Statement for International Women’s Day


 

This year’s UN theme is Empowering Women, Empowering Humanity: Picture it!” and it is a call for people to visualise a present and a future in which all of humanity is empowered because women and girls have been empowered. It is recognition that the energy, talent and strength of women and girls represent humankind’s most invaluable untapped natural resource. It is a call to the individual responsibility to imagine the world as it could be, and to do what one can to achieve that vision. It is also, more pertinently, a nudge and reminder to governments, civil society and public and private sectors to commit to gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls – as a fundamental human right and a force for the benefit of all.

Working for equality for women and girls around the globe is the key to fighting poverty, political instability and social injustice and all the evils that beleague society in its broadest sense. Over the years, the struggle to get women’s rights integrated into the general human rights framework and to have key decision making institutions recognise the importance of issues related to women and girls have been fruitful. Every major institution and government has at the very least acknowledged that ending discrimination and violence against women are fundamental to achieving gender equality. Many have committed to working on these issues.

This year as the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), we commemorate International Women’s Day in Zimbabwe, by reawakening a call to all actors to remind us of where we ought to be. For when we empower a woman we empower a nation. Empowering the women of Zimbabwe means we must strive to provide educational opportunities for all girls and women of all ages, for them to be able to realise their full potential. No girl child should be deprived of this opportunity for any reason.

It means ending gender based violence in the private and public sphere. .We must strive with every breath to eradicate all traditional, cultural and social practices that continue to discriminate and dehumanise the women of Zimbabwe.

All laws must be aligned to International human rights standards and the Constitution to ensure that every woman has full and equal dignity as well as have equal opportunities with men.. Until we all make this commitment, we cannot move forward as a nation.

For until we all acknowledge in word and in practice that women are the core of our humanity we will never change our reality. Let us continue to work together to make this world a better place for all women. Together we can make it happen!

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My sister’s keeper: her esteem in my hands!


By Caroline Kache

Scenario 1

A woman walking on the streets of Harare; stripped naked for wearing a mini skirt. She boldly continues to walk whilst a huge crowd jeers behind her. Someone gives her a wrap (zambia) to cover herself but even that is taken away from her. Others say she is crazy for continuing to walk like that, but she continues with the little dignity she has left. They have damaged her but have not completely broken her.

This sounds like a script but it actually is the content of a video that has been circulating on social media in Zimbabwe in which a woman was stripped naked for wearing a mini-skirt. The level of intolerance and lack of humanity by those who did this to another human being is unbelievable. She is someone’s sister, mother and aunt! Have we lost all respect for other human beings? Where is the Ubuntu/hunhu we once prided ourselves in? I for one could not believe the number of women in the video who were jeering and following the naked woman. I asked myself, if I had been there what would I have done?

The attack on this woman prompted the #MiniSkirtMarch in Zimbabwe which got social media buzzing. Of particular interest were the comments from women, who felt that a woman should not show her body in that way on the streets. Others felt that the #MiniSkirtMarch was a worthless cause; “couldn’t there have been amarch against child abuse or something more meaningful, hapana mukadzi wemunhu anoita zvakadaro” (no married woman would be part of a march to wear miniskirts in public) they said. This is despite the fact that a number of women have been subjected to sexual harassment on the streets of Harare; married or not.

Scenario 2

“I said her dressing in front of a young man was inappropriate. I was not impressed especially for someone of her stature…That’s when I said she was inappropriately dressed, inappropriately attired. Displaying the thighs,” – in Parliament women approached me about her dressing, saying they had talked to her but she persisted without mentioning any names… – “She wears mini skirts. She must change her style of dressing. Even some of us who have attractive bodies don’t wear mini-skirts that show our thighs, especially in front of children. As mothers who have young growing daughters what lessons do we pass on to them? That is all I was unhappy about.

A few weeks ago the First Lady Grace Mugabe made headlines with her public attack on the Vice President Dr. Joice Mujuru. AmaiMugabe attacked not just the office of the Vice President but she attacked her person and this left many with jaws dropped at the inappropriateness of her actions and words.

If the other female parliamentarians did go to Amai Mugabe to complain about Dr Mujuru’s dressing (though I believe how Dr Mujuru dresses is not anyone’s business) I don’t believe the female parliamentarians’ expectations were that Amai Mugabe would address this issue during her ‘Meet the People Tour” or that she would publicise these concerns in the manner she did. Could she not have handled this issue with the same measure of discretion they did?

Sister’s keeper

My definition of a sister’s keeper is best illustrated by a typical scenario in any gangster movie. There are usually two rival gangs in an area and when two individuals from these gangs get into a brawl, the rest of the members from both gangs will join in the scuffle. Most of the members may not know what the cause of the scuffle is or who is to blame for starting it, but in a heartbeat they jump in to assist their fellow gang members.

That to me is the epitome of sisterhood. Imagine if all men knew that they cannot mess with any woman on the streets of Zimbabwe because all women would join in? Imagine if women walked on the streets in miniskirts and when all the hwindis (touts) started whistling and shouting women would come together and dare the men to touch any woman! Sisterhood is not about right or wrong or whether you feel strongly about an issue. It is about something in you refusing to remain silent when a fellow sister is being humiliated, assaulted or abused.

A friend once told me that true friendship is hearing people say something about a friend and you publicly defend your friend even without verifying if the issue is true or not. I am not saying women should not be admonished or reprimanded when they do wrong; quite the contrary. I am saying it should be done in sisterly love to build each other up instead of looking for a public platform and humiliating a fellow sister, Wisdom says you call her to the side and address your issues in a private space so that when you come out in public no one will know there was a private matter between you! Was it necessary, for Amai Mugabe to address issues of gossip and what happens in Dr. Mujuru’s private life on the public state broadcaster? Dare I say Amai Mugabe painted a picture of herself far worse than that of the person she meant to discredit.

The women who came before us, worked too hard for women’s empowerment for us for us to tear each other down in this way. Being our sisters’ keepers means we protect each other in the public domain; it also means we stand up for each other because for generations women have been said to be cruel to one another. In Shona we say mhandu yemukadzi mukadzi (a woman’s enemy is another woman). We have become our sisters’ enemies. We subject each other to emotional and psychological abuse, force each other to endure painful situations, humiliate each other and break each other’s spirits.

As we commemorate the 16 days of activism against gender based violence this year we must remember that violence is not perpetrated by men alone but can be by other women who have forgotten the true meaning of sisterhood. May Jodi Picoult’s words resonate within our hearts that ‘you don’t love someone because they’re perfect, you love them in spite of the fact that they’re not.’ Let us be our sisters’ keepers!

 

 

Is women’s participation in elections darned, damned and doomed?


by Kudakwashe Chitsike

In July 2013, Zimbabweans went to the polls for elections that were set to end the Global Political Agreement (GPA) signed in 2008 and the subsequent inclusive government. This election was a winner takes all event; and there was a lot of excitement about the future from all political parties, but also a sense of trepidation as the previous elections had been riddled with violence. Civil society groups and the media had labelled the 2008 election, the most violent election period in Zimbabwe’s history. 

Women were particularly afraid of the violence as they suffered both as primary and secondary victims. In many instances, when there were threats of violence, the men would run away, but, because of their domestic responsibilities, women were not able to go as they had to look after children, the sick, and the elderly. In previous RAU reports, we documented women’s experiences with violence during elections which included arson, assault, destruction of property, rape, political intimidation, and threats.  There was enough evidence for women to have good reason to fear another round of elections.  During the existence of the inclusive government, the main political parties were preaching non- violence and peace, but there were reports of violence regardless.  The parties were aware that the world was watching, and specifically looking out for acts of violence during the 2013 elections. They were also aware that violence would discredit the elections as was the case in 2008, particularly the period leading up to the run off; thus, it was in their best interests to be seen to be advocating for non-violence.  There was very little overt violence but reports of intimidation before and during the elections were reported.

To explore the nature of women’s experiences during the elections in 2013, RAU conducted three focus groups discussions with participants from Masvingo, Bindura, and Marondera.  The study looked at the general operating environment, which included voting, the special vote, assisted voters, indelible ink, the vote counting and the results.  With regard to violence, most of the women who participated in the study stated that they voted in a relatively peaceful environment. Below are some of their statements:

In Masvingo we did not encounter the problems we encountered in 2008. There was no violence the same way there was in 2008, in fact people really voted in peace and people reflected their choices peacefully.

I met with a new but very pleasant experience where young men from different political parties would share glue for sticking campaign posters.

We were happy because the prayers we took part in worked. There was peace everywhere. I was an agent and I was happy because it was not as hard as it used to be in the previous years.

The women were from different political parties, but their sentiments on violence were similar; though they varied on other areas such as the registration process and inspection of the voters’ roll. The differences were clearly on party lines, where women from one party found it easy to register and inspect the voters’ roll and others found it near impossible.  The full report is available for download here on our website.

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

 

Int’l Women Human Rights Defenders Day: Shall we celebrate or just commemorate?


By Kudakwashe Chitsike

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Beatrice Mtetwa – Free at last?

 

Today is International Women Human Rights Defenders Day. For a change we have something to celebrate, after the trial of lawyer and human rights defender, Beatrice Mtetwa finally ended on Tuesday, with the magistrate finding her not guilty of obstructing the course of justice.  This is after 7 months of going back and forth to court fight a case where she was just doing her job. Beatrice is a well-known human rights lawyer and her arrest and court battle were publicized in the local and international media, therefore we knew what she was going through. Her story is that of many women who have dared to stand up and fight for their rights and for the rights of others, not only other women but for Zimbabweans as a whole.  These women are fighting for equality, social and economic rights, land rights, justice and peace, to name a few.  These are all commendable causes and women human rights defenders should be respected and admired, but instead they are vilified. There are thousands of such women whose names will never be known and whose stories will never be told, but who in their own ways, however small, are paving the way for a better Zimbabwe.

The plight of women human rights defenders in Zimbabwe is dismal; they are routinely harassed by the police, arrested without being informed of the charges, kept in filthy cells, verbally, physically and sometimes sexually abused. When we really look at the conditions that these women are being subjected to, we find that there is very little to celebrate. Perhaps we should be ‘commemorating’ rather than celebrating.  The authorities should uphold their national, regional and international human rights commitments to ensure the promotion and protection of the rights of women human rights defenders regardless of their political affiliation, ethnicity, nationality, religion or belief, status, age and sexual orientation.

Over the last five years, RAU has been documenting the stories of women human rights defenders’ over through reports and videos. Today we stand in solidarity with all women human rights defenders. We are honored to tell their remarkable stories and shall endeavor to continue doing so as long as there is a story to tell.   

Zim’s New Cabinet: An Open Letter to Mr R.G Mugabe


by Kudakwashe Chitsike

Dear Mr President,

I read with concern an article in one of the newspapers, which reported that you defended your decision to appoint only three women to Cabinet by saying that Zimbabwean women are uneducated and do not have the intellectual capacity to take up office. The newspaper quoted you directly as having said the following: “Give us the women. This time we did proportional representation; there were just not enough women. Women are few in universities.” Is this really true, Mr President? I have always regarded you as a progressive man, and I am having a hard time believing that these were your words. Perhaps the media misunderstood you, or just deliberately misconstrued your statement. The private media is very mischievous, isn’t it?

You have been the president, and therefore boss of this country for more than 30 years, overseeing everything that happens in your government. How is it possible that 52% of your population is still not educated enough to take Cabinet posts? There are other important things I could raise, that seem to have also escaped your attention, but that is a letter I will write on another day. I hope that now that you have noticed this challenge, you are going to do something over the next five years to turn around the education system and ensure that there will be more women in the next Cabinet. Such a positive outcome is something we would look forward to in 2018!  Image

I am a product of the education system that you inherited from the British when you took over the reigns in 1980. Kudos to you for maintaining the system for years, you really did your best. I stand proudly as a Zimbabwean wherever I go because I know I can hold my own in my chosen field, thanks to this system. Most Zimbabwean women in my circles are educated, holders of Masters degrees and even PhDs. Is this still not good enough for the Cabinet? Zimbabweans are finding jobs all over the world because they are well educated. A few months ago, you rightly pointed out that Zimbabweans are running the South African economy. A good number of Zimbabweans working in illustrious jobs in that country are women. If they are good enough to be scooped up by vibrant economies, why not our Cabinet?

The University of Zimbabwe – the oldest higher learning institution in this country – is churning out more women than men and has been for quite some time. None from there were suitable? We as Zimbabweans have always prided ourselves in our education, this year we were rated as having a literacy rate of more than 90%. Unfortunately this percent was not gender disaggregated. Had it been, then that would have been something I would draw your attention to.

Could it be that, Mr President, you meant to say that women in your party are the uneducated ones, since you were only looking within the party for these posts? If that is the case, then I understand. You were clearly stuck between a rock and a hard place. Your desire must have been to have a number of competent women in the Cabinet not only to adhere to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development ratified by the 7th Parliament in October 2009, but also so that Zimbabwe achieves the gender equality enshrined in our constitution. I understand if you say that in your party, there were just not enough competent female candidates. What could you do but select the best of the lot? You only managed to find 3.

Isn’t it also interesting that the issue of quality and level of education arises only when it comes to filling certain positions with women? What about the qualities and qualifications of the men in your Cabinet? Did they all go to university? What kind of men are they? What exactly was your selection criterion for Cabinet? It took you more than 40 days to come up with the list, so I assume it must have been a rigorous exercise. Were the candidates selected because of their qualities, or on the basis of them being loyal to you and/or the party? One of these days I will sit and go through each of their profiles, maybe the answers will come from there.

I look forward to your response Mr President.

Yours faithfully,

Concerned Citizen

Women don’t like female bosses


As we draw closer to elections, constitutionally to be held by the 29th October 2013, Zimbabwe has been gripped with election fever.  No day goes by without a headline or an article on elections or civil society organizations putting out statements or launching campaigns and programmes related to elections. What sparks my interest is the newly launched vote for a woman campaign which is aimed at encouraging women to vote for other women in the up-coming elections at whatever level, ward, constituency, senate, and even presidential.

In principle this is a great campaign because it aims to increases the number of women in decision making positions and thereby increases the chances of women’s issues being discussed in parliament. At a national level, in line with the new constitution, hopefully will bring about the gender equality we have been seeking for decades.  The campaign has to be strategic as women need to vote for women they identify with and who can deliver once they hold the esteemed seat.  This brings about the debate about what kind of women should be voted into political positions which almost always gets tempers flaring as it is asked why women need to have certain qualities to be voted into political officers but men do not?  For me it is about a woman with potential, who recognizes her strengths and weaknesses and has the ability to ask and accept help where she is out of her depth.  It is not about her educational qualifications and how well she speaks, but how well she can articulate an issue, be it in English or in the vernacular. 

Historically, women do not hold political power; this we must accept and therefore we are not raised to aspire to take this power, our positions were to support the men and not question their decisions, this however is changing. The women that do decide to challenge this and hold political positions state that it is an uphill battle constantly: as a woman you have to work harder and prove yourself where men do not. 

Women in power have challenges not only raised by men, but by other women who do not believe that women can hold political positions. In 2012, RAU produced a report entitled Do you have the PHD Syndrome?  [available at www.researchandadvocacyunit.org]which discussed the lack of support that women give to each other. This was based on focus group discussions held with several women’s groups. The women discussed reasons why there are so few women in politics and what are the impediments for women to enter into those spaces.  And they pointed out that women too often undermine each other!

President J Banda, photo accredited to www.maravipost.com
President J Banda, photo accredited to http://www.maravipost.com

There is need to address the PHD syndrome during this campaign as sweeping it under the carpet will not achieve the desired results.  Recently speaking during a new global talk show, South 2 North on Al Jazeera, Joyce Banda the President of Malawi,  the second African woman head of state after Ellen Johnson Sileaf, who came into power in April 2012 after the sudden death of President Bingu wa Mutharika, lamented the unwillingness of women to support and uplift one another.  She said that in Malawi she is supported by grassroots women as she used to work with them before taking up politics. As she said, “The problem comes when it is now women that are higher up, women that are your level that usually won’t stand with you, that usually don’t support you”. 

She said she was surprised to see the amount of support she gained from men during her ascendency to presidency.  “Men came out more than women. There were more men than women fighting for me. Women at the top don’t support one another. Women don’t like female bosses,” said Banda. This needs to change and the vote for a women campaign can go a long way to change perceptions about women leaders and their support base.