By Daisy Jeremani

Social media attacks on political opponents have become the new form of abuse with female politicians bearing the brunt.

People use social media for a variety of purposes. The four main ones are sharing, learning, interacting, and marketing.

However, through these some people have found a new frontier to fight their opponents especially in the political arena and women seeking or who are in political offices seem to bear the brunt of rants.

Micro-blogging site Twitter, WhatsApp and Facebook have became bedrocks of ‘keyboard warriors’ who curse behind pseudo names and fake accounts. Women politicians in Zimbabwe suffered systematic abuse online after and during the July 2018 general election. A study by the United Nations on the issue of social media as implements of violence against women in elections estimated that 95% of aggressive behaviour, harassment, abusive language and denigrating images in online spaces are aimed at women.

Coupled with threats of physical and sexual violence, these forms of violence degrade, demoralise and shame their victims. These psychological forms of election violence are the most devastating to women.

MDC-T president Thokozani Khupe was probably the hardest hit female politician ahead of the election.  Going into the poll, she battled against Nelson Chamisa for the leadership of the party.  It had become evident that the then party leader, Morgan Tsvangirai was incapacitated to continue in that role.  Khupe won the battle for the name of the party, MDC-T.  After Tsvangirai’s death in February 2018, Chamisa’s group took to the internet to discredit Khupe using abusive language.  Whenever her name was mentioned in any story the comments that followed were so abhorrent all in the name of silencing her political voice. Unlike men, the impact on women largely comes from women’s vulnerability to attacks on the basis of morality. More often than not, these attacks often carry much greater social price for women than for men because of the implications they may have on the victim’s children.

At some point Khupe mispronounced the word “categorically.”  Immediately after that social media went berserk.  Memes lampooning her gaffe circulated on every social media platform. While social media has nothing but loathful words towards female politicians, mainstream media consider female politicians as lightweights who are politically not interesting, thereby choosing to focus more on “heavyweight” male politicians.

Women in Politics Support Unit executive director Sakhile Sifelani-Ngoma said she noted with disdain that no one had been prosecuted to date for physical and cyber violence on female candidates although it was rampant.