The Herald (Harare)

Zimbabwe: Draft Constitution: Let the Women Speak

Photo: allafrica.com
Zimbabwe statehouse: The final draft of the constitution - with the most significant reforms aimed at political and legal systems - needs to be finalised in preparation for a referendum.

THE constitution-making process in Zimbabwe has been one of the most publicized issue in Zimbabwe's media in the past year with the Constitution Select Committee (Copac)'s numerous "leaked" and semi-drafts having occupied front pages of most print media for a while now.

Interesting enough is the fact that the acres of free print media space dedicated to the Copac draft issues have been largely dominated by male voices.

This has been happening to the extent that the same individuals have the liberty to repeatedly publish their personal or group interests in the same newspapers for weeks on end.

Meanwhile, most women's voices are only heard through paid for display adverts.

Yet, the constitution as the supreme law document and any processes relating to it should strive to be as inclusive as possible.

Women who constitute 52 percent of Zimbabwe's population (the impending census could establish that figure might have increased), have been conspicuously quiet on this matter despite having actively participated in the constitutional outreach process including the chaotic first all-stakeholder's conference.

The women's movement led by the Women's Coalition has had numerous consultative meetings to ensure that women's views are well captured in the draft.

They have also developed the women's roadmap to elections which included women's concerns proposed for the new constitution.

They have formed the Group of 21, which comprises women in politics and chiefs who are tasked with monitoring the Copac process in order to ensure that the 16 issues specific to women are included in the draft constitution.

The media has been mum about the G21. The draft constitution has also captured some tenets of the 50/50 campaign, which calls for a gender balance in political representation.

It is therefore astounding that all these efforts by women and for women concerning the draft constitution have only been mentioned in passing in the ongoing media debates.

Besides the 16 issues that women want addressed in the constitution, all the issues that are being debated in the media are also very pertinent to women.

The citizenship issue, the running mates, the presidential terms, devolution, death penalty, presidential powers and others do affect women the most.

More interesting is the fact that men have dominated even the few discussions that have taken place in specific reference to women.

For example, the exemption of women in the death penalty raised an outcry from some people who disputed it as discrimination against men.

Only a couple of women, including Advocate Theresa Mugadza, were quoted commenting on the death penalty issue.

It remains unclear whether the exemption of women from the death penalty came out of genuine gender considerations or it came in handy to provide basis for the furtherance of the earlier debates on the death penalty issue.

That aside, more women would be expected to speak out on the exemption than just a couple of voices.

What is also amazing is the silence of women on the proposed bloating of Parliament by 60 seats to be reserved for women.

According to media reports, owing to the 50/50 campaign, and the Sadc Gender and Development Protocol target of 30 percent women representation in Parliament by 2015, Political parties will be required to second women candidates to take up those seats on a proportional representation basis.

Again the media articles that carried this issue quoted mostly male comments and hardly anything from women on the matter.

Surprisingly, women in politics have not said a word publicly about how a bloated Parliament would affect women the most.

Save for a few letters to the editor which do not show the gender of the writer, this time bomb of a provision seem to be sailing through whilst the women are quiet.

The 60 seats can still be reserved for women without having to increase the total number of parliamentary seats.

What it implies is that, the current number of seats is already taken before the election dates have been announced and those 60 seats cannot go to women unless 60 more seats are created!

Some political parties have already nominated female running mates for their male presidents, meaning that those nominated as running mates can only take second positions to the men in the lead! Does this ring any bell to women?

The role of the media in promoting women's constitutional rights remains far below the radar in Zimbabwe.

It remains a mystery whether women are silent on many of these issues or the media is shutting their voices out.

If women form the majority of Zimbabwe's population, their voice can dominate debates, determine the result of the constitutional referendum and they can also influence the election results!

Let the women speak!

ZWRCN is an information-based organisation committed to gender equality and equity.

It is currently providing free basic computer skills training to women across all age groups.

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