Women’s Rights Situation in Zimbabwe in the Context of Reigning Environment
(Are we there yet?)
by Gracious Maviza and Ntobeko Ndlovu
In a democratic society, it is every citizen’s right to have equal opportunity to engage with and contribute to the functioning of that country’s institutions and processes, regardless of class, age, gender, sexual orientation, ability, group, culture and ethnic or religious background(Cordenillo and Gardes, 2013). Women’s rights are part of these fundamental human rights as enshrined in the United Nations (UN) Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Although there are calls to uphold human rights, almost everywhere around the world, women and girls are often denied their rights because of their gender. There is still a significant prevalence of cases where females around the world are still married-off as children or trafficked into forced labour and sex slavery. In some instances, they are refused access to education and political participation. According to the Global Fund for Women,
Winning rights for women is about more than giving opportunities to any individual woman or girl; it is also about changing how countries and communities work. It involves changing laws and policies, winning hearts and minds, and investing in strong women’s organizations and movements.
As such, for significant change to be realized in relation to women’s rights, there is need for deliberate efforts to move the motions beyond being a mere rhetoric to operationalizing their provisions to ensure success. As a result of the widespread prevalence of violations of women’s rights over the years, globally, there are a number of protocols that were commissioned to curb their perpetual occurrence. These include:
- the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women
- the Declaration on Elimination of Violence Against Women (DEVAW); 3) The Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA, 1995).
Within Africa, some protocols have also been promulgated in a bid to address the same. For example, the African Union (AU) Protocol to the Africa Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa, Agenda 2063 and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (Muthien and Combrinck 2003), among others. These protocols note that violation of women’s rights is an obstacle to development and peace. It impairs or nullifies women’s enjoyment of their human rights and fundamental freedoms.
In Zimbabwe, women’s rights are entrenched in the constitution, which is the supreme law of the land. According to Chinomona (2014), the constitution affirms the state’s commitment to human rights, within which women’s rights are embedded. It provisions for ensuring equality and non-discrimination against women. To demonstrate its commitment to pioneering and upholding women’s rights, the constitution further advocates the establishment of institutional mechanisms that will be instrumental in the advancement of women’s rights, namely, the Gender Commission and the Human Rights Commission. The Gender Commission’s mandate is to monitor gender equality and investigate any violations of rights related to gender (GoZ,
2013). In the same vein, the commission’s mandate is buttressed by the Human Rights Commission which is obligated to promote the respect, observation and awareness of human rights and freedoms. The country also has a National Gender Policy that is aimed at achieving a gender just society where men and women enjoy equality and equity across all spheres of life without discrimination (Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, 2013). Moreover, Zimbabwe is party to a number of regional and international human rights treaties that uphold the rights of women (Chinomona, 2014; Mude, 2014). According to Mude (2014), by ratifying these conventions, the government of Zimbabwe demonstrated acceptance of the responsibility to protect the rights of women in particular. Although this has been the case, there are some gaps that have been noted in the observance and upholding of women rights in the country. Much of this has been largely due to the fact that the women’s rights agenda will not be adequately served by mere ratification of the protocols without proper domestication and implementation measures. It is in light of the foregoing that this paper makes an overview of women’s rights in Zimbabwe, paying attention to women’s representation, equality of opportunities, inclusion as well as violence against women.
2. Women’s representation and equality of opportunities in Zimbabwe
In most African countries it is estimated that women make up more than 51% of the entire population. In Zimbabwe women constitute an estimated 52% of the population (WiPSU, 2011; ZimStats, 2012). In light of the Declaration of Human Rights, it then follows that they should equally participate and contribute towards making of decisions that impact on their lives and use of societal resources. Yet despite this, women’s participation in formal political structures and programmes – where decisions regarding their lives and the use of societal resources are made – remain at the periphery. For example, as of January 2019, the global average for women’s representation in parliaments was 24% and only three countries (Bolivia, Rwanda and Cuba) had 50% or more women in their national parliaments, and 29 parliaments had less than 10% women (UN Women 2019). This is a major cause for concern as it is understood that greater women’s representation in politics contributes to a more equitable distribution of community resources, including more gender-sensitive spending on programmes related to health, nutrition, and education (Hivos, 2017).
Zimbabwe has equally struggled in this regard even though its Constitution commits to gender equality. Chapter 2 Section 17 (1) of the Zimbabwean Constitution indicates that the State must promote full gender balance in the Zimbabwean society, ensuring space for the full participation of women in all spheres of the Zimbabwean society as is with men (Government of Zimbabwe, 2013). It is also enshrined in the Constitution that both genders must be equally represented in all government agencies, Commissions and any other governmental bodies established by or under the Constitution or any Act of Parliament; and the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level (Government of Zimbabwe, 2013). Additionally, it is also provided in the same constitution that if discrimination/ imbalances exist, the government is instructed to take corrective steps to that effect. Unfortunately, the reality on the ground does not project a significant shift from the period prior to the promulgation of the 2013 Constitution. Below, the paper presents 5 key sectors in Zimbabwe’s political offices which exhibit a failure by government to adhere to the provisions of the constitution with respect to upholding women’s rights. Though this section focuses on the political space, these issues are also prevalent in public institutions as well as in private organisationsin the country. It is believed the political space is more important and as such if issues are addressed at this level, it then becomes easy for the government and the private sector to fully implement the dictates of the law. Otherwise it becomes difficult for policy makers to enforce the law when they themselves are out of order in the same regard.
In the Presidium, which is the apex political structure in the country,only one woman, the former vice president Joyce Mujuru has been part of this establishment (2004-2014) (Maphosa, Tshuma, & Maviza, 2015). During the 2008-2013 Government of National one more woman was added to the top echelons of the political ladder as a Co-Deputy Prime Minister(Ndlovu & Mutale, 2013). Thus, in the past 39 years since Zimbabwe attained its independence from Britain, only two women have been part of the Presidium.
In the cabinet, since independence, women have been occupying ‘soft’ ministries such as sports, social welfare, small and medium enterprises and gender; leaving strategic ministries such as the ministries of industry, commerce, finance, agriculture, home affairs and defence for their male counterparts (Maphosa et al., 2015). After the promulgation of the Constitution of Zimbabwe in 2013, one would have expected a significant increase in women representation in cabinet. However, after the 2013 harmonised elections, the country had 3 out of 26 cabinet ministers (about 11% women representation) (Dube and Dziva, 2014). The portfolios given to the three women were those of Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development; Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development and Ministry of Small and Medium Enterprises and Co-operatives (Dube and Dziva, 2014), confirming observations by Maphosa et al., (2015). This was a significant decrease from the 2008 figures which stood at 16%, when the former Lancaster House drafted Constitution of 1979 was still in force and had no gender equity provisions (Zanhi, 2016). The current cabinet, though it has a female in one of these powerful ministries (OppahMuchinguri, the current minister of defence) the figures are still not impressive considering that there are only 5 females out of a total of 21 ministers and only 2 female deputy ministers of the available 15 (Gamaya, 2018).
In the House of Assembly and Senate, the same trend of male dominance is observed. Figure 1 below shows that though there is a steady increase in women participation in the House of Assembly, the increase is not significant, especially considering the provisions of the Constitution that seeks to ensure an equal distribution of representatives between both sexes, and the state being compelled to formulate ways of ensuring that the provisions of the constitution in that regard are adhered to(Government of Zimbabwe, 2013).
Figure 1: Gendered Composition of Zimbabwe House of Assembly (1980-2018)
Source: Maphosa, Tshuma and Maviza (2015); Matswetu V., Kagaba M. &Chikuvadze P (2017); ZEC (2018).
Table 1: Gendered Composition of Zimbabwe Senate (1980-2018)
Elections and Appointments Men Women
Source: Maphosa et al2015); Matswetu V., Kagaba M. &Chikuvadze P (2017); ZEC (2018).
Figure 1 and Table 1 above show that since attaining independence, Zimbabwean women have always been under-represented in the legislature. With the coming in of the 2013 Constitution there has been a notable increase in female representation, thanks to the quota system provided for in theConstitution. The proportion of women in the National Assembly increased from 14% to 32% and in the Senate from 33% to 48%, resulting in overall representation of 34% women. In the 2018 elections however, we saw this proportion reducing to 31% (Zimbabwean, 2019). Unfortunately, these provisions will fall away in 2023 and this pauses a huge risk in women participation. There is uncertainty in whether political parties will be able to increase female participation even in the absence of a stipulated quota system.
iv. Chairpersons of Parliamentary Portfolios
In an effort to monitor the operations of ministries, the Standing Rules and Orders Committee in the House of Assembly sets out what are termed Portfolio Committees (SAPST, 2018). The committees, led by a chairperson examine the expenditure, administration and policy of government departments as well as other matters falling under their jurisdictions as Parliament may by resolution determine (Ibid). These committees have been influential in changes in terms of legislation, government policies and expenditure in line with the expectations of the electorate. When appointing portfolio members, the Standing Rules and Orders Committee must take into account political representation, gender composition, professional experience and stated preferences of members. Unfortunately, in terms of gender representation, the 8th and 9th Parliaments have not fared well when one examines the chairpersonship of these portfolios. Both these have had only 6 out of 20 parliamentary portfolio committee chaired by women (Mutangi, 2016; SAPST, 2018). A closer analysis of who chairs which portfolio shows that the strategic portfolios such as that of Defence, Justice, Industry, Energy, Public Accounts as well as Mines are chaired by males and the ‘soft’ portfolios such as women’s affairs, primary education, public service and local government are chaired by women, though in the previous seating there was one woman who chaired the Justice, Legal and Parliamentary affairs portfolio committees (Mutangi, 2016).
v. Local authorities
At local government level, women’s participation is even more threatened by the lack of a legislated quota for women (Zimbabwean, 2019). The absence of a quota system has resulted in far less women being afforded the opportunity to lead in local municipalities. In 2013 for example, women secured just 16% of the membership of these bodies across the country (Gamaya, 2018). Such low representation has continued even into this current term where there is only one female mayor out of 12 mayors presiding over council affairs (Ibid).
2.1 Factors hindering the participation of women
Political parties are consistently identified as responsible for women’s underrepresentation, given their role as the main ‘gatekeepers’ of elected decision-making positions in most countries (IDEA 2016). This is because intraparty democracy has a significant bearing on women’s and men’s opportunities and ability to access positions and spaces of power and decision-making. This is true both within parties and for elected political positions at the national level. Whereas political party statutes set out broad principles, values, rules, and procedures for institutional decision-making and practices, strategic plans articulate how, when, by whom and using what mechanisms the party will achieve those goals (IDEA, 2019).
As a country, we observe that the assertions by IDEA (2019) are much alive as we also observe that the systematic exclusion of women in influential positions is not only prevalent in the government, but also within parties. We observe that the country’s main political parties fielded quite a low number of women to contest in the 2018 Harmonised elections. As a matter of fact, all these parties fell short of the requirements of the provisions of the Constitution (30% representation). Without considering the quota system, fielding a low percentage of female candidates reduces their chances of having significant numbers in parliament. ZESN (2018) observes that the MDC-T party fielded the biggest number of female candidates, which is a mere 20% of total candidates they fielded. Whereas, the two main political parties ZANU-PF and MDC Alliance fielded the least number in terms of percentages (9% and 10% respectively). These comparisons are presented in the figure below.
Figure 2: Comparison between Male and Female Candidates by Political Party for the 2018 Elections
Source: ZESN (2018)
To further substantiate the claim that women have historically been excluded in Zimbabwe’s political processes, one can observe the composition of the Government of National Unity of 2009-2013. Here we had major political parties coming together to run the country and there were no significant efforts of trying to improve women representation in the political space of the country (Shaba, 2011).
i. Socio-cultural systems
Dube (2013) posits that our socio-cultural system is a major stumbling block to women’s progress in Zimbabwe. Being a patriarchal society, women tend to be excluded from social, economic and political processes (Chinomona, 2013). Hence it is difficult to accommodate women, even if there is legislation compelling the country to do so. Former Mabvuku Member of Parliament, Timothy Mubhawu in a Parliamentary Session on the Domestic Violence Bill, claimed that:
… it is against God’s principles for men and women to be equal… I stand here representing God Almighty. Women are not equal to men. It is a dangerous Bill and let it be known in Zimbabwe that the right, privilege and status of men is gone. I stand here alone and say this bill should not be passed in this House. It is a diabolic Bill. Our powers are being usurped in daylight in this House” Gonda (2009:1) in Dube (2013). With such arguments, it is clear that the country is still far from affording women an equal share of the leadership platform. Women are seen as second-class citizens and hence this has penned out this way in all spheres of politics.
ii. Gender stereotypes and Violence
Gender stereotypes are a consequence of the socio-cultural systems in place in the country. Within households, the patriarchal system has led to an inequitable division of labour where gender roles subjugate women and serve to limit their representation in public life. Women are regarded as people belonging to the private sphere, such as bearing and raising children at home as well as doing household chores. It becomes difficult for them to leave home and attend meetings outside certain times when they are still regarded as primary caregivers, thus their participation is restricted (Chinomona, 2014). Those that eventually do manage to run for public office typically attract inappropriate attention and are seen as being loose and immoral as they will have strayed from their gender roles. Their private lives are put under the spotlight (Hivos, 2017), which is not common with their male counterparts.
iii. Lack of legislation to compel political parties to be gender sensitive
In as much as the government has ratified various regional and international many gender equality advancing conventions and pacts, we still experience low representation and participation in the country. This is still prevalent even after the coming into effect of the new Constitution which is clear on the need for gender equality. One key problem is the lack of legislation that compels all political parties to be gender sensitive. Ensuring equality at party level guarantees an increase in women representation in politics. However, as observed by ZESN (2018), political parties have fielded as low as 9-20% women for various political posts and this greatly limits their chances of advancing into public office.
iv. Capacity Gaps
Capacity gaps mean women are less likely than men to have the education, preparation, contacts and resources needed to become effective leaders (Hivos, 2017). As a result of their previous marginalisation, simply promulgating laws that are gender sensitive does not quickly translate to increase in women representation. Due to their past marginalisation, it meant that they did not acquire the necessary skills sets, education and resources for them to lead in those public offices.
v. Balancing work and family
Unlike males, women who are actively involved in politics have a challenge in balancing work and family (Hivos, 2017). With their roles in the family, they then need to work extra hard to compete with men in the political front.
3. Inclusion of women
In most African countries, there have been glaring inequalities between men and women. Most of these inequalities stem from formal and informal socio-economic institutions in patriarchal societies that, in most instances, are detrimental to women. According to Manyonganise (2015, p. 2) “patriarchy is embedded in a gender ideology which places men at the top and women as their subordinates”. In African societies, patriarchy has been used to justify the marginalisation of women in society. Hussein (2005), proffered thatthe African gender ideology comes across as a system that has modelled different lives for men and women by placing them in different social positions and patterns of expectations. Thus, gender ideologies enshrined in the sociocultural norms in most African societies tend to have a prejudicing effect on women and in some instances leading to their exclusion (Mangezvo, 2013). This is the case in Zimbabwean communities. In some areas like education for example, Zimbabwe has been applauded for the strides made, for example, its 1980 – Education for all policy which placed the country on the world education map and to date the country is still counted among those with a high literacy rate in the continent (Manyonganise, 2015). Again, its labour policies have also strived to place men and women at par through the ‘equal work’ for ‘equal pay’ policy. These achievements may overshadow some critical spheres of life wherein women are still marginalised. Notably, there have been cleavages of patriarchy that have perpetuated the marginalisation and prejudice of women and compromised their inclusion in a number of areas in the country (Maphosa et al., 2015). In this section, the paper seeks to assess the inclusion of women in relation to inheritance, land ownership and mobility with children. 3.1 Inheritance
According to Legal Resources Foundation (2019, p. 2), “inheritance is the process of taking over the ownership or use of someone’s property when that person dies”. According to the law, beneficiaries to the deceased’s estate can only succeed to the assets that are left after all the debts the deceased would have been fully paid (Legal Resources Foundation, 2019). In Zimbabwe, there is dualism of law in the country’s legal system comprised of customary and general law (Chinomona, 2014; Guni, 1996). As a result, inheritance issues, like any other, can be approachedfrom either a customary or general law perspective, as in the MagayavsMagaya succession case. The provisions of the two laws are not the same and, in some instances, may clash. In such cases, interests of justice and the provisions of the constitution should always be upheld (Chirawu, 2013; Government of Zimbabwe, 2013).
Generally, customary law is unwritten, it is espoused in a specific people’s culture and practices (Saki & Chiware, 2017). Customarily, in Zimbabwe, a man’s claim to inheritance supersedes that of a woman regardless of her age or seniority in the family(Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2019). As a result, Larson (n.d.) posits that there have been a myriad of cases across Sub-Saharan Africa where women and children have been denied their inheritance and property rights. A good example is the infamous 1999 MagayavsMagaya customary law and intestate succession case in Zimbabwe. In this case, when the father died, the local court recognised the daughter as the heir to the father’s estate. However, her younger half-brother appealed the ruling and claimed heirship citing African customary law which provisioned that “a lady cannot be appointed [as heir] to (her) father’s estate when there is a man in the family who is entitled to claim it” (Knobelsdorf, 2006, p. 749). The court reversed Ms Magaya’s heirship and the newly appointed heir, as the new head of the family, removed Ms Magaya from the family home. Although the ruling was appealed several times, the court ruling was upheld citing that despite constitutional provisions that condemn discrimination, the fact that this case was under customary law exempted its discriminatory aspects (Bigge & von Briesen, 2000; Knobelsdorf, 2006). This case is a clear demonstration of privileging cultural practices over individual and in this case women’s rights in Zimbabwe.
In present day Zimbabwe, although there have been some significant strides in improving the plight of women in inheritance matters, there still remains pockets of aspects that marginalise women, especially rural women. Toro (2016) opines that in relation to land, views on inheritance are reflective of the weight of tradition in favour of male children. Thus, men have the right to inherit land while women can only access it. This is because women as wives and daughters are considered perpetual minors who cannot inherit land in their own right without a man (Mushunje, 2001). Food and Agriculture Organisation (2019) also proffered that the customary law of inheritance prohibits a woman to inherit her father’s or husband’s estate unless there is a will. As a result, there have been a number of cases countrywide where widows and orphans have been evicted from the land upon the death of the husband and father. This is also heavily influenced by the land ownership practices within the communities. Thus in cases of death, customary law, heavily influenced by patriarchy, gives preference to older sons in terms of property inheritance. This is espoused in the belief that women (widow or daughter), depending on their age, can (re)marry and if they are allowed to inherit the land, the family may lose their land to the family that the woman marries into. Thus, customary statutes governing the transfer of land from generation to generation are crafted such that the communities’ long term land interests are protected (Toro, 2016). Thus although the constitution of Zimbabwe promotes the protection of women’s rights, women and daughters are not fully protected by customary law of inheritance and to a notable extent, statutory laws have not yet strongly and adequately challenges community customs and traditions (Mutopo, 2011; Toro, 2016).
Under general law, the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1985 subsequently amended in the later years regulates the division of property upon divorce in a registered marriage. According to Food and Agriculture Organisation (2019), the Act:
allows for an equitable distribution of matrimonial property between spouses upon divorce. Direct and indirect contribution of the spouses to the matrimonial property is taken into account in the decision on division of property.
Moreover, the Constitution of Zimbabwe, section 26(c) and 26(d) provides that:
(c)The state must take appropriate measures to ensure that there is equality of rights and obligations of spouses during marriage and at its dissolution;
(d)The state must take appropriate measures to ensure that in the event of dissolution of a marriage, whether through death or divorce, provision is made for the necessary protection of any children and spouses (Government of Zimbabwe, 2013, p. 22).
As such, upon divorce, the Act calls for equitable distribution of property between the spouses. Although there is notable protection and security for women in this regard, the downside is that the Matrimonial Causes Act does not apply to people in unregistered customary marriages or unions. This is evidence to some of the clashes that exist between the two laws in that although customarily, this type of marriage is recognised by the parties and societies, statutory law does not consider it valid. This is regardless of the fact that in Zimbabwe, this type of marriage is the most prevalent, estimated to account for a total of 70% of marriages in the country (Musandirire, 2016). As a result, women, especially rural women, continue to be marginalised given that 80% of them reside in rural areas and the majority of them marry customarily and do not solemnise their marriages(Dube, 2013; Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2019). Much of this prevalence is heavily attributed to ignorance of the masses on the consequences of nonregistration.
Thus, although there has been some notable developments in the legislation governing inheritance and the position of women, there still remains some cleavages of inconsistences of laws that are detrimental to the plight of women.For the urban women, most of them are married under civil marriage popularly known as Chapter 5:11 and as a result they enjoy some level of protection by the law. Notwithstanding, there still remains some cases of property grabbing by members of the larger family, claiming rights according to custom (Legal Resources Foundation, 2019). This is especially if the woman does not know her rights. Some of the women lose the will power to fight and give away their inheritance because they do not want to be fighting with their matrimonial families, in the process leaving them and their children vulnerable.
At law, however, this is an offence punishable by a fine or imprisonment or both. This is because
Section 10 of the Deceased Persons Family Maintainance Act protects the rights of a deceased person’s children and surviving spouse to continue occupying the immovable property which they were occupying, using the household goods and effects, implements, tools, vehicles which they were using, employing or using any animals which were kept on such immovable property, (Legal Resources Foundation, 2019, pp. 14–15).
Thus any deviations from the foregoing would require the family to report the case or seek an appeal from the courts.
In rural areas, unlike in urban areas, most women are in unregistered customary marriages that are not recognised at law. When it comes to issues of inheritance, they tend to suffer in the hands of the extended family as some families would argue that she came with nothing to their family and as such should return with nothing (Bigge & von Briesen, 2000; Knobelsdorf, 2006). Under the customary law of inheritance however, whether a customary marriage was registered or not, if a man dies, the property will be shared among the spouse(s) and the surviving children (Legal Resources Foundation, 2019). However in the case of two people living together yet no negotiations were concluded by the families, such a union will not be recognised under customary law. The critical aspect in customary marriage is the negotiations and consent of the two families involved that seals the union as a marriage. It is in light of such issues that the new marriage bill has been proposed as a way of advancing the rights of people in such cases although there are inconsistences in the bill on some of the unions that it seeks to legalise.
In light of the foregoing therefore, there have been notable improvements in terms of women’s inclusion in issues or inheritance although there still remains some pockets within legislation that marginalise women and in some instances detrimental to their rights.
3.2 Land ownership
Zimbabwe has “four main systems of land tenure, namely: the freehold land that is private, State land, communal and leasehold resettlement systems. With the exception of the resettlement tenure system, the other three systems are largely part of the country’s colonial heritage” (Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2019).In terms of ownership, generally all land belongs to the state (Gaidzanwa, 1994), save for land under freehold tenure where there is individual ownership of land. For the rest of the three tenures, the land is vested in the State president (Food and Agriculture Organisation, 2019) who in turn permits occupation and use.In communal lands, where most women are, the issue of land rights is largely governed under customary law(under the provisions of the Communal Lands Act) leaving women at the mercy of traditional leaders (Mushunje, 2001). Given that Zimbabwean societies are patriarchal in nature and traditional leadership is mainly a men’s domain, land has over time become a symbol of patriarchy. Thus traditionally, land is allocated to males which automatically disqualifies women (Mushunje, 2001). As a result, land in communal areas is owned by men and women’s access and rights to land depends on their relationship to male family members (Larson, n.d.). This has largely left women disadvantaged as they cannot make claims to land in their own right(Gaidzanwa, 1994). Given that Zimbabwe has a dualistic legal system, the country has a notable propensity to protect cultural practices and the application of customary law (Knobelsdorf, 2006). Thus, in Zimbabwe, women have usufruct rights only and cannot own land. Customary law in communal areas views women as perpetual minors that can only have user rights to land and not ownership.
In the Land Reform Programme, the government had set targets to address the discrepancies between men and women on issues of land ownership. To this end, the government provisioned that 20% of the land reform beneficiaries should be women (Toro, 2016). It still remains unclear why and how this figure was arrived at. However, by the end of the FTLRP, of the targeted 20%, 18% female headed households benefited under the A1 peasant farmers model and 12% under the A2 commercial farmers’ model (USAID and ENSURE, 2014). Furthermore, 20% of these women are farming as landowners, the majority of them are labourers.
3.3 Mobility with children
According to the Guardianship of Minors Act in Zimbabwe, the guardianship of children born in wedlock is the father (Genderlinks, 2010). For a long time in Zimbabwe, in light of the above, the Registrar General denied women the right to apply for a passport for their minor children as they were not guardians. Customary law regards the father of children born in wedlock as the sole guardian of the children. This obtained regardless of the provisions of International Conventions ratified by Zimbabwe and the SADC Gender Protocol that advocates joint guardianship of minors and calls for the gender equity and equality. In 2006, Former legislator Margaret Dongo, through Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), challenged this practice after she was denied to the right to apply for her child’s passport in the absence of the father in the case of Margaret Dongo v Registrar General (HC 6695/06) and (SC292/08) (Genderlinks, 2010). They argued that this practice by the Registrar General undermined women’s rights thus negating the advancement of women’s human rights especially in issues of personal law. In 2010, the Supreme Court “passed a landmark ruling which empowered women to obtain passports for their minor children in a judgement which repealed the old system where both parents or the father only could acquire a passport for a child”. According the Genderlinks (2010), the case and its ruling established a very important precedent as it was seen as a step towards non-discrimination. As a result of this judgement, a significant number of women are now able to obtain passports for their children in the absence of the fathers. In terms of mobility, regional and international laws aimed at curbing chid trafficking demand that if any parent is travelling with a child in the absence of the other, they should be in possession of the absent parent’s certified copy of passport, an affidavit and the child’s original birth certificate. As such, these laws are not discriminating against any gender as they are uniform for all.
4. Violence against women
In most African societies, violence against women is enshrined in some of the cultural norms and patriarchal dictates that relegate women to inferior positions in society and in some instances reducing them to mere property of their male counterparts (Neuman, 2000). According to Kim and Motsei (2002), this trend has mainly been perpetrated by the dominant patriarchal order that relegates women to lower positions that make them subjects to men. Thus, violence against women has become one of the most widespread and socially tolerated forms of human rights violations, cutting across borders, race, class, ethnicity and religion and the impact is devastating (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). It endangers the life trajectories of women and girls in multiple ways, with a wide range of negative consequences not only for them, but also for their children, families, and communities (Knoblock, 2008). In Zimbabwe, there has been a notable increase in the number of cases of violence against women that are reported and addressed in courts, in the media, among other platforms (Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency and ICF International, 2016). Violence against women is a sign of gender inequalities and power imbalances between women and men in societies (Baloyi, 2013). It can occur in many forms which include intimate partner violence, rape and coerced sex, child sexual abuse and human trafficking (Richford, 2012). Bloom (2008) cites four major forms of violence against women, namely physical, sexual, emotional, psychological, verbal and economic. Violence also includes various forms of abuse such as female genital mutilation (FGM), child pledging, forced wife inheritance and child marriages. The Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency and ICF International, 2016) indicates that domestic violence is widely acknowledged to be of great concern not just from a human rights perspective but also from an economic and health perspective. Spousal abuse is the most common form of gender-based violence. Although instances of both genders experiencing GBV have been reported, women tend to be the most affected mainly due to the patriarchal nature of Zimbabwean society. Cultural and traditional practices have perpetuated the subservient position of women, which makes them more vulnerable to gender-based violence.
As a result of the widespread prevalence of violence against women and other forms of violations that women experience in Zimbabwe, a number of gender responsive laws and policies have been enacted in response to the pervasive nature of violence against women in the country (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). These include: The Domestic Violence Act of 2007; the Sexual Offences Act (2002) now part of the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act of 2006 and the Protocol on the Multi-Sectoral Management of Sexual Violence and Abuse in Zimbabwe 2012, among others. When the Domestic Violence Bill was debated in parliament, a former member of the House of Assembly brazenly opposed it (see section on socio-cultural systems).
Clearly, this was demonstration that the bill had shaken and frightened the patriarchy and the those who felt threatened opposed it on the basis of culture and custom. Furthermore, in 2012, the ministry of Women Affairs and Gender Development also established the National Gender Based Violence Strategy (2012-2015) which was a commitment of the Government of Zimbabwe to eradicate Gender Based Violence and promote Gender Equality. In addition, there was also the establishment of victim friendly units in police stations for reporting of abuse (Watts & Zimmerman, 2002). These developments have been positive strides towards the promotion of women’s rights in Zimbabwe.
Despite the fact that Zimbabwe these positives strides that seek to address the issues of violence against women in order to contribute to gender equality and promotion of women’s rights, pockets of violence against women still remains an issue. This is because although there are several policies and laws in place, implementation has been slow due to inconsistencies between statutory and customary law, lack of resources and resistance based on patriarchal and religious beliefs. Again, some of these issues are enshrined in the cultural norms and beliefs of different communities (Chirawu-Mugomba, 2016). Such practices include FGM, child marriages, wife inheritance, among others.
4.1 Child marriages
In Zimbabwe campaigns have been done through different platforms such as Girl Child Network, Gender Policies, Child Line, Plan International, UNICEF and even the Constitution of Zimbabwe on girl child empowerment (Dzimiri, Chikunda, & Ingwani, 2017).Although this is the case, child marriages still persist. Constitutionally, in Zimbabwe, any person who is below the age of 18 is a child (Government of Zimbabwe, 2013). In light of this constitutional provision, thus, a child marriage refers to a marriage arrangement where one or both parties to a marriage is below the age of 18 by the time of entering the marriage (Chirawu-Mugomba, 2016). According to Plan International, girls are seen as the major victims of child marriages in Zimbabwe, hence child marriage is a violation of women’s rights. This is despite the fact that that the country has a Constitution that provisions for the protection of children against child marriages(Dzingirai, Mutopu, & Landau, 2014). The major impediment has been cited as lack of enforcement of these provisions in general.
Around the year 2015, Zimbabwe was counted among the 41 countries globally that had an unacceptable rate of child marriages wherein girls were getting married before the age of 18(Mashangwa, 2016). Chirawu (2016) noted that in 2015,
In Mudzuru and Anor v Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs &Ors, the Constitutional Court outlawed child marriages and struck down section 22(1) of the
Marriage Act [Chapter 5:11] and any law, practice or custom authorizing a person
under the age of 18 years to marry or be married and that with effect from 20 January 2016, no person male or female, may enter into any marriage, including an unregistered customary law union or any other union including one arising out of religion or religious rite, before attaining the age of 18 years.
Moreover, CSOs, both unilaterally and in small cohorts, have conducted several advocacy and lobbying efforts to criminalise and effectively end child marriages in Zimbabwe. In March 2016, these demands triggered a rare and speedy response by Government though a Ministerial Statement by the Minister of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs promising to amend a number of identified child marriages related laws in line with the new Constitution (Chuma, 2017). A year later, nothing had been done. Further efforts resulted in Members of Parliament signing a ‘Pledge to Protect the Girl Child’ on the 16th of March 2016 (Chirawu-Mugomba, 2016; Chuma, 2017). However, to date, Zimbabwe remains with no decisive policy and adequate legal and institutional framework towards ending child marriages. These efforts reflect the interests from different actors, which however is thwarted by lack of coordination of effort. This can be attributed to the lack of urgency and prioritisation by the relevant offices.
Some child activists have thus, over the years,noted that to be able to fully protect girls against child marriages, there is need to align laws with the new constitution as
nothing has really taken effect to the extent that several laws including those that deal with children’s rights have not been aligned with it (Constitution). For example, customary marriage laws still do not prescribe the marriage age of a girl or boy and the age of sexual consent for girls. That is one thing that is still missing in our laws and needs to be advocated for because the affected people have no voice and have no power to change the status quo and are vulnerable such that they will always languish in agony if nothing is done(Dzimiri et al., 2017).
As a result of the foregoing, although there are some cleavages of positive developments made, much of the ratified protocols and promulgated legal instruments have not gone beyond mere rhetoric. Much of the let-downhas been the institutional dualism in the country where some of the practices like child marriages, FGM, virginity testing, among others are condoned as customs and as such acceptable under customary law (Chirawu-Mugomba, 2016; Mushunje,
2001). Thus, to make headway in the protection of women’s rights especially in relation to violence against women, there is need to challenge the impunity and the overall acceptance of a culture of violence against women culture and exercise the supremacy of the constitution as the ultimate law of the land.
In light of the foregoing, it can be concluded that Zimbabwe has made some notable progress in promoting and upholding women’s rights. The country’s constitution clearly provisions for women’s rights and other supporting legislation and measures are in place to spearhead the women rights’ agenda. However, although this has been the case, there are still some gaps that have been noted that still need to be addressed to ensure meaningful change on women’s issues. In politics, there is a significant gap between the participation of women and men. Factors such as patriarchy, gender stereotyping, socio-economic barriers as well as are among the reasons why women find themselves failing to fully enter into the political arena, despite the country having promulgated a new Constitution and having ratified numerous regional and international conventions on ensuring gender equality. Politicians (males in particular) must take a stand and fully implement the provisions of the new Constitution if the state wants to realise meaningful progress on gender equality. As politicians lead by example, it becomes easy for them to impress on the government and the public sector to do so as well. Much of the challenges observed were related to socio-cultural and traditional practices that relegate women to subordinate positions, in the process marginalising them and in some instances violating their rights. This is especially so on issues of rights to land, inheritance, violence and child marriages. Moreover, a lot of discrepancies exist between the provisions of the constitution and most of the legal frameworks, which demonstrates the lack of will on the state actors to effectively push the women rights’ agenda effectively. Unless these issues are addressed, the issue of women’s rights will remain a mere rhetoric with pockets of changes that do not really address the actual issues marginalising women. In light of the forgone, the following recommendations are proffered:
- The Constitution states that both genders must be equally represented in all government agencies, Commissions and any other governmental bodies established by or under the Constitution or any Act of Parliament; and the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level (Government of Zimbabwe, 2013). Where this is not so, as is our case, the Constitution instructs the government to take corrective steps to that effect. Politicians need to walk the talk and ensure that what is enshrined in the Constitution is adhered to.
- In order to conform to the provisions of the Constitution on women’s rights, as a country, we need to adjust our socio-cultural system and believe in the ability of our women. That way, they will get an opportunity to equally participate in various fora.
- There should also be a legislation compelling all political parties to realign their Constitutions to the Constitution such that gender equality obtains from the grassroots level. If this is done, it becomes possible to have as many women in various political positions.
- Alignment of current Child and family laws to the constitution. This will see amendment of all identified pieces of existing legislation, inspired by the 20 January 2016 Constitutional Court ruling.
- Engagement of traditional leaders and men is critical to ensure availability of more land for women to enable them to enter into the production of high value crops instead of concentrating on low value crops on small pieces of land. Change how countries and communities work, change laws and policies, win hearts and minds, and invest in strong women’s organizations and movements. vii. Advocate revision of relevant national legislation and policies to align with the provisions of the constitution and the ratified regional and international protocols and conventions on women’s rights
- Domesticate and implement international law treaties on the rights of women to cater for instances where the constitution is not exhaustive
- Existing legislation for protecting the property rights of women married under customary law need to be revised and strengthened to help prevent the plight of women on the death of their husbands
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