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'Feels and sounds' good only on paper

The signing of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) in September 2008 ushered in a new dispensation and ignited hope towards the realisation of gender justice in Zimbabwe.   It marked the possible end of political violence and established relative peace in communities across the country.

The GPA commendably recognises non-discrimination and respect of all persons regardless of gender. Article XX of the agreement puts in place measures of ensuring gender equality in the appointment of women in decision making positions in Zimbabwe.

As the Inclusive government enters its third year more is yet to be seen in terms of government sincerity and political will in ensuring that women have a fair share of the cake and occupy strategic positions of influence.

The signing of the GPA in 2008 presumably should have been followed by democratic institution building, meaningful participation of women in all structures of society and addressing root causes of conflict which left many women raped and painful memories engraved in their souls.

When violence receded women assumed the position of heads of households and also shouldering the responsibility of taking care of the maimed, wounded and orphaned and find themselves excluded in the peace deal, its negotiation and the sharing of political spoils.

Furthermore, the slow economic growth coupled by the collapse of the service delivery system has not made it easy for women.

Over the years the government of Zimbabwe has enacted many laws and policies that are meant to protect the rights of women and promote gender equality and equity but have not translated them to practical actions.

Stimulated by the Beijing platform a surge of action to address gender disparities arose in many countries including Zimbabwe. There was improvement in the legal framework and the strengthening of the women's movement in the country.

The Government of Zimbabwe has shown commitment in achieving gender equality through the signing and ratification of regional and international conventions and protocols that aim to promote the rights of women and to achieve gender parity. These conventions include Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People's Rights on the Rights of Women, Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR). Furthermore the passing into law of the Domestic Violence Act, the Sexual Offences Act, and Legal Age of Majority Act by the government is commendable.

Despite the progress made and GPA which acknowledges the need of ensuring gender justice we begin to question if these well authored and structured documents feel and sound good on paper only? Does their implementation cascade to the ordinary woman in Bikita who needs to feed six children, send them to school and access ARVs at a local hospital without   being buried by these responsibilities?

Women still face the brunt of the collapsed social service delivery system, political violence and related rape while perpetrators are yet to be brought to book. Many of the conventions and laws indicated above have been poorly implemented owing to lack of capacity, inadequate budget allocations and the insincerity by the government to address the gender imbalances.

Women in Zimbabwe constitute 52 percent of the population and continue to be a disadvantaged group in society who occupy face powder positions. There are 54 women out of 210 parliamentarians in the House of Assembly and 38 women councillors out of 1209. In the 1980 and 1985 Parliamentary sessions, nine percent of women sat in the House. 1990 and 1995 saw an increase to 14 percent, but the number declined in 2000 to 9,2 percent. Although it peaked to an all time high in 2005 of 22 percent the number declined in 2008 to 18 percent. These inconsistencies have been attributed to political violence and stiff political contestation.

In an article in The Herald of 3 October 2011 ZWRCN argues that the gains that women had accrued so far have been reversed by the socio-economic and political crises the country has been grappling with for more than a decade now.

"The economic hardships that characterise Zimbabwe in the last decade have impacted negatively on the national prioritisation of gender issues, women economic empowerment and freedom of choice and implementation of national gender strategies. Some of the gains of women empowerment and gender equality have therefore been reversed. €

As the call for elections becomes increasingly louder it is imperative for the wielders of power to create mechanisms which incorporate the various voices of women because sustainable development can only take place when women also have political space to contribute to the process of national development. Development is attainable when the beneficiaries are involved in policy or decision making either in government or private sector.

Women are a cog of the struggle for democracy in Zimbabwe. It is time for the inclusive government of Zimbabwe to walk the talk by ensuring that laws and policies that address the gender imbalances are not only good on paper but also translate to action. The government should allocate adequate resources and move towards addressing the structural gender inequalities that are rooted in our socio-economic, political and cultural spheres. A challenge to all the women is to ensure that in the next elections they are equally represented and their voices are also heard at every table.

 

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