HomeLocal NewsOpportunity lost to right gender wrongs

Opportunity lost to right gender wrongs

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Daisy Makore, a 35-year-old mother of three, leads a life of hardship, bereft of the social amenities that should naturally be in keeping with an urban lifestyle.

Almost as a daily routine, Makore has to make sure that she purchases enough firewood or paraffin, which costs $1 and $1, 50 for a 750ml and 1 litre bottle respectively.

As the mother of the house, she has to see to it that her husband and three children have had their meals, even when electricity is not available.

Makore resides in the dormitory town of Chitungwiza, 27km from Harare, where they have to contend with power blackouts and water cuts on a daily basis.

“It’s a hard life,” she says. “Paraffin and firewood are expensive, and those who sell it are taking advantage of our desperation.”

She adds that water is also a problem, as the local municipality often rations it among the other sections in Chitungwiza like St Mary’s, Manyame Park and Seke, which all feed from Manyame Dam.

“About two years ago some people here lost children to cholera,” Makore recalls, “and the water problems have continued, even though it’s a bit better now.”

Makore’s story typifies the tales of many women to whom the problems of water, food and energy, among other social needs, have often spelt disaster.

But for the women, there is no protection at law against such vagaries.

Meetings held to capture people’s views on the Constitution, which were wrapped up in October this year ahead of the rewriting of the new Constitution, could have provided women like Makore a golden chance to have their most pressing needs captured into the Bill of Rights.

But this, according to Thokozile Thabethe of the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers’ Association, was an opportunity lost as the women failed to take advantage of it.

Thabethe, who attended some of the meetings, expressed disappointment that the women at the meetings were conspicuously silent about the socio-economic issues that affected them more by virtue of their sex and gender.

Thabethe told a recent media workshop that there were only three key issues raised by the women: the need for easier access to birth certificates for their children, passports and access to land for agriculture.

Although there was a high female turnout at the Copac meetings, the women were thin on participation, unless if they were parroting a political line.

“Women’s participation was very low,” Thabethe recalled, “and when they spoke, it was a political party position.”

Women’s organisations had hoped that women would close ranks to have fundamental rights to food, shelter, sanitation, shelter and energy, which are spelt out in the Sadc Protocol, included in the Bill of Rights in the Constitution.

Gender activists assert that the Constitution’s silence on such matters as human rights gave licence to government to discriminate against women, who are the most affected.

The Deputy Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Jessie Majome, described the current constitution as “defective” in that regard.

“Zimbabwe has one of the worst constitutions in the world, and I don’t make apologies for saying this. It fails to provide for equality between men and women. It gives licence to discriminate against women,” she said.

According to the supreme law’s “deficient” Section 23, Majome says, “you can constitutionally discriminate against women”.

Section 23 reads in part: “. . . Discrimination shall however not be said to have occurred where it is in relation to matters of personal law or where customary law is applied or for the betterment of a previously disadvantaged group”.

According to Thabethe, customary law needed some surgery so that it could be more gender sensitive.

Under customary law, women are not entitled to any property, and this is an area in which they could have sought redress through their input into the new constitution.

It was however disappointing, according to Thabethe, that while women called for access to land, they were not comfortable with having title deeds to the land.

“A lot of women refused title deeds, which, upon their deaths, would pass on to their children,” she said. “But without the title deeds, when they die, the land reverts back to the state.”

In August 2008, Sadc Heads of State and Government signed the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development.

This was an important step towards the empowerment of women, the elimination of discrimination and the achievement of gender equality and equity, a goal the regional body hoped to have achieved by 2015.

According to Amy Tsanga, the deputy director of the Southern and Eastern African Regional Centre for Women’s Law at the University of Zimbabwe, to address the gender imparities that manifest in the public sphere, there was need for a social re-orientation.

In a parliamentary briefing paper presented to the Parliament of Zimbabwe in July 2010, Tsanga said while the Constitution guaranteed rights to life, personal liberty and protection from inhuman treatment, it “does not contain any substantive provisions that deal with social and economic rights such as access to health care services, the right to food, or the right to housing”.

For people like Makore, however, one hopes they would be yet another chance to redeem that opportunity lost to better their situation through a new supreme law.

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