6 February 2013

Zimbabwe: Women Get Head Start As Polls Loom

WOMEN have taken the centre stage in the proposed new supreme law of the land with at least 60 seats to be reserved for females under a proportional representation system during the next Parliament.

A plethora of other provisions in the new constitution have also excited gender activists as a referendum on the Parliamentary Constitution Select Committee (COPAC) draft charter draws closer.

There are already suggestions that the draft could be one of the best in Africa as far as gender issues are concerned, a development likely to see women organisations in Zimbabwe rooting for a YES vote in the referendum.

At least 13 provisions in the draft prepared by COPAC have drawn immense interest from the female folk and other gender activists.

These include the equality clause that appears three times in the preamble, the anti-discrimination clause, equal citizenship, including the rights to passports and other documents from the Registrar General's Office, gendered right to security of the person including protection from Gender-Based Violence.

Also of interest is the subjugating of customary law to human rights, the provision for affirmative action, rights of women, children's rights and the economic, social and cultural rights.

Women are also now protected from eviction from property, particularly land distributed under the controversial land reform programme.

The highlight is probably the provision of a gender-sensitive electoral system with proportional representation and a senate zebra system that favours women.

Women are likely to have a head start in the forthcoming polls. They would be guaranteed 60 seats before the polls if this year's plebiscite is held under the new constitution.

There is also a 50 percent women quota to achieve gender balance in the appointment of boards for State entities, a gender-sensitive national budgeting as well as the establishment of a gender commission.

Bonus provisions include State protection of families and help to child care-givers, a ban on forced and child marriages, equality of girls and boys in education, gender-sensitive language i.e. using him/her, departing from the patriarchal tradition of legislation where "he" was interpreted to include females.

While applauding the inclusion of clauses deemed favourable to women, the Deputy Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Jessie Majome, says the draft charter should have made the removal of the 60 propositional representation in the House of Representatives seats after at least two Parliaments. This provision is for one Parliament.

Majome says this should have extended to two parliaments to allow for the attainment of gender parity, specifically adding gender parity to the principles of local government elections, and additionally barring discrimination on the basis of natural condition.

"Women are vulnerable to this on the basis of looks, for example the recruitment of fast food outlet frontline staff, airlines etc. I am disappointed that none of the suggested changes by ZANU-PF sought to improve gender equality protection, but instead sought to lessen it by limiting reproductive health rights, and exonerating chiefs from respecting human rights. Thankfully they failed," said Majome, a gender activist in her own right.

Maureen Kademaunga, leader of the Zimbabwe Young Women's Network, a loose coalition for young women in politics from across the political divide, says the draft constitution was a progressive document in so far as women's social, political and economic upliftment is concerned. She argues that the draft rightfully places a responsibility on the State to ensure that the promotion of full participation of women in all spheres of the Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men is achieved.

"Logic tells us that higher numbers of women in the House of Assembly and other elective bodies generally contribute to stronger attention to women's issues. However, it has proven to be difficult in our circumstances to achieve equal representation with first-past-the-post electoral system only without any type of quota arrangements," said Kademaunga.

"So the special quota in Parliament of 60 seats is a welcome development and a good starting point. In this case, it means that women are assured of 22 percent representation in Parliament before we even factor in the constituency-based statistics; this 22 percent alone is even higher than the current 18 percent representation.

Quotas and other temporary special measures, such as these reserved seats, are a proven means for supporting women's engagement in political competition, she said.

With women being taken care of by the draft, Kademaunga says it is justifiable for them to vote yes in the forthcoming referendum.

"The draft clearly supports women's political participation, a fundamental precondition for gender equality and genuine democracy. We are geared for an affirmative vote in the referendum," she said.

Psychology Maziwisa, the ZANU-PF deputy director of information, said some provisions of the draft in relation to women, confronts certain traditional perceptions about women and seeks to elevate them to the same status as men.

"From now on women will have the same opportunities as men in social, political and economic activities. This is the first such occurrence, I believe, on the African continent and it has come about wholly because of President Robert Mugabe's insistence on a 50-50 ratio of representation.

"The new constitution, because it is so particular about women's rights, will make it much harder for men to treat women as sex objects, impregnate some of them and still manage to run away from responsibility. That kind of repugnant and abhorrent behaviour will no longer be acceptable," said Maziwisa.

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