5 April 2013

Zimbabwe: Gender Parity in Zim Society Still a Mirage

ZIMBABWEAN women are forced to walk many kilometers in search of water, healthcare and food.

Physical, sexual and emotional abuses are reportedly on the increase, with many perpetrators, especially in politically-motivated cases, going scot-free.

Limited access to education, unequal job opportunities and lack of representation in politics and decision-making positions are challenges facing the majority of Zimbabwean women.

These are some of the reasons for the hype by women's organisations and government officials over the new constitution, widely endorsed as "a victory for women".

But does the new constitution really address the plight of Zimbabwean women?

A recent survey by the Southern African Gender Protocol Alliance says women in Zimbabwe still lag behind their male counterparts in critical areas such as education, economic empowerment and the advancement of their rights.

In a report titled Sadc Gender Protocol 2012 Barometer: Zimbabwe, the regional gender body points out Zimbabwe has allocated meagre resources towards achieving gender parity, hence its low ranking despite government boasting of making considerable strides in developing a normative framework to advance women's status and rights as citizens.

"Less than 1% of the allocations in the 2012 national budget are for advancing gender equality and women's rights," read part the report.

Social critics say the quantam of represantation of women is not necessarily about quantity, but about their contribution to the quality of their lives -- an issue which even women serving in cabinet or parliament have failed to effectively address.

Interestingly, women interviewed by this paper during the referendum did not seem to know much about clauses to do with their rights but were well versed in one of the constitution's most prominent provisions which set a limit of two five-year terms for the presidency.

According to the Zimbabwe Women's Lawyers Association, the new constitution, among other things, establishes a Constitutional Court and Gender and Equality Commission aimed at dealing with women's rights, and ensuring customary laws and practices that infringe on women's rights are invalidated.

Government has an obligation to take steps to prevent domestic violence and the new constitution provides individuals the right to protection from domestic and any form of violence.

It also provides for equality at work in relation to promotion, paid maternity leave and family healthcare.

It also promotes equality in marriage and gender balance in distribution of agricultural land, and gender balance on the Land Commission, among other things.

However, critics say the primary beneficiaries of most provisions in the new constitution are not the ordinary women of Zimbabwe but the elitist class.

Blessing Vava of the National Constitutional Assembly said: "There isn't much benefit for women in the new constitution; instead they should have taken the quota from the existing 210 constituencies rather than adding 60 extra seats. It shows they were not genuine in real empowerment and equality for women.

"Also for any woman to be considered for the 60 seats, she has to belong to a political party because the allocation will be on the basis of proportional representation and the system promotes patronage and we will end up having girlfriends of the political leaders being appointed."

Vava said the Gender Commission was most likely not going to be of much use just like other commissions.

"It does not help. It won't be independent because ultimately it is the president who will have a say in the appointment of the so-called gender commission," he said.

An activist working for a women's organisation who preferred anonymity admitted that although they campaigned for a "Yes" vote in the constitutional referendum, there were chapters they were not satisfied with.

"If we look at the quota of 60 seats, it is those women that are involved in the three political parties that will be the immediate beneficiaries of the constitution and not ordinary women," said the activist.

"Furthermore, increasing the quantity of female MPs does not necessarily translate to improvement in parliament's ability to deal with women's issues and challenges in relation to government policy.

The plight of women is not necessarily about the quantam of represantation, but about the quality of the lives of the majority of women, issues which even the women serving either in cabinet or parliament have failed to address. So it is not about their numbers in parliament or cabinet, but ability to provide leadership," she said.

On the Gender Commission, the activist said it was not about setting up a commission but about what the commission would do, and whether it will have an enabling act, among other things.

"Unfortunately given the politicised and undemocratic nature of the appointments of commissions, there is limited reason to assume such a commission will have the desired impact."

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