Women, constitutional protection

IN continuing to commemorate women’s month, we shed light on some of the legal resources available to women, which they can rely on for their protection and empowerment. We discussed issues affecting formally employed women like maternity leave and sexual harassment.


The Constitution provides the basis and framework upon which laws affecting women and gender issues are derived. For convenience I have perused the entire Constitution and selected all the clauses that apply specifically to women and gender parity.

Since independence in 1980 the Zimbabwe government has done a lot to promote women’s advancement. The concept of gender equality is officially recognised in the Constitution.

The government has also crafted legislation in pursuit of the cause and participated in many international programmes and ratified major international instruments and protocols on gender and emancipation of women.
Some examples are the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development, Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and many others.

The argument can never be that the government has done nothing about women’s empowerment. Women have legal resources and policies in their favour upon,which they can rely for protection of their rights and even push for more.

The point is that Zimbabwean women have many opportunities open to them that they must take advantage of to improve their lot.

The Constitution is unequivocal about the concept of gender equality. This is reflected in various clauses spanning its entirety summarised below for ease of reference.

Section 3 – Section 3(1) (g) and 3(2) (b)(i-iii) and 3(i)(iii)

The values and principles upon which the Constitution is founded include recognition of equality of the sexes. The sub sections refer specifically to women’s rights and gender equality and give a directive to establish electoral laws and systems that ensure this objective.

Section 34

Tasks the State with domesticating and adopting international and regional legal instruments on gender such as the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development and other progressive international instruments.

Section 80

Guarantees women the same rights and opportunities as men. Women are accorded the same rights as men in custody and guardianship. Of major importance is that ALL laws, customs, traditions, and cultural practices that infringe the rights of women are declared void and illegal.

Section 104(4)

The appointment of government ministers must be guided by gender parity principles to ensure equal gender representation.

Appointments into public offices must strive to keep abreast of developments within the region and the world in terms of ensuring gender balance in the public sectors. The official government policy is to achieve 50/50 gender representation in all government positions. This is still far from reality and is still a Utopian ideal.

Section 120

The selection of senators must be done in a manner that promotes equal representation of women in the Senate.

Section 265(1)(g) –

Provincial, metropolitan councils (even though they were never established) and local councils are tasked with ensuring fair and equitable gender representation of people within their jurisdiction. There is a formula prescribed for achieving gender parity in rural and urban councils.

Section 283

The appointment of traditional leaders is couched in gender neutral language deliberately leaving room for possibilities for appointment of female chiefs. The gender of traditional leaders is not specified and this is tacit acknowledgment of the possibility of the appointment of women chiefs.

Section 124

Section 124(1)(b) prescribes a quota system for female representation in parliament. Sixty women were appointed into the legislature by proportional representation in 2013.

The quota system provision is a temporary measure in force for only two parliamentary terms in 2013 and 2018 and lapses in 2023. Proportional representation arguably increased the number of women in parliament by 60 seats and that is a large number.

However, the converse argument is that these reservation of seats had the opposite effect because it resulted in a decrease of the numbers of women who contested for ordinary seats. The number of female MP contestants reportedly reduced from 22% in 2008 to 18% in 2013. The sixty seats instantly boosted the number of women in parliament. That should have been a launch pad from which women would lobby and mobilise for their causes from an influential advantage.

The questions the 60 women parliamentarians should be answerable to are what they have done collectively and individually to lobby for women’s causes and equal representation in governance structures.

Their collective and individual achievements and contributions should be measured by:

plans of action drafted, implemented or commenced

published articles and reports and resolutions

workshops, courses and meetings facilitated and attended in their constituencies

parliamentary and public debates participated in and motions moved particularly regarding women’s empowerment

engagements with Women’s Affairs ministry, Gender Commission, NGOs and other pressure groups and the outcomes thereof.

Section 235 & Section 245- The Gender Commission

More visibility and aggressiveness is required from the commission. Its stipulated nine functions set out make it clear that it is meant to be more than a mere observer and overseer.

The commission is tasked with being more active in agitating for law reforms and public sector gender policies and doing everything necessary to promote gender equality.

This includes giving directions to government on all policies or programmes to ensure compliance with the gender policy. The commission should also create alliances within parliament and without to push for changes to the Electoral Act and public policies to lobby for sustainable gender representation.

Establishment of a Women’s Affairs ministry

The significance of the creation of a permanent women’s Affairs ministry cannot be overstated. The ministry is the most strategic partner in the executive and should be joined in all plans and programmes, which seek to implement Section 17 and section 56.

The ministry is seized with implementing government gender policy. Its stated objectives are political empowerment of women with reference to equal representation and meaningful involvement of women in decision, making at all levels in the public and private sectors including in local government access to and control of land and other resources as well as preserving the environment.

The ministry produced a revised gender policy in July 2017.

Miriam Tose Majome is a lawyer and a teacher. She can be contacted on enquiries@legalpractitioners.org

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