#CSW58-MDG 5: Promoting Maternal Health


By Rumbidzai Dube

When I reflect on the risk and sacrifices that women make in this world, it makes me wonder when, why and how it came to be that in many parts of the world, they are regarded as second class citizens. What am I saying?

According to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS) of 2011, at least 10 women die every day due to pregnancy-related complications. Did you hear that, 10 women die every day while giving birth to children, some of them sons, who will then turn on their mothers, sisters, aunts, nieces and cousins and treat them as second class citizens. Isn’t that ironic?

Millennium Development Goal 5 is definitely one of the goals that Zimbabwe will not be able to meet. With maternal deaths estimated to be above 960 deaths for every 100 000 live births, the target of reducing maternal deaths by three quarters can remain an aspiration for now. Given that the 960 deaths are official statistics, which God knows how accurate they are, with the way our government is out of touch with the issues on the ground on so many levels, the rate is possibly even higher.

Let us assume for a minute that these statistics in fact are right, I am still perplexed by the worrying trend that factors such as education, class, location and age are no longer critical in determining who is affected. Uneducated and educated, poor and rich, rural and urban, and older and younger women are all dying in child birth. Clearly there are nuances to the problem and successfully dealing with maternal health needs exploring these. For instance, cases of celebrities who passed on in child birth, grabbed the headlines, raising the need for a more concerted effort into addressing the issue of maternal mortality.

What are some of these nuances?

  • We simply do not have enough trained health professionals to deal with the delivery of our babies. Our nurses left and we are not doing much to motivate those who remained behind to remain in our service and to be motivated at work.
  • The private health-care system has not been effectively regulated. Just in the past year I have had 2 friends and a relative who have had nasty encounters with private health practitioners. The first friend went to a reputable women’s health centre where she was told she had a growth in her uterus and needed to have her uterus cleaned. Fortunately for her, she chose not to do that and sought a second opinion. Guess what-the supposed ‘growth’ in her uterus was a baby. And to think these people have advanced machines for scans and all that other fancy stuff!!

Another friend elected to deliver her baby through a Caesarean and informed her gynaecologist of her choice. However, he kept pushing the dates for the performance of the Caesarean forward, in what she feared was an attempt to create complications in her delivery, leading to her increased stay in hospital and increased bill=more money for the doctor.

My other relative had had two babies, delivered through normal births without any complications. However for her third baby, the doctor dramatically chose to ‘induce’ her labour prematurely. She could not understand why he did so when her labour was not delayed and her pregnancy was advancing normally. Eventually she found out why when the bill came with a breakdown of:

  1. Costs for inducing labour
  2. Costs for delivering the baby
  3. Costs for doing the ‘stitches’ on the mother
  4. Costs of medication to clean the wounds

She also complained that the same doctor had developed a reputation of forcing women whose babies he delivered to have more ‘stitches’  or proclaim non-existent complications requiring caesarean delivery because doing so meant he would charge more for sewing them back together and performing the surgery. It seems the love for money far exceeds the observance of medical ethics these days.

What have we done well?

  • Our implementation of the Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission programme (PMTCT) has significantly reduced cases of HIV/AIDS infections in children at birth. HIV testing has improved and the responsibility lies with the mothers to choose life for their children.
  • The adoption of the National Campaign to Accelerate the Reduction of Maternal Mortality (NCARMM) directly corresponding with the African Union (AU) Campaign on the Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in Africa in itself is an important development as it affirms government’s recognition that maternal mortality is a serious problem that needs addressing.

What have we not done well?

Government admits that most maternal deaths are a result of time taken to seek healthcare because of ignorance or lack of funds to pay for hospital care; time needed to reach a healthcare because hospitals are too far and there is no easily accessible transport to and from the health facility or the cost to do so is high and unaffordable and time taken to access care at the health facility-where there is generally an air of neglect of women in health-care facilities by highly unmotivated nurses.

Generally health services are inaccessible particularly in rural areas where hospitals and clinics are not within easy reach and the transport networks to the major clinics and hospitals are not easily accessible. Increasingly, the service in hospitals, particularly public/government hospitals, has deteriorated and has become poor. Pregnant women suffer neglect in hospitals resulting in some avoidable losses and deaths. Socio-economic challenges, related with the current economic environment significantly impact women’s access to medical services as they cannot afford to pay the user fees. There has been reduced uptake of contraception for inexplicable reasons.

What more can we do?

  • We need to adequately fund all our health institutions. Although a government policy stating that women should not pay user fees exists, it is impractical. If clinics do not make women pay, then they will not have the gloves, medication and swabs to attend to the women at child birth. Until and unless government adequately funds these facilities then the assertions that user fees have been scrapped will remain what they are; mere rhetoric!!
  • We must address religious and traditional practices that deny women access to medical facilities or that delay until patients are in critical condition. Zvitsidzo (Apostolic sects’ version of maternal wards), located in bushes in the middle of nowhere, secretive and denying access to the public, are an example of how maternal care is being compromised. Because of the veil of secrecy that these sects throw over these spaces, it is not clear how many women actually die and whether there are any complications that women have to live with for the rest of their lives for failing to give birth in certified maternal health care facilities.
  • We must maintain our reliable supply of contraception BUT we must find out, through comprehensive research, why there is reduced uptake of contraceptives.
  • We must take measures to motivate our nurses to do their jobs effectively. Without the necessary incentives, women will continue to lose their lives in avoidable circumstances.

#CSW58-MDG 4: Reducing child mortality


by Rumbidzai Dube

In 2013 we are losing 57 children for every 1000 children that are born alive. These children are dying because of neonatal causes such as birth complications (34%), others from HIV/AIDS (20%), Pneumonia (10%), Malaria (9%), Diarrhoea (7 %)), Injuries (3%), Measles (1%), Meningitis (1%) and other causes. One famous (and hot) actor recognised the source of the problem as lack of political will and conscience and stated;

“Let us be the ones who say we do not accept that a child dies every three seconds simply because he does not have the drugs you and I have. Let us be the ones to say we are not satisfied that your place of birth determines your right to life. Let us be outraged, let us be loud, let us be bold.”-Brad Pitt

He is right. The major reasons why our children are dying are circumstances that can be avoided and addressed with the relevant political will to do so. We would have less babies dying in child birth if our hospitals were more accessible and affordable. Women are already doing a national duty in giving birth; should they be made to pay for it as well? If anything, should they not be given allowances for allowing our nation to grow? Service fees must be scrapped; however the reality at the moment is that this is not a viable option because government is not allocating enough funds for the public clinics and hospitals to run efficiently. How about switching that defence budget and making it the health budget, dear government?

The high levels of diarrhoea are a direct consequence of the poor sanitation (where 35% of our population has no proper sanitation) and unsafe water (with 20% of our population having no access to safe and clean drinking water). When will our government get its priorities right; to address corruption within local councils, to cut those $35 000 salary pegs for top municipal bosses and reallocate the funds to purchasing water treatment chemicals instead? When will our rural district councils stop buying fancy land-rovers and prioritise sinking and maintaining boreholes so that the 50% of the rural population who have no safe drinking water can have their needs met?

Malaria can be prevented with the availability of mosquito nets, mosquito coils, and mosquito repellents, fumigation of households and swamps and ingestion of anti-malarial tablets. It can also be cured if the drugs for curing it are made available, readily and easily. How about government allocating all its available funds to address malaria to ensuring its prevention and cure-more practical efforts, less printing of Ministry of Health with the ‘Let us prevent Malaria message at the back’ t-shirts that I see people brandishing at the gym?

Previously it was almost like a death sentence for a child to be born to an HIV positive mother but technology has shown that mother to child transmission can be avoided during pregnancy and during birth as well. Government should increase its efforts at rolling out the PMTCT (Prevention of Mother to Child Transmission) programme. We want an AIDS free generation as soon as yesterday and as long as we do not prioritise preventing the birth of HIV Positive babies; that will remain a pipe dream.

What have we done well?

  • Zimbabwe has been doing well with its voluntary HIV testing of expectant mothers. PMTCT has significantly reduced HIV/AIDS infections in young children.
  • We have successfully vaccinated the majority of our children with BCG, Whooping Cough, TB, Polio 1, Polio 2, Diphtheria and Measles vaccines being administered.

What more can we do?

  • To succeed in significantly reducing child mortality, we need to get rid of malnutrition and that is possible when we improve food security broadly and have supplementary feeding programs for children in schools and at clinics;
  • We need to scale up our PMTCT;
  • We need to have free and accessible vaccination of children from curable diseases;
  • We must improve our water supply and sanitation to avoid avoidable deaths from diseases such as cholera, dysentery;

We should never forget that the solution to adult problems tomorrow depends on large measure upon how our children grow up today. (Margaret Mead)

#CSW58- MDG 3: Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women


by Rumbidzai Dube

Achieving gender equality remains one of the biggest challenges in Zimbabwean society. The problem is rooted in society’s conceptions of the phenomenon of gender equality itself. Talk of gender equality has ignited terrible backlash, mainly because of a misconception that gender equality is a misguided notion that is eating away at ‘our culture’ AND ‘our religion’ in which women are simply trying to take up an ‘unnatural’ position in life. For some, gender equality is understood as the process through which women want men to do women’s chores and women are ‘overstepping their mark;’’ wanting to become like men. Others argue, erroneously of course, that concentrating on women’s rights has seen men’s issues being side-lined and that focusing on gender equality is placing men ‘under threat.’

Consequently, there is low and slow acceptance of the idea that gender equality is about recognising that men and women were born equal, they deserve equal chances and opportunities, and to be treated with the same dignity. There is still slow acceptance of women’s participation in politics and decision making. This is reinforced by the skewed publicity with which female politicians’ occasional blunders are profiled as compared to the ongoing and consistent blundering that male politicians commit on a daily basis. There is prevalent rejection of the independence of women’s thought process, financial status and existence, with such women often labelled as “loudmouths,” “difficult” and “bossy.”

What have we done well?

  • We have a comprehensive gender policy that emphasises the need to achieve gender equality.
  • We have a new Constitution that addresses gender imbalances especially those previously caused by the application of customary law in resolving personal law issues such as marriage, division of property, custody of children, divorce and inheritance.
  • We have a good legislative framework with Acts such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Criminal Law Code and the Deceased Estates Act providing remedies regarding women’s challenges with violence, crime and inheritance, respectively.
  • We have set up institutions that seek to enhance women’s safety and security in the community such as the Domestic Violence Council, the Victim Friendly Courts, the Adult Rape Clinic, the Victim Friendly Units at police stations all dealing with gender based violence.
  • We have achieved gender parity in ensuring primary education.
  • Our women are beginning to enter male dominated spaces in highly technical fields such as engineering, ICT’s, the defence forces and mining.
  • Although our target in women’s representation in Parliament is 50/50, we have significantly increased this representation by introducing a quota through proportional representation. Although the quota is limited to only 2 terms of Parliament, it is hoped that the 10 years will give the women exposure to the political processes, increasing their chances of running for contested seats and winning. Also the use of  the Zebra type of proportional representation in allocating seats to the Upper House of Parliament (Senate) has seen a significant increase in women’s representation, so much so that at this #CSW58, Zimbabwe was recognised as one of the few countries that has the highest number of female senators, an unprecedented 47.5%!

What have we not done?

  • We have not carried nearly enough dialogue to shape an understanding of gender equality that builds support from communities and removes the antagonism that exists towards achieving gender equality;
  • We have not domesticated international treaties that promote gender equality in their entirety;
  • We have not allocated adequate funds to the gender machinery to allow it to function as effectively as is possible;
  • We condemn but do not regulate traditional and religious practices that limit women’s public participation and perpetuate gender discrimination.

What more can we do?

We need to work on aligning our policies and laws to the new Constitution regarding provisions that call for:

  • Gender parity in appointments to constitutional commissions. We have already failed doing this in the anti-corruption commission and the human rights commission;
  • Ratification of all international instruments promoting gender equality;
  • Domestication of all international instruments promoting gender equality; and
  • Setting up of a gender commission;
  • We need to allocate adequate funds in the national budget towards promoting gender equality.
  • We need to promote women and girls’ increased venture into Science, Technology, Engineering and other technical fields.
  • We also need to see an increased number of women managers who currently make up 21% of MD’s in the country as well as company secretaries who are only 17% female. This occupational category remains largely male-dominated although the women in that field have proved themselves equally capable.
  • We need more women at the levels of Permanent Secretaries, Principal Directors, Directors, Deputy Directors, Ambassadors and Heads of Missions; currently they constitute only 28%. This business of claiming that “there are no women” to occupy these posts is highly disrespectful and utterly false.

#CSW58- MDG 2: Achieving Universal Primary Education


Of all the millennium development goals (MDGs), achieving universal primary education is something that Zimbabwe has recorded tremendous progress in.  We boast of the highest literacy rate in Africa, recording an impressive 90.7%; the only country on the African continent with a literacy rate above 90%. I, as some Zimbabweans do too, consider these statistics with a pinch of salt, given that in my context-it is not how the world views us but how we view ourselves that matters the most. Even though we may be considered highly educated, I am disgruntled with the quality of education that our children are receiving. The education system is fraught with challenges, among these;

  • the inability of parents to pay fees because of the harsh economic climate resulting in school drop-outs and frequent absenteeism;
  • the inability of government to protect children who cannot pay fees from getting expelled from school. Even though policy says children should not be expelled, its implementation is weak;
  • the brain drain which has seen  many qualified teachers migrating to so called “greener pastures” because they can’t stand a life of grooming other people’s children to become significant members of society while their own become paupers given their meagre salaries;
  • the lack of motivation amongst our teachers because of their poor working conditions characterised by low salaries and no incentives, which causes them not to teach our children in normal time and forces parents to pay for “extra-lessons;” and
  • the challenges that the examination body; the Zimbabwe Schools Examinations Council (ZIMSEC) faces in creating examination scripts, disseminating examination material, marking examinations and distributing results of examinations on time.

It is consoling however to hear that enrolment into primary school is still high despite the fact that primary education is not free anymore as it was soon after independence. Rural areas record higher rates of enrolment (84.1%) than the urban areas (73.4%). This could partly be explained by the fact that the majority of Zimbabwe’s population resides in the rural areas. The number of girls in primary school also remains high, although dropouts begin to increase from secondary level going upwards.

Picture Credit: Eileen Burke-Save the Children

Picture Credit: Eileen Burke-Save the Children

What have we done well?

  • The Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM) has been instrumental in enhancing girls’ and boys’ access to education, especially orphans and other vulnerable children. This programme has paid school fees and other levies for the under privileged members of society. However it is worrying that this programme is undergoing financial challenges, meaning that many of its beneficiaries have been left stranded and are likely to fail to continue going to school.

What have we not done?

  • Our budgetary allocation to education remains low. The United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation (UNESCO), recommend that an education budget should be at a minimum 6% of the Gross National Product. Although we have done this to the book, our economy’s performance means that this amount is so little that it only pays for teachers’ measly salaries.
  • We have not been compiling statistics on the completion rate of primary level education by girls, to understand in particular why girls drop out of school. This would help us to understand the prevalence of some of the factors that cause girls to leave school such as child marriage,early marriage, sexual violence against girls, teenage pregnancy, domestic servitude and inability to pay fees and how much girls suffer because of it. It would also help us to know where we should focus our interventions.

What more can we do?

  • We used to have free primary education soon after independence, what happened to that? Now parents have to bear the costs of sending their children in a challenging economic environment. Let us bring it back if we want to ensure that we have an educated nation. Primary education is the most basic form of education and if we can’t give that to our citizens then what kind of population are we growing?
  • It is clear that some traditional and religious practices are preventing children from going to school or continuing with their education kunyanya mapostori. Mere policy encouraging them to send their children to school remains inadequate. We need stronger penal provisions to force such religious sects and traditionalists to conform and allow their children to have the most basic need in their lives; an education. If politicians are going to mix and mingle with mapostori when they campaign during elections, but fail beyond the campaigns to have meaningful dialogue with them about treating their women and children better,  then the politicians have failed us all and these children.
  • We allowed our schools, especially primary schools to be used as political bases where rallies and political meetings were held. In the 2008 election period, such activities were marked with devastating levels of violence which children either experienced or witnessed resulting in some dropouts. Teachers were also targeted, some beaten, others abducted and causing many teachers to desert their posts and migrate. Most of these were replaced by unqualified temporary teachers. Cumulatively, this has also affected the quality of our education and we need to address this and ensure the highest quality of education.

We love bragging, and we have reason to brag because we are better educated than all the other African countries but can our government fix all these problems already so we brag some more!

#CSW58: 1. Reflecting on Zimbabwe’s fulfilment of the MDG’s and mapping the post 2015 Agenda


By Rumbidzai Dube

 

Today, the 10th of March 2014, I find myself here in New York, where one of the biggest events on women’s rights; the 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW58) is kicking off. The history of CSW dates back to 21 June 1946, when the United Nations Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) set up the Commission, whose core function is to promote the rights of women in political, economic, civil, social and educational fields. So every year, representatives of states which are members of the United Nations as well as women’s rights activists gather at the UN Headquarters in New York to assess if any progress has been made in achieving gender equality, to see what challenges remain, to set global standards and be innovative at devising means to formulate promote gender equality and women’s empowerment worldwide.

This year’s CSW comes amid the growing discourse of an Africa that is “rising.” Indeed the dictates of mainstream economics suggest that this is the case. Africa’s economy is said to be growing faster than any other continent’s economy. 33 % of African countries are said to be recording annual gross domestic products (GDP’s) of 6%.  Many predictions have been made by forecasters:

  • By 2015, mobile penetration in Africa would have reached 84%;
  • By 2020, 50 % of African households will be so economically sound that they will have discretionary spending power;
  • By 2030, 50 % of Africa’s populations will be living in urban areas;
  • By 2035, Africa’s workforce will be bigger than China; and
  • By 2050, Africans will make up 25% of the world’s workers.

Analysts are justifying why Africa’s time is now with one Jonathan Berman giving his 7 reasons why Africa’s time is now. I have dared to explain Berman’s idea as I have understood it namely that:

1. Africa has a huge market opportunity.

[Africans love consuming and the fact that our own industry is underdeveloped means we rely heavily on imports hence providing a market for other continents’ goods.]

2. Africa is increasingly stable.

[Though ridden by conflicts as compared to other continents, the trends of conflict in Africa have seen a decrease rather than an increase. Governance patterns are also changing, with the biggest challenge being stolen elections rather than military coups. Previously coups were the norm, with Africa recording an unprecedented 85 violent coups and rebellions from the time of the Egyptian revolution in 1952 until 1998, 78 of these between 1961 and 1997, but more recently coups are uncommon and considered pretty uncool.

3. Africa is recording increased intra-Africa trade although it still is in its infancy.

[Trade within Africa has increased particularly along the lines of the regional blocs which promote regional economic integration. The most successful being the East African Community (Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and Kenya) and the Economic Community of West African States (Benin, Burkina Faso, Cape Verde, Cote d’Ivoire, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea, Guinea Bissau, Liberia, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, Senegal, Sierra Leone, and Togo) where regional integration is being fostered through, among other thing, the removal of trade barriers such as the requirement of travel documents and other limitations to freedom of movement of people and goods , the creation of a common market, and standardisation of customs tariffs .

4. Africa will soon have the world’s largest workforce.

[Africa’s population is rising so much that in projections to 2030, the African population is expected to peak at 1.6 billion from 1.0 billion in 2010, which would represent 19% of the world’s population. The demographic boom on the continent is expected to be an asset in the form of a workforce, which will drive Africa’s economy forward.

5. 20% of African governments’ budgets are going to education.

[Increasingly, governments are allocating a significant amount of money to education budget lines. This commitment towards the education of African populations will eventually yield results as Africa increases its local technical competence.]

6. Africa’s mobile networking and connectivity is exploding.

[Africa’s mobile network coverage is increasing and more so, spreading to traditionally marginalised communities in the rural areas. This is directly translating into easier and quicker access to information and at the same time the transfer of money more efficiently through mobile banking and cash transfer services such as Ecocash and Telecash in Zimbabwe. Consequently, doing business in a time of mobile phones is much easier and much more efficient as it reduces costs, saves time and increases efficiency].

7. Africa contains most of the world’s uncultivated land.

[ Africa holds almost 50% of the world’s uncultivated land. This is about 450 million hectares of land that is not forested, protected or densely populated. According to the World Bank, if this land is fully utilised by 2030, it could have created a trillion-dollar food market for Africa.]

It is well and good that these positive trends are taking place on the continent, however one question remains largely unanswered; which Africa and who in Africa is rising? Are the women of Africa part of the rising? If so, how many of them are part of it and how many are being left behind? Who is prospering and are the majority of citizens benefitting from the rising?

15 years ago, in 2000, 189 nations made a promise to free people from extreme poverty and many other deprivations culminating in the development of a strategy to eradicate these deprivations. This strategy, to try and address the unequal rising of citizens in different economies, was centralised in the framework of the Millennium Development Goals, (MDGs) a set of goals serving as milestones for all the countries of the world to achieve development in their countries.

MDG 1: This goal focused on eradicating extreme poverty and hunger. Notably, the goal did not seek to achieve the eradication of poverty but extreme poverty.

MDG 2: This goal focused on achieving universal primary education. Notably, the goal is not to ensure universal education at levels relevant to increasing citizens’ critical competence and competitiveness in the global sphere, such as tertiary and technical education.

MDG 3: Focused on promoting gender equality and empowering women.

MDG 4:  Focused on reducing child mortality.

MDG 5: Focused on improving maternal health.

MDG 6: Focused on combating HIV/AIDS, Malaria and other diseases.

MDG 7: Focused on ensuring environmental stability.

MDG 8: Focused on developing Global Partnerships for Development.

The 8 Millenium Development Goals

The 8 Millennium Development Goals

2014 marks the last year for the observance of the Millennium Development Goals.  As the women of the world are converging in New York to state their position on what they consider to be the priorities in mapping the post-2015/post-MDG agenda, at #CSW58, I shall be exploring the progress and challenges that Zimbabwe has faced in achieving the 8 Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). I shall also be reflecting on the main outcomes from the discussions at #CSW58.

What Really Matters: Brains or Brawn


By Natasha Msonza

Reading through Desmond Kumbuka’s article in Standard titled Patronage, ignorance: the twin evils of greed and his subsequent criticism on the caliber of Members of Parliament (MPs) in Zimbabwe, I thought to myself, which is better: a highly educated MP with many degrees who does nothing for the people, or an uneducated MP who provides practical solutions to the contemporary societal problems confronting his constituents?

Kumbuka has no kind words where most of our MPs are concerned, and admittedly, some Zimbabweans may agree with some of the descriptions used for the men and women in Parliament. He describes them as ‘ever-whining legislators, many of whom spend their time day-dreaming of a life of luxury at the State’s expense.” He bemoans the fact that for a country with one of the highest literacy rates in Africa; it is astounding that Zimbabwe ‘ends up with a parliament full of illiterate or semi-educated nonentities’.

I think it is important to remember that most of these ‘nonentities’ are people that Zimbabweans voted into those posts; the adage that people deserve the leadership they get rings trues.

Having under-educated legislators can be a challenge, especially when viewed from the perspective of the mammoth socio-economic challenges currently facing the country and the things that need to be done and solutions put in place. In fact, I know many Zimbabweans who are of the opinion that Parliamentarians should all have degrees as a minimum qualification. Our current system admits anyone with Ordinary Level as the minimum qualification.

I recall a time when I worked with MPs to help them understand the concept of equitable resource allocation so that they could positively influence the national budget crafting process. The men and women of the house had a hard time trying to make head or tail of the budgeting process in general. Then, it seemed reasonable to imagine that if they had a little bit more education, they would have been able to understand what many of us consider to be elementary.

Kumbuka also suggests that while a system that ‘allows any Jim, Jack or Jill to aspire for political office is truly democratic, mendicant legislators will invariably spend more of their time pondering how to overcome their own poverty before they can start to think of improving the lives of people in their constituents (sic).’

While I may be inclined to agree with this last statement, I think it is immediately defeated by the choice of example he picks to argue his point. He picks on the man we all love to ridicule, Joseph Chinotimba, whom he describes as ‘loquacious’.

Chinotimba may lack – in the words of Kumbuka – the ‘capacity to brainstorm the complex issues involved in economic revival to be able to competently suggest corrective solutions’, but in looking at the performance of the 8th Parliament to date, the inconvenient truth is that Mr Chinotimba is currently one of the best performing MPs. He has personally seen to it that the problem of hyenas ravaging his constituency has been dealt with effectively, making a huge life and death difference for Buhera South inhabitants. Recently, Chinotimba was featured in the press with graders and earth-moving equipment in the background, repairing the notorious Murambinda-Birchenough road. The man is going out of his way to source funds to repair all major roads in his constituency. Essentially, Chinotimba mobilized funds and demonstrated a certain level of concern devoid even amongst the highly educated MPs that Kumbuka would likely consider more ‘appropriate’ for this position. At this rate, one can probably be forgiven for imagining that Chinotimba is one of the few that would meaningfully use the Constituency Development Fund, as he comes across as a man of the people.

It does not follow, that if you have an education from Harvard, you automatically think of the best solutions to problems. Ordinary citizens’ immediate needs are not being met, all they want is someone who pays meaningful attention to their practical day-to-day problems such as access to water, electricity and food. Among other things, the role of Parliamentarians includes being responsive to the needs of citizens, resolving the most pressing problems confronting society, and being able to reconcile the conflicting interests of expectations of different groups and communities.

Indeed, the last (Seventh) Parliament had several other individual MPs like Hon. Jessie Majome, who are on record for reaching out to their constituencies and seeking to make practical contributions.

Nevertheless, our Parliamentary system in general leaves a lot to be desired. Last year the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) released three reports on the performance of the 7th Parliament, based on the last year of its tenure, June 2012-June 2013. Some of the findings in these reports indicate for instance that a lot of the MPs were just ‘occasional visitors’ to Parliament, wherein some got away with absconding sessions. The essence of the report was that the levels of participation and debate among Parliamentarians were generally poor. According to RAU’s report – What Happened in Parliament?, some members (we shall not mention names) spent the entire year without contributing anything to pertinent discussions; there was significantly poor attendance by Ministers to the Question and Answer sessions – a very critical accountability process in Parliament; and  there was observation of a glaring need for capacity building noting serious skills gaps in terms of ability to analyze legislation, budget debate and analysis as well as performance of other key roles of legislators. Most unsettling was the finding that by the last year of its tenure, the Seventh Parliament had a total of 38 vacant seats due to deaths, suspensions, dismissals or expulsions. These seats remained vacant, meaning that 10.9% of the constituencies went without representation for a lengthy period of time. Other criticisms of the Seventh Parliament included poor attendance to plenary sessions and self-aggrandizement. If the cost of sustaining an MP per sitting borders around US$1,100 in sitting and fuel allowances, contributions to fixed salary and hotel accommodation, should we not be greatly concerned when some sittings last for just three minutes?

All these things and more demonstrate a problem that looms larger than the question of whether or not MPs are educated. What seems to be the issue here is lack of accountability and a general ‘don’t care’ attitude dismissed by Us the People, with a lot of impunity. Should we not be agitating for a little more seriousness and demanding some accountability from our MPs? We can call for disqualifications and penalization of errant MPs, demanding their obligation to declare personal assets and having more say in what really goes in the House. We shouldn’t have to contend with hostile security operatives manning the entrances to Parliament building.

A critical question becomes however; is a wholly technocratic government the answer to the myriad problems we have with Parliament? In other words, would it be more ideal to have a government in which for instance, ministers are not career politicians, but experts in the fields of their respective Ministries, and a more stringent criteria based on educational qualifications is set for MPs?

Interrogating the culture of exclusion of women from key decision-making positions


by Kudakwashe Chitsike

In September 2013 the President selected his Cabinet and appointed only three women into it. Yet the Constitution clearly stipulates that Cabinet should have equal gender representation.  In response to the queries raised pertaining to his decision to appoint few women, the President stated that there weren’t enough women qualified to fill the positions, as women are not sufficiently educated to take up these high government posts. This prompted me to write an open letter to the President. My letter was unfortunately not responded to.

Yesterday, as I was going through the daily newspapers, I read that the Chief Justice, Godfrey Chidyausiku, had sworn in new Commissioners to the Judicial Service Commission. Out of curiosity, I checked to see how many women had been appointed and whether there were as many women as there were men. As to be expected, given the context of the Ministerial appointments, more men than women were appointed.  Although congratulations are and remain in order to the appointed female Commissioners; Mrs. Priscilla Mutembwi and Mrs. Priscilla Madzonga, along with 6 other male commissioners, there is still need to interrogate this continuing culture of the exclusion of women from occupying key decision-making positions. 

The Constitution stipulates in Section 17(1) (b) (i) that both genders should be equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at all levels, and that (ii) women should constitute at least half the membership of all Commissions and other elective and appointed government bodies established by or under the Constitution and any Act of Parliament. 

Clearly this has not been followed, and it raises questions; is our Constitution just a guiding instrument whose sections can be taken up or disregarded at a whim? If the Constitution says there must be gender equality why is this not being adhered to?  Is the Constitution not the highest law in the land? So then if we do not follow it, how much more will we respect subsidiary legislation? 

It is civil society’s job to raise these questions as our Constitution – which is not even a year old – is going to be meaningless.  The women’s movement must work tirelessly to ensure that Section 17 of the Constitution is strictly followed, after all, this is one of the main reasons women were encouraged to vote for it. Let us not waste opportunities to raise issues as they arise.

There are 5 other commissioners that are yet to be appointed, I sincerely hope that most of the appointees are going to be women.  There is no excuse to say there are no qualified women; especially women lawyers.  If the relevant authorities are hard pressed to find qualified women lawyers, a simple phone call to Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) for recommendations will provide them with a long list to choose from. 

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Chief Justice Chidyausiku congratulates newly sworn in Commissioner, Ms Priscilla Mudzonga. Picture by Munyaradzi Chamalimba