Women in defence push beyond boundaries With only a few days to go before the Heroes and Defence Forces commemorations, it is important to take stock of the pivotal role that women play in national development

Ruth Butaumocho
African Agenda

Flight-Lieutenant Angeline Bosha of the Air Force of Zimbabwe (AFZ) made history last week when she was honoured as the first female jet fighter pilot for the Karakorum-8 (K-8) aircraft.

She diligently earned her stripes and is now the Karakorum-8 (K-8) pilot and commander carrying the honour of being K-8 jet fighter aircraft and command AFZ Number 2 Squadron that houses various jet fighter aircrafts.

A quick search on the Global Defence Technology site reveals the Karakorum-8 as one of the most advanced jet trainer and light attack aircraft in contemporary times designed and manufactured jointly by Hongdu Aviation Industry Corporation of China and Pakistan Aeronautical Complex, with China holding 200 of the total 494 produced to date.

Her tenacity, agility and determination to excel against all odds, clearly attests to the important role that women have been playing in nation building since the days of Zimbabwe’s liberation struggle.

With only a few days to go before the Heroes and Defence Forces commemorations, it is important to take stock of the pivotal role that women play in national development.

In their numbers, wisdom and determination to serve, women have become strategic allies in the Second Republic under the guidance of President Mnangagwa where they now hold powerful posts in the military and defence, outside economics and governance.

For most women, such recognition did not come cheap and neither was it thrust to them on a silver platter, but was earned on merit.

This level of achievement for women dates back to the liberation struggle era, when legions of glorious women took arms alongside men to fight against the colonialists — albeit under very difficult conditions.

Women from varying backgrounds were pivotal to the liberation struggle of Zimbabwe as they took different roles — some which were beyond their physiology and scope, to unshackle the country from the yoke of the colonisers.

Imbued by the need to see Zimbabwe free from colonial rule, women joined national liberation movements in unprecedented numbers as supporters who provided food and other necessities to travelling nationalist guerrillas, as well as being combatants in the armed wings of the liberation struggle, in nationalist organisations, and as political activists.

It took selfless dedication, determination and bravery for thousands of men and women who crossed into neighbouring countries for military training to fight against the colonialists as the battle for territorial integrity intensified.

While it is not feasible to list the thousands who remain unaccounted for even up to this day, hence the importance and symbolism of the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier, their role in the struggle cannot be paled by anything, neither can be dismissed by whimsical talk that women are minors and physically weak to be at the battlefield.

Like many who went to war during this time, the women did not do so for self-aggrandisement or so that they could have their names emblazoned in the annals of history, they only sacrificed to serve their country.

It is the same sacrifice that we see today, when they are given powerful governance positions or an opportunity to excel, like what Flt-Lt Bosha is doing.

During the struggle for liberation from colonial rule, women worked alongside men to overthrow their oppressors, and they could not fathom the idea of giving up before Zimbabwe was free.

Contrary to long held perception, a wrong one for that matter, several strikes that took place during the liberation struggle were led by women.

Many will remember how in 1961 thousands of women demonstrated in the then Salisbury against a constitution which promoted racism.

More than 2 000 women were arrested and they refused to pay fines and opted to go to jail.

It took the intervention of their husbands who eventually opted to pay fines for them, demanding that their wives return home.

While the nation may never know some of the names of the she-heroines who took part in the liberation struggle and sadly perished, the motivation of the fallen and the living gallant daughters delivered the freedom that Zimbabweans enjoy today.

It is because of their unparalleled record of consistency, hard work, determination and a passion to serve that we now have more women than before, taking up powerful and challenging positions in the military and defence.

Over the last 100 years, research show that women’s role in the military has changed as fast and in some cases faster than society has changed. That development has happened globally, including in Africa, where a growing number of states are now appointing women to head their defence ministries.

Though female politicians have historically been absent from the defence portfolio, these patterns of exclusion have begun to change in the post-Cold war era.

Defence ministries for six countries, Kenya, Tanzania, Togo, South Africa , South Sudan and Zimbabwe are being ably headed by astute women, an affirmation that women are capable and if not better, once thrust in the position of power.

Previously, countries like Central African Republic, Ethiopia, Gabon and Guinea Bissau have had female defence ministers at the various stages.

Late last year, Tanzania became the latest country to contribute towards this highly revered African continental governance, when the country’s first female president, Samia Suluhu Hassan, appointed a woman as defence minister.

Dr Stergomena Tax, a former secretary-general of the South African Development Community (SADC), became the first female Minister for Defence and National Service, of this highly conservative Eastern African.

At the swearing-in of Dr Tax, President Hassan said she made the choice to shatter the myth that women cannot serve in such a position.

“I have decided to break the long-time myth that in the Defence Ministry there should be a man with muscles. The minister’s job in that office is not to carry guns or artillery,” she said.

The appointment of Dr Tax, which falls hard on the heels of Zimbabwe, whose defence ministry is headed by war veteran Cde Oppah Muchinguri-Kashiri is an affirmation that women are capable and diligently serve well when assigned to any portfolio.

As the nation remembers the gallant heroes and heroines of the liberation, there is no better way of reliving war time bravery, dedication of our she-heroines than to continue opening up more spaces for them in economic development, politics and governance.

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