Gender Links (Johannesburg)

Zimbabwe: New Constitution Gives Hope to Women and Girls

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The section of the Executive does not specifically guarantee a representation of women in the Presidium. The PR provision in the national assembly does not extend to local government. However, Article 17 b I - "both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level" - gives scope for this to be taken up in legislation.

Minister of Local Government Urban & Rural Development, Dr Ignatius Chombo said at the SADC Gender Protocol Awards summit in late March that the Ministry is amending its existing legislation to ensure compliance with that all aspects of the Constitution. He added that although the new Constitution does not guarantee the 50/50 ratio in terms of representation in local government, women councillors should be in a position to be re-elected.

Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Women Affairs Gender & Community Development Dr Sylvia Utete Masango noted that with one election to go before the 2015 deadline for gender parity, women need to strategise as "no voice means no choice."

Rights within marriage and upon dissolution aim to protect women from dispossession during divorce or upon the death of their spouse. However, it will be interesting to see how these rights play out, since there were some disclaimers during the constitutional outreach, even by those in support of the 50/50 principle that these rights should only apply in the public sphere and not at family level.

Equal citizenship for women will also bring equal rights to guardianship of children. Currently, women struggle to get paternal relatives to approve applications for travel and identity documents for their children, especially when women are widowed or when couples are estranged.

However, the move to gradually abolish the death penalty curiously contradicts equal citizenship, since women, along with people under 21 and those over 70 are exempt from the penalty. Although this may appear positive for women and citizens in general, it has potential for social backlash due to its inconsistency with the equality principle.

By recognising sexual and reproductive health rights, the Constitution addresses a key challenge that has seen most women having no power of negotiation to determine the start and frequency of child bearing. This better enables women to assert their rights, reduces their vulnerability to HIV and AIDS, and increases access to employment and economic empowerment.

Equality in the social, economic and political sphere will potentially be realised through the provision on gender balance and the call for government and other institutions to ensure full and equal participation of women alongside men. Dr Olivia Muchena, the Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, however reiterates the need for all stakeholders to unite in a continuous campaign to publicise the constitution and to pool resources to ensure effective implementation.

The new Constitution and an equal representation of women and men in commissions such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission, the Human Rights Commission and the judiciary will help achieve a gradual mainstreaming of gender balance. A new Gender Commission will also oversee the implementation of various regional and international instruments adopted by Zimbabwe like the SADC Gender Protocol.

Virginia Muwanigwa is the director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre, an award winning journalist and gender and women's rights expert. This article is part of the Gender Links Opinion and Commentary Service that provides fresh views on everyday news.

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