Where are the Gender Experts in the Gender Commission?

  • Posted on: 3 July 2015
  • By: admin

Where are the Gender Experts in the Gender Commission?

On Wednesday the 30th June, the long awaited Gender Commission was appointed and I am sure those in the women’s movement quickly scanned the paper to see who had been appointed from the 30 shortlisted candidates interviewed in February 2015. For me, upon reading the list, the first thing that came to mind was that none of the Commissioners had any qualifications or experience in gender, looking at their description in the Herald. They are all highly qualified people, with sound and varied educational backgrounds but what do they know about gender? The chairperson is a career civil servant with a background in administration and political science, holds a MBA and Masters in Natural Resource Management. The other Commissioners include a lawyer, nurses, a chief, a bishop and consultants with Masters’ degrees in development studies, strategic management and environmental policy and planning.

In the last thirty years the Government of Zimbabwe has enacted progressive laws that foster gender equality but there is more work required to implement these laws. There is need to realign all legislation to the Constitution, which provides for gender equality. In order to translate these policies into action, experienced gender experts are required and I do not see any in this Commission. Other skill sets missing in this Commission include agriculturalists with expertise in gender reform; Zimbabwe has favourable conditions for agriculture and, until over a decade ago, had a flourishing agri-business. For good reason the country was the breadbasket of Africa. The country is going through massive agrarian reform and agricultural business revolution.

No educationists and sociologists with gender training are included in this Commission, yet the key to gender change lies in the educational sector and in behavioural change. What was the basis of selecting these particular Commissioners, as their gender expertise is not apparent?

According to the Constitution, Section 246, the Commission has the following functions: to monitor issues concerning gender equality to ensure gender equality; to investigate violations of gender rights; to receive and consider complaints from the public and to take such action in regard to the complaints as it considers appropriate; to recommend prosecution for criminal violations of rights relating to gender; and to do everything necessary to promote gender equality. The major work the Commission needs to enforce is concerned with a change of the mindset to see men and women as different but equal.

What I would like to know is how they demonstrated their understanding of gender, their understanding of the gender issues here in Zimbabwe as well as their experiences with ensuring gender equality in the various positions they have held. This was not detailed in the descriptions about them. To my knowledge, gender is the social construction of femininity and masculinity, which varies over time and place. It is enacted through learned, rather than innate behaviour. Gender is used as an organising principle of social life, connected to class, race, age and ethnicity and, within these variables, women are always marginalised. As a result of this marginalisation, it is necessary to take steps to change the position of women and end discrimination based on sex.

Gender equality is the concept that all human beings are free to develop their personal abilities and make choices without limitations set by strict gender roles; and that the different behaviours, aspirations and needs of women and men are considered, valued and favoured equally. In order to ensure that gender equality is realised it is imperative to have women empowerment programmes that aim to change the unequal distribution of power in society and aimed at creating equality in terms of rights/law/opportunities and equitable fair/ just/ equal outcomes. As woman I am not saying I want to be treated the same as a man, no. I am intelligent enough to know that I am not the same as a man, physically, psychologically or socially in the way I was raised. I am comfortable and satisfied with who I am. What I am saying, however (and I think I speak for all women), is that women should have the same opportunities as men to get an education, have equal pay for equal work, have the autonomy to make decisions about our bodies and have respect for our lives.

It is necessary to acknowledge that patriarchy plays a central role in Zimbabwean society. The discrimination against women, with culture and religion being used as examples, is frequently cited to maintain the continued lack of recognition that women’s rights are human rights. The excuse is “this is how we have always done things and this is how they should remain.”

What are these newly appointed Commissioners bringing to the Commission that will change the lives of ordinary Zimbabweans, in particular women? They should be able to make a difference and ensure that gender equality becomes a lived reality, not remain lip service.

Kuda Chitsike 03.07.15

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