Challenging patriarchy through the Legislation and Policy

In Zimbabwe there is political will to address the gender disparities that are embedded in our society.  The government of Zimbabwe has recognized that gender equality is an urgent need and the marginalization of women is a serious cause for concern. In this regard the government has adopted gender sensitive legislation and policy frameworks to challenge the deeply entrenched patriarchal system which has disadvantaged women since time immemorial.

The Constitution of Zimbabwe which was adopted in 2013 is one of the most gender sensitive constitutions in the world. It is very explicit on the rights of women and also makes special provisions for gender equity to ensure gender equality.  According to Section 17,

“ the State must promote full gender balance in Zimbabwean society, and in particular the State must promote the full participation of women in all spheres of Zimbabwean society on the basis of equality with men; the State must take all measures necessary, including legislative measures, needed to ensure that; both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level; Women must constitute at least half the membership of all independent commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies established by or under this Constitution or any Act of Parliament; State institutions and agencies of government at every level must take practical measures to ensure that women have access to resources, including land, on the basis of equality with men and the State must take positive measures to rectify gender discrimination and imbalances resulting from past practices and policies.”

Zimbabwe‘s supreme law of the land also recognizes the importance of women in national development processes. It says that there should be equal opportunities for men and women in all development initiatives.

On the rights of women, section 80 of the constitution ensures that women have the same rights as men. It says: every woman has full and equal dignity of the person with men and this includes equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities and women have the same rights as men regarding the custody and guardianship of children, but an Act of Parliament may regulate how those rights are to be exercised.

In addition to the constitution, the government has passed seventeen pieces of legislation to advance the gender equality and equity objective and these include: Matrimonial Causes Act (1987); Maintenance Act (1999); Administration of Estates Act (1997); Sexual Offences Act (2001), Education Act (2004), Labour Act, [Chapter 28:01]; Criminal Law Code (2006); Domestic Violence Act (2007). This framework together with the constitution  represents a step in the right direction that provides a platform for change and a basis for understanding and dealing with issues around gender equity and equality.

The Domestic Violence Act (2006) provides a framework for the prosecution of domestic violence crimes while  the Sexual Offences Act and the Criminal Law Codification (and Reform) Act (2004) provide for the prosecution of offences relating to rape  ( marital rape, sexual violence and willful transmission of HIV). The government’s National Gender-Based Violence Strategy (2012-2015) and the National Gender Policy (2013-2017) are some of the policy initiatives which are commitments to eradicate gender-based violence and promote gender equality. They articulate the extent to which government, civil society, and development partners can prevent and respond to gender issues and gender based violence through a multi-sectoral, effective and coordinated response.

Zimbabwe is a signatory and has ratified many international instruments and protocols that are meant to ensure gender equality and safeguard women‘s rights.  These include the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, Beijing Platform of Action, the Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the United Nations Human Rights Council’s protocols, and the UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888, 1889, and 1960 on women, peace and security.

Politicians in Zimbabwe have also shown commitment to achieving gender equality and championed the need for a gender sensitive framework. Vice President Joice Mujuru said the gender-sensitive constitution was a way of restoring the dignity of women. Another case is that of the Minister of Women‘s Affairs, Gender and Community Development Oppah Muchinguri who was quoted on national television, addressing delegates at a conference organized by her ministry where she hailed constitutional provisions ensuring that women have an equal opportunity of attaining decision-making positions. The minister encouraged relevant stakeholders to embark on legal awareness. A legislator, Watchy Sibanda lamented the fragmentation of gender-based violence interventions which have resulted in the duplication of efforts and lack of access to comprehensive services by victims. The chairperson of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Jessie Majome, said the “new Constitution has addressed most challenges faced by women in a patriarchal society”.

The media in Zimbabwe has commendably highlighted these gender sensitive legislative issues and how they affect or improve the lives of women and girls. However, there is need for more legal awareness through the media so as to improve and increase public knowledge on the laws and rights of citizens.

Despite these achievements, Zimbabwe has a challenge when it comes to implementation of its gender equality legislation and policies. Patriarchy is still the order the day and gender based violence and other forms of gender based discrimination and marginalization continue to persist even in the presence of gender sensitive legislation.  For example, the National Gender-Based Violence Strategy states that women and girls in Zimbabwe continue to be the victims in 99% of GBV cases especially within the private sphere.

The enforcement of legislation has been hampered by many factors which include non availability of funds and lack of awareness on these laws and policies. In some cases the  laws on GBV are difficult to enforce mainly because of the nature of the violence, which mainly occurs in private spaces. As a result, services, such as victim-friendly units, legal access, temporary shelters for survivors, and psycho-social support still only have a limited influence in society.

Another challenge that Zimbabwe faces is that while the constitution and other instruments safeguard and protect the rights of women, there are some legislative instruments which are not in line with the constitution, hence the need for realignment so that the constitution and all the gender pieces of legislation are in harmony. Examples include the Criminal Law (Codification and Reform) Act, and the Marriages Act. The synchronization of the Marriages act will deal with issues around child marriages.

By: Hlengiwe Dube

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