Picture : Reuters/Philimon Bulawayo

“Are you married?” The frequent question for Fadzayi Mahere, a Zimbabwe opposition politician, isn’t from men trying their luck. Instead, people of all genders approach her with the concern that a woman - a single woman - aspires to lead them.
Ahead of Monday’s historic election in the largely conservative country, the few female candidates have faced insults such as “slut” and accusations of sleeping around.

Gender-based prejudices are still rife in the nation, where women traditionally have been cheerleaders for male politicians and the #MeToo movement has hardly registered.

But the female candidates are fighting back with wit, turning the abuse into political capital.

“Marriage, though often a beautiful thing, is not an achievement. It does not qualify one for public office,” Mahere said on Twitter.

“It will take a lot more than calling me childless or husbandless to shut me up,” said the 32-year-old lawyer who is pursuing a parliamentary seat in the capital, Harare. She has declared: “I am married to my campaign.”

Zimbabwe is seeing a new political openness in these elections, the first since long-time leader Robert Mugabe stepped down in November under military pressure amid concerns that his wife, Grace, was positioning herself to take over.

While this election has a record number of 23 presidential candidates, most are still men.

The abuses hurled at women ahead of the vote have brought public condemnation from ambassadors, opposition leader Nelson Chamisa and foreign election observers. - AP