ZIMBABWEAN WOMEN AND THE STRUGGLES OF THE NEW MILLENIUM

NYDT joins the rest of the world in commemorating world women’s day on the 8th of March 2010. Despite the harsh environment women have to contend with, it is with great honour that we recognise the efforts made by women from all walks of life to keep the country on its feet. The struggles by young women cannot go unnoticed as they continue to brave the crocodile infested Limpopo river to go and earn a living for their families in far away lands. They have been part of the Zimbabweans who have kept the drowning economy above the waters by sending money from all over the world despite being denied the right to choose their leaders. It is women who brave the harsh streets and violent police retaliation to march and protest the ever deteriorating conditions in our homes, society, government and other sectors of society.
We do however note with concern the retrogressive environment women in general and young women in particular find themselves in, in Zimbabwe today. According to the CATO institute, the average life expectancy of Zimbabwean women has fallen from 57 years in 1994 to the current 34 years. In essence, this means that women are dying in peak of their youth. Instead of having more young women and girls empowered through education and leadership positions, more and more girls are being forced to leave school to make a living in less admirable professions. While millions of educated young women have relocated to countries like South Africa and Botswana , more and even younger women and girls are being forced to become parents to their siblings driving them into prostitution and forced marriages to secure a decent living for their families.
More and more women are being infected and affected by HIV/AIDS related illnesses with younger women dying everyday from the pandemic due to a lack of medical support and various institutional support mechanisms. Even more women are dying due to birth related complications because despite Zimbabwe pledging in Millennium Developmental Goal (MDG) number 5 to improve maternal mortality by reducing deaths at delivery to 70 from 283 in every 100 000 deliveries. How can this be possible if in rural areas women are giving birth on hard and muddy floors without the aid of competently trained medical personnel and at UBH, one of the country’s biggest hospitals, expectant mothers are being told to bring their own linen, light bulbs, washing basins and medical supplies. Our health services are in shambles and women are bearing the brunt of this bad situation.
Although Zimbabwe ratified the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development on October 23, 2009, this does not seem to have ruffled any furthers so far. Women make up 52% of the Zimbabwean population, and yet make up less than 14% of the Zimbabwean Parliament a 2point drop from the 16% in the previous parliament. It is bad enough that no women were involved in the Lancaster House negotiations in 1979, this number only improved by one woman for much of the GNU talks until when later on in the process, Teresa Makoni was roped in to join Priscilla Misiharmbwi-Mushonga.
Furthermore Article VI of the GPA acknowledges that the making of a new constitution must be inclusive, democratically owned and driven by the people. It also provides that the new constitution needs to deepen the equality of all citizens particularly the “enhancement of full citizenship and the equality of women”. In line with the GPA, Article 42 of the Short Term Economic Recovery Programme (STERP) document refers to the need to avail resources to ensure women’s effective and equal participation in the process and outcome of the constitution-making process. However this will remain just words on paper if current statistics of women actively taking part in the process are not drastically and immediately improved.
As things stand, the new constitution making process has not brought in any significant representation from and for women. According to statistics released by the Zimbabwe Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, out of 7 management committee members, only one is a woman, out of 6 members of the steering committee only one is female, out of the 25 select committee members, only nine are women and only 4 chairpersons of the 17 thematic areas are women. This translates to 16% of women in the management structures and 22% at other levels of the process, a development that may bring about stagnation if not a negation in the developments and strides made by women legally thus far.
Moreover, despite the enactment of a domestic violence act, women are still being abused and even killed in domestic violence related matters. While the constitution recognises the equality of men and women, women’s rights are still being violated in relation to equal guardianship of their children, property ownership and their equality in customary marriages.
In almost 30 years of independence, Zimbabwean women seem to be taking steps back from the progress of past years, greatly disadvantaging current and future generations. NYDT calls upon government, Civic Society and the corporate world and all sectors of our community to take a stand on behalf of Zimbabwe’s women, both young and old. We believe that to develop a woman is to develop the nation and that the world has a lot to benefit from the empowerment of women.

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