Fight for women’s rights far from over

HISTORY teaches us that oppressed classes gain true liberation from their masters through their own efforts.

Sally Nyakanyanga

This is also true for oppressed and downtrodden women, who need to keep fighting until they break free from the chains of patriarchy.

True emancipation begins neither at the polls nor in courts, but with the women themselves.

In her writings Anarchism and Other Essays Emma Goldman said the emancipation of women lies in an energetic march onward towards a brighter and clearer future. Women are in need of unhampered growth out of old traditions and habits, she wrote. Goldman was an anarchist known for her political activism, writing, and speeches.

She played a pivotal role in the development of anarchist political philosophy in North America and Europe in the first half of the 20th century.

The Beijing Declaration, an ambitious move towards the realisation of gender parity globally became key in the fight for gender equality.

However, sound and noble as it was, the equality mantra is still a mere dream for the majority of women not only in Zimbabwe but across the globe.

A myriad of gender blueprints have been produced with states signing conventions, declarations and treaties as a sign of commitment to ensure women become key players especially in areas of influence such as politics and in the running of the economy.

Last year will remain a notable one in the history of the women’s movement in Zimbabwe. The new constitution advances women’s rights as it stipulates equal representation in all sectors. It also provided for a gender commission, which is expected to monitor and evaluate gender parity and level the playing field for both men and women in this country.

The same year also witnessed some unfortunate reversals. There was a drop in the number of women fielded to contest in last year’s harmonised elections, and only three women managed to make it into President Robert Mugabe’s cabinet of 26 ministers.

Of those who submitted applications to contest in the last election, 90 women contested compared to 663 men. As provided for in the new constitution, 60 uncontested seats were allocated to women; this resulted in 32% of legislators in both the upper and lower houses in parliament being women. According to the Sadc protocol guidelines, countries are expected to ensure that by 2015 they have reached a 50% representation on gender in all sectors. As it stands Zimbabwe, after the 2013 harmonised elections, failed to meet this target but has adopted a quota system whereby for 10 years 60 women will be appointed to parliament.

Thabitha Khumalo, Bulawayo East legislator, says on paper we have brilliant laws on gender parity, but implementation has been a big challenge.

“We have a situation of gender equality at face value, and have a challenge to ensure we are able to change the mindset of our men,” Khumalo said.

The Permanent Secretary of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Dr Perpetua Gumbo, highlighted that the 2014 budget allocation was inadequate and this would hamper the development of gender-related programmes in the country.

“The budget is inadequate considering the amount that we had proposed to cater for our activities. Of the US$30 million excluding salaries that we proposed, we only got a paltry US$5 million which is an 83% variance,” she said.

The Zimbabwe Women Resource Centre and Network director Pamela Mhlanga pointed out that for the past three years the ministry has been getting less than 1% from the budget.

“Though it’s not all gloomy, there is need for government to be on the forefront of women’s development and ensure a conducive environment for empowerment. There is need to boost women economically and ensure emancipation in all sectors,” Mhlanga said.

She applauded the establishment of a gender commission as a positive development towards gender parity, but with the lack of funds it faces a tough task. Various projects will definitely need government to provide core resources if they are to be viable, Mhlanga said.

Virginia Muwanigwa, Women Coalition chairperson says women expect government to implement constitutional provisions on gender.

“We are looking forward to government realigning laws and policies to meet constitutional requirements, setting up of the gender commission and gender balance in public bodies,” Muwanigwa said. “The constitution, though very progressive could be marred by lack of political will as has been the country’s track record. The lessons learnt from the pre-new constitution era are that our problem as a country is not necessarily lack of progressive laws and policies, but the implementation and we urge government to address that immediately.”

The constitution has provided the framework for gender parity; what is left is for the various players to fulfil their part and ensure progress but this will not be achieved overnight.

Sally Nyakanyanga is a freelance journalist and academic.

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