from their own cyber-based “agony aunts” to unpacking women's role in politics and the economy.

The Internet has offered a priceless platform to discuss issues that are usually considered taboo. Photo source: Makhox Women's League Facebok page.

The Internet has offered a priceless platform to discuss issues that are usually considered taboo. Photo source: Makhox Women's League Facebok page.

Blogger Delta Ndou describes her blog as “the musings of a feminist,” and this being Zimbabwe, that's a bold statement. Ndou has become somewhat of an e-celebrity with her blog where she writes about anything from pap smears, marriage, sex, women picking themselves up from cheating husbands. In a blog post titled “The Hilary example,” she discusses the future US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and how she dealt with husband Bill and the Monica Lewinsky scandal.

 

Ndou writes in one of her blog posts about pap-smears:

I mean if women can sit through a 5 hour hair-braiding session; and the time we sacrifice towards looking good in salons – we can actually spare a few hours for our cervixes to get inspected. For the record, having done the pap-smear; I am not expected to show up for another one until after 2 years so the convenience and peace of mind was worth the experience. Do yourself a favor… if it means wearing a disguise, traveling to another city where no one knows you or whatever – get a pap-smear.

It is stuff that has made her blog popular. She continues:

You need it and it’s free. While issues like male circumcision have enjoyed much prominence in media coverage; the need for pap-smear testing remains a very obscured but pressing health care issue. So this article is a modest contribution to address this oversight. Men go and get circumcised. Women go and get a pap-smear.

She is not alone in speaking her mind online. Blogger Fungai Machirori takes the “feminist discourse” a notch higher. She writes about vaginas and everything else that would “shock and awe” the average person in Zimbabwe, and it is writing that defines the essence of blogging: free expression.

In one of her posts, Machirori asks in that “in your face” cool, “What does a vagina look like?”:

What does a ‘normal’ vagina look like?

This might be a startling question for you, but when you really think about it, it is quite valid.

They come in all shapes and colours, but we never dare investigate…

Unlike men who know about average inches and centimetres for their appendages, we women don’t really know much about our sexual organs…

We women rarely look at our own vaginas, let alone anyone else’s – so how should we know?! Unlike men who have to interact with their penises each time they urinate or change their underwear, we women hardly ever pay attention to our vaginas. Besides, it’s not like it’s easy to get them in full view anyway. Mirrors and strange positions are required and this just adds to the awkwardness of trying to become knowledgebale about your own body.

And sadly, the only time many young women become aware about the appearance of the vagina is when they are forced to alter it from its own natural state.

Blogger Shonavixen has just began a 30-day blogging challenge no doubt in what will be considered prodigious output by her netizen buddies.

Facebook has not gone unnoticed by women who have created their own group called Makhox Women's League.

Posts are generally written in the local SiNdebele language, a pointer perhaps that the use of local languages to give voice and space to all is gaining ground in cyberspace. It here where women switch roles as “agony aunts” and the “agonisers,” and the exchanges are priceless. The group is an attempt to utilise this space through personal expression tha ttraditional media has failed to fill in, and or by the nature of the exchanges among members, would never see the light of day “in a family newspaper.”

The latest topic on their page reads:

What are the disadvantages of being a stepmom or are there any advantages or something you've seen either good or bad…. Let's share makhosikazi. RM.

Facebook has indeed become a place where Zimbabwean women confront “taboo” subjects. In one of her blog posts, Machirori discusses women dating much younger men, and some women taking this discourse to what has veritably become the world's social networking behemoth, Facebook. Machirori asks, “If Zimbabwean women on Facebook are saying they don’t mind a younger man, could the times be a-changing?”

This is particularly interesting because it is a topic which traditional Zimbabwean society would not openly discuss, but of course men are expected to marry much younger women! Perhaps these feminist bloggers are exposing the inconsistencies through the only outlet they have: the blogosphere and Facebook.

The times they are a-changing for real as Dylan strummed back then. And it is thanks to the Internet and the growing presence of Zimbabwean women online.

This post is part of our special coverage Global Development 2011.

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