So Far So Good? Not So for Women’s Rights in Zimbabwe
So far so good? Not so for women’s rights in Zimbabwe
While women in Zimbabwe have enjoyed freedom from colonialism oppression, women’s conditions have changed little despite progressive legislation such as the 1982 Legal Age of Majority Act where women enjoy equal status as adults in society and the Domestic Violence Act of 2006 and others.
Political developments in Zimbabwe’s demographic and social shifts regarding the position and condition of women over the past 35 years needs examining and documenting.
Having legally achieved their equal rights, re-enforced by the Constitution of 2013, Zimbabwean women are now demanding equality for all citizens, and that these rights become a lived reality for all. Women are now highly visible. Women hold senior positions in government: for ten years we had a female Vice President, Dr. Joice Mujuru, the President of the Senate is Edna Madzongwe, and there are a number of female government ministers and members of Parliament.
The private sector has its own crop of powerful female CEOs and managing directors: Divine Ndhlukula, Florence Ziumbe, Eve Gadzikwa, Lydia Tanyanyiwa, Dr Charity Jinya, just to name a few. In the non-profit sector, the same applies; leading NGOs are headed by women, Irene Petras, Netty Musanhu, Jenni Williams, Jestina Mukoko and Rindai Chipfunde –Vava.
At the end of 2014, girls out scored the boys academically in high school examinations, and there is almost 50% gender parity at the University of Zimbabwe and the National University of Science and Technology. However, the socio economic, political and cultural conditions of women are getting worse.
The social norms that discriminate against women in Zimbabwe are becoming entrenched because of the economic decline and the suffering that ordinary Zimbabweans are experiencing. During difficult periods in Zimbabwe, women generally suffer considerably more than their male counterparts. In addition to the everyday pressures that all Zimbabweans have, women are further burdened with domestic responsiblities, taking care of the young, sick and the elderly and looking after the household. When there is no water, it is mainly the women who are out with buckets and containers, and finding firewood when the power goes out. This is ongoing 35 years after Independence, and yet those in the corridors of power say “so far so good”.
The past 35 years is a manifestation of underlying frustrations. Social and political restrictions, coupled with high rates of unemployment and costs of living, have made it increasingly difficult for Zimbabwean women to sustain themselves and their families, pushing them to leave the country in large numbers to find jobs in places such as South Africa, Botswana, UK, USA, Australia and many other countries. These women suffer untold abuses crossing borders, including rape in order to make a living. It is not uncommon to come across talented Zimbabwean women in almost all sectors of employment in Africa and beyond. The cost to Zimbabwe for losing its human capital adds up to billions of dollars a year.
Many Zimbabwean families are kept going by the remittances from their family members living in the Diaspora. For example, research by First National Bank (FNB) in South Africa revealed that an estimated 1.9 million Zimbabweans living and working in South Africa send an average R6.7 billion (about US $740 million) a year to Zimbabwe. The recent xenophobic attacks in South Africa could have far reaching effects for Zimbabwean families. How will they survive if their family members are killed or forced to return home? What are they returning to? Will they say so far so good?
Zimbabwean women are an accelerating force for development, as manifested in their behaviour and desire to improve their lives. Their sheer resilence is to be commended, but this is not recognised as discrimination is entrenched: behind closed doors, patriarchal family codes rule. With women’s rights education and the changing socio economic factors, women have changed both positively and negatively in the last thirty-five years - they have become powerful, independent, adventurous, self-confident, and happy. At the same time they have become ballsy, unveilding and hard. But not without cost.
Domestic violence against women is increasingly rife amongst Zimbabweans: although the counter argument that men are being beaten by their wives too is inevitably raised, this is massively more a problem for women. Women continue to be abused. despite the Constitution that states under Section 80 that every woman has full and equal dignity of the person to man. Women have the same rights as men, all laws customs,traditions and cultural practices that go against the rights of women are void.
The issue of women's rights becomes a major topic in political campaigns during the elections. Recognising the key role that women voters - younger women in particular - play in the election, politicians go beyond slogans that emphasise high cultural and religious value placed on women as wives and mothers, and specifically address the demands voiced by women's rights activists. However, as soon as politicians have been voted into positions, their engagement with women and addressing their issues are relegated to the bottom of the pile or they simply disappear. Research carried out by RAU in 2014 shows that women have a general interest in participating in politics, and there has been a steady increase in their numbers since 1980; however, young women have lost interest in politics, particularly elections ,as they do not see it making any significant changes in their lives. In a soon to be released study by RAU, women have indicated that they do not trust their MPs because they feel used, the politicans are only active during the campaign periods and they are nowhere to be seen until the next election is looming.
As we celebrate 35 years of indpendence from colonial rule, let us be mindful that although great strides have been made to uplift women, several giant steps have taken us backwards. The women who were part of the movement in the 1980s say that we are still fighting the same battles they did then back then because of these backward steps. Let us use the Constitution to our advantage and ensure that all legislation is aligned and adhered to, so that 35 years from now, the women’s movement will not be addressing the same issues their great grandmothers did: let them say, with regards to gender equality and the upholding of women’s rights, so far so good.
Kuda Chitsike 18.04.15