GI Jane, the Zimbabwe sequel

By Simon Allison 31 August 2011

Zimbabwe’s women are being urged to join the country’s commando unit as the army tries to polish its gender equality credentials. But given the government’s sympathy for Gaddafi, let’s hope they’re not being moulded in the shape of Brother Leader’s Amazonian Guard. By SIMON ALLISON.

The Zimbabwean army is an unlikely bastion of female empowerment. But top brass have been consistently pushing for more women to join its commando unit, to emphasise the “importance that the Zimbabwe National Army places on gender equality,” said Colonel Zvanyadza Machinjili at a passing out ceremony last year. She added: “Nothing can stop us as women to join the army. Women played a very pivotal role in the liberation struggle when conditions and the environment were very tough.”

Steven Gwekwere, Colonel General Staff at army headquarters, recently reaffirmed the army’s commitment to getting women involved: “The army wishes to see women also making it where their male counterparts are. This training is the toughest that a soldier can undergo because it is the ultimate test of physical and mental endurance designed to separate men from boys.” Or women from girls, he forgot to add; the nuances of gender equality might take a while to catch on.

Only 20 of the 180 soldiers who completed the notoriously tough commando training last year were women.

Outside Zimbabwe, the most ringing endorsement of female military prowess comes from an equally unexpected source. Muammar Gaddafi was famously accompanied everywhere by a unit of female bodyguards known as the Amazonian Guard. Even though Gaddafi insisted they wear nail polish and swear an oath of chastity, they were more than mere decoration; one lost her life preventing an assassination attempt by throwing herself between Gaddafi and the incoming bullet. But recent reports suggest members of the elite force weren’t chosen only for their soldiering abilities. Since Gaddafi’s fall, five have come forward to say they were regularly raped and abused by Gaddafi and his sons. DM

Read more:

  • Zim women urged to join commando training in City Press.