FROM birth she is expected to adhere to the cultural, traditional and societal dictates expected of her. At adolescence she may be pushed into an early marriage or end up with an unwanted pregnancy. At the workplace she does not have the same job opportunities as her male counterparts. For over 200 years now, the woman has been fighting for equal political, social and economic status with her male counterparts.
Although the world has taken measures to rectify the reality of discrimination against women through international and regional instruments that promote women’s rights, the battle is still to be won. These instruments include the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women at international level and the ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on the Rights of Women.
The signing of the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development is also an important indicator of the serious dimension women’s struggles have taken. At national level, the existence of the National Gender Policy, as well as the strategies for its implementation, address the prevailing gender inequality, while the Constitution promotes and protects the rights of women and provides more guarantees and protection for women.
The Zimbabwe Constitution contains a comprehensive Bill of Rights that undercuts existing harmful cultural and discriminatory practices. The Bill of Rights introduces the right to security and prohibits violence against women by the State, individuals and institutions. It gives women the right to administrative justice as well as political rights. It also gives women rights to agricultural land. However, despite all this, the ground continues to be uneven for women.
Progress towards gender equality is still painfully slow, despite the increased presence of women in decision-making positions. While Zimbabwe has one of the most progressive Constitutions in terms of advancing women’s rights, the composition of the country’s Cabinet leaves a lot to be desired. Only three out of 26 Cabinet ministers are women. Women still remain at the bottom of the societal hierarchy, with poor access to land, credit, health and education, 20 years after the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was signed.
Women still remain the face of poverty not only in Zimbabwe but the world over yet they constitute 52 percent of the population. “Women are not the problem,” Zimbabwean feminist, Isabella Matambanadzo, noted and adds: “Zimbabwe has huge numbers of very talented, hard working and intelligent women who are experts in all areas of life and society.” Experts say government is simply failing to adhere to the provisions of the Constitution that require that 50 percent of all public institutions, of all commissions, of Parliament, resources, everything should be shared on an equal basis between men and women.
For as long as women continue to be sidelined, undermined and excluded, analysts say Zimbabwe risks falling into a constitutional crisis that the courts should be urgently attending to. Women’s equality is no longer a myth but a reality and women should be granted the same opportunities as their counterparts.
Gender activist, Nyaradzai Gumbonzvanda, said African women are more than a statistic of poverty, exclusion, and marginalisation: They are entrepreneurs extraordinaire. “We need the narrative that lifts the positives of our continent, the entrepreneurs extraordinaire that are embodied in the daily struggles of women in our communities, the unsung heroines like my late mother, Rozaria. They are resourceful, creative and innovative. They create a world for their children each day as the sun rises, finding food where they have minimal options; creating time to hold the community’s social fabric together. These are women who may not have the book education, but they have knowledge and skills,” Gumbonzvanda said.
Despite the marginalisation, the women’s movement in Zimbabwe has managed to confront and bring to the fore women’s issues that have been bedeviling society. “Women have a lot to celebrate about, from my time in 1989 to now, you see the growth of the women’s movement in churches, market places, politics and corporate organisations. Today you see women navigating their way across borders going to Dubai and China. We have grown in all kinds of ways, organising ourselves in order to empower and equip each other.
“Unlike before, today we are also aware of our sexual and reproductive rights. We are able to make our own choices with regards to our reproductive health. All this thanks to the feminist movement in Zimbabwe,” feminist Everjoice Win said.
Win, however, challenged women to focus on structures instead of numbers and faces. “It should be about values and principles. Women need to challenge themselves they should determine what kind of leadership they want and of what governance system, political system or are we saying women should be part of that corruption and oppression. It is about the values women should bring to the table, in politics or in a family. Principles that should be governing us should include concern of the most excluded in society and values that are not selfish.”
Win reminds women to change the discourse and deal with the prevailing culture of violence and the greed breeding in today’s society. “The greed and the culture of ‘bigger’ should not be part of the feminist movement. A big house, big car, big bank account and even a big bible, meaning these are the most powerful people and can exert power over others.
All this translates into the Cuthberts and the Gumburas of today. We need to go back to the basics, what are we fighting for?” Win added. As women celebrate Women’s Day next week on March 8, they are still echoing the same issues ranging from poverty, economic empowerment, violence against women, education, health, women in the media, rural women, and the girl child that were raised 20 years ago at the Beijing Conference for Women. With each passing day, their struggle for equality is getting stronger.