Zimbabwe Women Fight For Rights In New Constitution

The new constitution contains the equality and non-discrimination clause, making it different from the current Lancaster house constitution, agreed in London in 1979 and amended 19 times since independence in 1980, where equality rights are not clearly stated.

Section 4.13(2) of the draft constitution categorically states that, “Women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.”

Gender activist Virginia Muwaningwa spent the better part of the last three years campaigning for the recognition of women’s rights in Zimbabwe’s new constitution.

After two days in Harare of focused discussions on the draft constitution she hopes nothing much changes in the new draft.

About 1,200 delegates including the president and Prime Minister representing various interest groups from around the country gathered in Harare last week to discuss the constitution, which will be put to a referendum in January next year.

A new constitution is one of the key reforms expected before Zimbabwe can go to elections scheduled for the middle of 2013.

“I hope they will just take our submissions as they are,” said Muwaningwa the chairperson of the Harare-based Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), a pressure group focused on campaigning for women’s rights.

“We are generally happy that 75 percent of our submissions have been taken on board specifically the equality clause which does not exist in the current constitution.”

Many of the submission made by women were included in the recommendations submitted to a committee of parliament drafting the new governing charter. These include a quota system for political participation, access to and control of resources and recognition of customary law in the bill of rights.

The draft constitution takes critical steps towards enhancing gender equality in politics. It proposes the allocation of 60 “affirmative action” seats for women for the first two terms after the new constitution is adopted. According to gender activists this progressively encourages the participation of women in politics.

Zimbabwe’s parliament consists of 210 members and the draft constitution provides for an additional 60 seats reserved for women.

Chapter 12 of the new constitution also proposes the creation of an independent Zimbabwe Gender Commission whose job will be to monitor gender equality, investigate cases of inequality receive complaints and undertaking studies to inform recommendations to enhance gender equality in Zimbabwe. It will also advise public and private institutions on steps to take to ensure gender equality and recommend prosecution for criminal violation of rights relating to gender.

Irene Petras, the Director of the Zimbabwe Lawyers for Human Rights (ZLHR), an organisation that seeks to foster a human rights culture in Zimbabwe said the constitution, “has possibilities for more women to enter into politics. Generally it looks like women as a marginalised sector have received more rights in the new constitution but what will be telling is whether the new constitution would be implemented because without implementation, without people believing that women are at the heart of society and deserve an equal role and opportunity even the best constitution won’t be able to protect their rights.”

Asked if it would not have been better to go for percentage representation as recommended by the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, which binds SADC member countries to achieve gender equality by 2015, Petras said, “In a way the 60 seats are providing an opportunity for women who will not be able to get in through the mainstream, it’s not something which will be there forever, it will just be there for the next three sessions of parliament and by that time women will be able to have opportunities which enable them to have equal opportunities to participate equally with men and they will be able to get into mainstream politics without needing those extra seats.”

But Netty Musanhu, Director of Msasa Project, an organisation which works to end gender based violence, does not agree.

“This mechanism is very disappointing and falls very far short of women’s voice and strong demand for equal representation on a 50/50 basis,” she said adding that, “Even with the 60 additional temporary seats women are assured only of 28% representation in the National Assembly, with no guarantee that the other 32% will be achieved through from the 210 seats contested through elections.”

In addition she said the measure is temporary with a termination clause that is not dependent on women actually achieving equal representation.

Muwaningwa, however, says if anything has to change in the draft constitution then it should be the addition of a strong gender budgeting component.

“This area is not strong. Zimbabwe has been doing the results-based financing system (financing aimed at achieving a certain target) but as women we would be happy if the constitution provides for separate budgeting which is sensitive to the needs of women and girls,” she said adding that if she had her way she will get all women to vote
“Yes” to the draft constitution in a referendum.

Women generally agree on this point.

“Gender budgeting is a big omission from the draft with a specific recommendation for gender sensitive and responsive budgeting. The Draft should explicitly provide for gender sensitive budgeting,” said Musanhu.

While Muwaningwa and her women’s movement are happy about the new draft constitution, Cousin Zilala, the Amnesty International  (AI) Country Director has no option but to continue his campaign against death penalty in Zimbabwe. The meeting in Harare was the last chance that members of the civic society had to make their input to the draft constitution. After this it will go to parliament, the president and prime minister before it is put to a referendum.

“We want the death penalty to be abolished in Zimbabwe. Our country, Botswana and the Democratic Republic of Congo are the only countries in the region still maintaining the death penalty. We are disappointed because we thought this was an opportunity for Zimbabwe to embrace human rights,” Zilala said expressing his disappointment that the new constitution did not scrap the death penalty.

Amnesty International   campaigns for the abolition of the death penalty worldwide.

According to the draft constitution, death penalty is provided by law if murder is committed in aggravated circumstances. And it is not imposed on women, persons under 21 or over 70 years when the crime is committed.

Zilala argues that this provision is retrogressive as it treats women as some kind of “endangered species.”

“This clause is promoting and perpetuating discrimination. It’s as if women are some kind of an endangered species. There is a possibility that women will now be used by men to commit murder because they won’t face the death penalty,” he said.

Edson Chiota, the Director of Zimbabwe Association Crime Rehabilitation Organisation (ZACRO), which works to rehabilitate prisoners, is looking beyond the constitution in his fight against the death penalty.

“There is no chance that Zimbabwe will abolish the death penalty, we have to re-launch a campaign against death penalty,” Chiota said.

A loose coalition of concerned citizens calling itself the Committee of the People Charter (CPC) says the people of Zimbabwe must reject the draft constitution and start again “because the process has no semblance of democratic participation.”

“This process is about political contestation yet constitutions are fundamental documents which should ensure the participation of all citizens but this process was never about that,” the committee said in a statement.