The Herald (Harare)

1 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Equality Needs Support of Both Sexes

column

The draft Constitution is expected to sail through Parliament before being taken to a referendum. As anticipated, the process will be without much hustle as the three political parties represented in the August House have already agreed to the draft constitution.

Among the highlights of the agreed draft Constitution is a clause that will make it mandatory that 60 female Parliamentarians be elected from the country's provinces on proportional representation.

What a plus for women in politics in the country! It means women, after the passing of the constitution, will have a larger representation in the Parliament and the Senate. This alone means nothing if the women themselves do not take the offer and use it for their emancipation. Although various clauses that touch on women empowerment, Chapter 2, Section 17 is critical as it compels the State to ensure full gender balance in Zimbabwe.

Part of the draft Constitution reads: "State must promote the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men; the State must take all measures, including legislative measures, needed to ensure that both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of Government at every level." In this case, equality means equal representation of men and women in all sectors of the socio-political economy.

There is also the beauty of the proposed establishment of a "Gender Commission" which will, among other functions, monitor issues concerning gender equality to ensure gender equality, investigate possible violations of rights relating to gender; to receive and consider complaints from the public and to take such action in regard to the complaints as the Commission considers appropriate.

It will also conduct research on issues relating to gender and social justice, and to recommend changes to laws and practices which lead to discrimination based on gender; to advise public and private institutions on steps to be taken to ensure gender equality; to recommend affirmative action programmes to achieve gender equality and to recommend prosecution for criminal violations of rights relating to gender.

That is what gender activists have been crying for.

The tenets of the new Constitution will, however, mean nothing if they are not followed up with policies that promote gender equality.

The lobbying must now intensify to ensure that this clause is not just a mere line in the Constitution that will not have an effect on society. Men should see the importance of supporting the gender agenda otherwise this will be a shot in the dark.

If Zimbabwe is to realise gender equality, it is critical that gender activists, men and women in the country put their heads together to ensure that this goal is realised.

In fact, analysts say the inclusion of the clause is a good start for women who have been fighting for 50-50 representation in the country's economic and political system. They were, however, quick to underline that the new clause also mean more work for women who need to measure up to the demands of their position.

They should be prepared to offer themselves for the posts to ensure that the quality in women is exhibited and that men do not use the representatives to fight equality. It is important for women to move with zeal and seek to advance themselves so that they can attain the positions not on based on the quarter system but on the merit.

It is time to show the world that Zimbabwean women have the mental capacity to challenge men and inspire the country to development. If they are not vigilant this 50-50 percent representation, to come with the new constitution if approved, will be used to uplift women.

The women should never use this achievement as a way to fight men.

Equality requires the support of both sexes. In the same manner, the clause on the inclusion of women should never be seen as a way of trying to harness the women vote in the referendum and the upcoming elections. If motive of increasing women's participation in the constitution was to buy the female vote, then it is misplaced and should removed from people's minds soonest.

Unfortunately there are sentiments to suggest the clause was used as bait to capture the women vote but this is a retrogressive idea that requires the condemnation of all those who respect gender equality.

In fact gender activist should grab the opportunity to ensure that the draft constitution helps improve the welfare of the Zimbabwean woman.

Though Government has also been making efforts to ensure gender balance and has since come up with the National Gender Policy (2002), that is providing guidelines and institutional framework to engender all sectoral policies and activities at all levels, the society has not been eager to advance these noble ideas.

This means the efforts of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development established in 1995 require the support of the women themselves if Government is to succeed in uplifting the status of the ordinary woman.

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