Celebrating Women's day: The key factors

8 March 2012 marked International Women's Day and I was moved by the way different people teamed up to commemorate the day in their very own special way. What was also outstanding was the fact that even some men took time to acknowledge, appreciate the day and work done by women every day. I attended a session with some African women on the platform where women from all over Africa had come to deliberate about issues that affect them and how they could get the governments to put in place policies that addressed these issues. The three main contentious issues were to do with sexual and reproductive health right, use of the "human rights" terminology and land grabbing by various players.

Sexual and reproductive health rights are at the very center of a woman's life. If she does not take the necessary precautions and get the desired support, then this could spell out disaster! In a world where the burden of family planning and childcare lies deeply with women, governments need to realize this and grow beyond focusing on sexual rights to just mean sexual orientation rights. There is an urgent need to make sure that a holistic analysis and approach to sexual and reproductive health rights is undertaken and women's needs are met when it comes to such issues. Women need to have the right to make choices when it comes to their sexual and reproductive health rights and governments in Africa, Zimbabwe included, should ensure that they hear the women out and meet the demands made thereof.

Human rights are universal and governments should be responsible duty bearers. The reason the African governments seem to be refusing to have as much as the terminology "human rights" included in women's empowerment is because they know that they do not have the political will and commitement to respect, let alone uphold, these basic human rights. Governments know that they will be held responsible for their actions which in most instances are contradictory to what they purport in public. Human rights are fundamental to the lived realities of women and should therefore be respected in their entirety!

Land is an important resource to women's sustainable livelihoods and when governments decide to distribute it Willy nilly to whoever cares to grab it then it becomes a problem. Women in the African Women's Caucus at UNCSW (prior to 8 March 2012's IWD Commemorations) discussed how governments have grabbed land to use in illegal deals amongst themselves and with their "friends" so as to fulfill selfish political desires at the expense of national interests. In this regard, the former refuse to have anyone hold them responsible and accountable for their actions. In the end, the effects have been evident through the destruction of women's livehoods and issues to do with access and control where land is concerned.

If women are going to be empowered, African governments have to come to the realization that women are a critical partner in development and should be treated as such. Moreover, it is crucial that women be given the respect they deserve through the respect and upholding of their basic rights such as their sexual and reproductive health rights and also through accessing and controlling land as a a means of their source of livelihood. As we reflect on how each one of us commemorated the IWD this year, it is also important to begin to master the courage required to lobby African governments to translate to reality through effective implementation of national, regional and international instruments that protect and provide for women's empowerment. Just like the women at the UNCSW African Women's Caucus noted - everyone has the responsibility to hold government accountable when it comes to women's development and empowerment - and what better time to demand redress than at a time like this where it is a month for women with a special regard for IWD. Please do play your part.

By Grace Chirenje Nachipo

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