A RECENT case involving MDC-T MP Evelyn Masaiti's failed attempt to marry her Cameroonian partner yet again illustrates the raw deal women in general and women politicians in particular receive in the media.
The narrative in some media went beyond what was really necessarily to describe the story and instead touched on sensitive issues about Masaiti's private life which seemed to be at casting doubt on her personal integrity. It is doubtful that such treatment would have been meted to a male politician.
For example, having narrated the refusal by the Masvingo Magistrate to preside over the marriage on the ground that her prospective husband had failed to produce the required certificate of no marriage from his home country, some media reports went on to describe how Masaiti's previous husband, Isaac Matongo, had died. The language used seemed to suggest that Matongo had died as a result of a sexual encounter with Masaiti.
A report on one website describes in the following crude terms: "Matongo died of a heart attack on May 2, 2007, after romping with Masaiti”. The language suggests that Matongo succumbed to his death following a sexual encounter with Masaiti. This comes after a paragraph that describes Masaiti's alleged infidelity.
Basically, the report tries to paint Masaiti's character in unflattering terms. In basic terms it says: here is an MP, whose previous three husbands have died, including one who died in the aftermath of a "sex romp", who has been accused of infidelity and is now seeking to marry a younger, foreign man.
At a time when Zimbabwe is apparently making strides to improve the lot of women; to change attitudes toward women and women politicians in particular, such reporting in the media is unhelpful and simply strengthens the age-old stereotypes of women in public life.
It is this type of characterisation that dissuades women from entering public life, let alone participating in politics. Besides the old stereotypes about women, it also perpetuates negative stereotypes about widows. It is unfair, morally questionable and discriminatory to treat women who have suffered misfortune in this way.
Masaiti's treatment illustrates why the constitution must be emphatic about the prohibition of discriminatory conduct towards women on the basis of marital status. It is also the same reason why hate speech or language that promotes hostility and discrimination towards women must be proscribed in the constitution.