Engendering the Constitution: A Call to Action for the Zimbabwe Women’s Movement
by Natasha Msonza
Yesterday the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development together with the women’s movement in Zimbabwe hold a constitutional conference intended to map strategy moving forward, in terms of aligning existing laws to the ‘new’ constitution. This, we are informed, is to ensure that the numerous gender sensitive provisions therein translate into tangible benefits for women. This is especially important given that there is no formal structure in Zimbabwe charged with overseeing the implementation of the Constitution. Among the objectives of this meeting are the endeavours to ‘sensitise’ women on the gender provisions in the Constitution as well as facilitate the sharing of regional best practices and lessons learnt on making the constitution work for women.
The idea of learning from regional experiences is noble, and recently the UN Women facilitated a meeting where experts from Kenya and South Africa shared some important lessons to note and be wary of when undergoing such processes. Among other things, they pointed out that:
- In seeking to strengthen implementation of gender equality in the constitution, it may be imperative to advocate for the institution of a body responsible for the implementation of the constitution, specifically with a broad mandate to monitor, facilitate and oversee the development of relevant legislation and administrative procedures required for effective implementation of the constitution.
- The need to ensure that the Gender Commission is well and properly constituted, is extremely independent and with enough mandate to effectuate equity and equality provisions as provided for in the supreme law. This calls for the need for the women’s movement to itself make submissions of criteria to be considered for the selection of commissioners and what they want to see in this commission, including advocating for the proper financing of this and other key commissions.
- Implementers may not be in a hurry to implement, and excuses not to implement gender matters may foreseeably be brought to the table, with arguments such as that there are no specific laws or policies. Women must be prepared to develop drafts of laws that will complement the process, or strengthen the capacities of the people charged with making the process possible.
- The implementation of affirmative action, a concept not well understood even among women – will need to be carefully thought through and clear guidelines developed.
- Civil society strategy may need to shift a gear up from lobbying and advocacy to monitoring and facilitating implementation, including the use of the tool of public interest litigation. There is also need to create a monitoring system within the women’s movement to oversee implementation. This includes monitoring appointments to commissions and seeing that these comply with constitutional provisions and any quota systems that may be in place.
The objective of ‘sensitizing’ Zimbabwean women on the provisions of the constitution though noble comes with its attendant challenges. Foremost, it must be said that before the 2013 referendum, the women’s movement worked extensively to cascade constitutional literacy among women – from holding conferences to translating and simplifying the document, all mainly in a campaign to influence a ‘Yes’ vote. It is critical to define what ‘sensitization of women’ now means in the context of seeking to re-align laws, particularly considering the prevailing context in Zimbabwe where people are pre-occupied with survival and just keeping body and soul together.
There is still a multiplicity of problems, where there is worry about where to get salaries for civil servants, the high levels of unemployment and high costs of living, among other things. In such a context, the Constitution becomes so remote, that it’s not an everyday bread and butter issue for ordinary people. How to rally people together and talk about the constitution again, and putting up a gender commission where the state is failing to provide basic services for the people can be a tall order. It’s generally difficult for an ordinary person to link the lack of service delivery to the constitution. The challenge is in finding creative ways of rallying people around the constitution, while they are seized with a multiplicity of problems and other competing and more immediate priorities. A clear and practical strategy will therefore be needed.