Today we are using a piece by Teresa Mugadza which she wants disseminated widely. Leading up to the referendum on 16 March we will continue to put both our researcher's views on the new Constitution and any others we feel may be interesting. I want to start with a disclaimer. First, I do not represent anyone but myself and therefore my views are myopic to the extent that I represent my selfish interests. Second, I am a functionary of the inclusive government as a Commissioner, so I am sure there are some that will perceive me to be compromised just by that station. I, however, believe that this does not and should not preclude me from voicing my position as a Zimbabwean woman. Further, I am persuaded that after having read the Draft Constitution I owe it to fellow women, to state why I have chosen to vote “YES”. Now having dispensed with the disclaimer, I must also hasten to add, that my decision to vote “YES” is not in any way to suggest that I do not have any issues related to the formulation of the Draft Constitution or the processes related to the forthcoming Referendum. I do… starting with the fact that I honestly do not believe that the process leading to the Draft Constitution itself was as participatory as it could have been. I am of the firm view that women were not heard to the extent they should have been. There is ample evidence of this from the COPAC reports. In terms of the forthcoming Constitutional Referendum itself, I am of the view that the time given for dissemination and analysis of the Draft Constitution to Zimbabweans is too short. I am not persuaded that exactly 30 days is adequate time for the kind of reading of the Draft Constitution that citizens need in order to make informed decisions on the day of the Referendum itself. Finally I am not persuaded that the Draft Constitution will be circulated as widely as it should be before the Referendum. This could very well mean that people may end up voting for a Draft Constitution they have neither seen nor read and sadly in some instances, for a document whose contents they do not understand. Now having dispensed with the preliminary issues, I want to go into why I am voting “Yes”.
- I am a firm believer in participation. One of my good friends likes to say “decisions are made by those that participate”, and I totally subscribe to that idea. I have voted in every election and referendum since I became eligible to vote, and this Referendum is going to be no exception. I will vote because I want to participate in what I believe is a very important and historic process in Zimbabwe’s democracy. Especially given that this process that will lead to the winding up of the inclusive government; something that everyone knows is long overdue!
- I do not want my rights to continue being determined by the Lancaster House Constitution. Voting “NO” would mean continuing under the current constitution. Never mind that my interests [even minimally] were never represented at its crafting; the current constitution limits my rights as woman, provides for my discrimination in certain instances and does not guarantee my right to participate in public life. Remember the notorious Section 23(3)? Given what I know is possible from the Draft Constitution; I have no reason to support the continuance of a constitution that discriminates against me!
- I am convinced that the Draft Constitution presents an opportunity for greater accountability in the exercise of power, something that is absent in the current Constitution. Thus I will vote “YES” to ensure that the opportunity to encourage accountability is not lost.
- As stated earlier, I have had the privilege of reading the Draft Constitution. While indeed there are areas that could and should be improved in the future, I think the Draft Constitution has some very good provisions for women viz;
- The Draft Constitution provides for the supremacy of the constitution over all other laws and policies, which means guarantee of women’s rights at the highest level.
- The Draft Constitution is very clear that any law, policy, custom or tradition in violation of the guaranteed rights of women is unconstitutional.
- The objectives of the Draft Constitution state that the provisions of the constitution will among other things promote the full participation of women in all spheres of life, recognizing women’s right to work and the fact that the work women do in raising a family is work. Importantly, the objectives also stress the importance of prevention of domestic violence and promotion of the girl child’s right to education.
- The right to citizenship now applies on similar and equal criteria to women and men.
- The bill of rights under the Draft Constitution is protected by law, comprehensive and even provides for expansion of those rights to include rights protected under international law.
- The Draft Constitution provides for enhanced access to information and increases the grounds upon which one can claim access to information held by the State.
- The Draft Constitution provides for equality in the guardianship and custody of children.
- The Draft Constitution guarantees the right to equal pay and maternity leave.
- The Draft Constitution provides for guaranteed “affirmative action” seats for women in Parliament, in addition to the ones those women wishing to contest will also have.
- The Draft Constitution provides that the executive power is exercised through Cabinet subject to the Constitution, again reaffirming the supremacy of the Constitution over any law or policy.
- Finally, I am a woman so I don’t forget easily. There are two things I learnt in a similar process many years ago… also known as the 2000 Referendum. First, I voted “NO” then, and the situation in my personal space and our nation worsened. I believe this is an opportunity to redeem myself. Second, as a woman, I think it is criminal for any nation to spend the amount and extent of resources [financial, human and time] as has been the case in the Constitutional Reform processes in Zimbabwe, twice in 12 years!, and still have nothing to show for it.
So for the above reasons, plus the many other positive and progressive provisions in the Draft Constitution that I have not addressed here, I am voting “YES”! I also hope my reasons for voting “YES” can inspire conversations on this Draft Constitution and encourage more women to participate in the Referendum. Teresa Mugadza is the Deputy Chairperson of the Zimbabwe Anti-corruption Commission. She is writing in her in personal capacity and the views expressed in this article are her own.