An international conference on women this week in Harare, Zimbabwe, has focused on the role of women in formulating a new constitution for the country.
Opening the conference, President Robert Mugabe said Zimbabwe led most countries in Africa and around the world in uplifting its women, who fill top posts such as vice president, deputy prime minister, Senate speaker and deputy House speaker. But he said more progress is needed in government and political parties.
Former Irish Prime Minister Mary Robinson urged the unity government in place in Harare since early 2009 to address serious human rights violations in the country, calling for remedies and preventive measures. Robinson said that women and girls are often the ones most affected by rights violations.
"Allow me also to take this moment – in the presence of this country’s highest leaders – to express my sincere hope that ongoing reports of serious human rights violations in Zimbabwe will be fully addressed by the government and actions taken to ensure adequate remedies and prevent future abuses," she said.
"Reports of torture, harassment and politically motivated prosecutions of human rights defenders among other violations are extremely worrying," Robinson said. "Just like all other citizens of the world, the women and girls of Zimbabwe are doubly impacted by any such violence, as persons, mothers, and community leaders.
"I raise these issues as someone who has worked around the world to promote human dignity and respect for human rights, with no political agenda. I express these concerns as a friend of Zimbabwe who believes that the Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the international system which flowed from it must be realized for all. It's heartening that Zimbabwe is signatory to most of these instruments, including those commitments on this continent such as the Africa Protocol on Women’s rights."
She said women should be closely involved in the constitutional revision process as they were not represented when Zimbabwe's current - though much amended - Lancaster House Constitution was drafted in 1979 shortly before independence.
"The women of Zimbabwe are demanding a constitution that guarantees more women in decision making positions through adoption of mechanisms such as the Proportional Representation electoral system and women’s quotas in party nominations," the former premier of the Irish Republic said.
She advocated affirmative action of various kinds to empower Zimbabwean women, given their historical disadvantages, and added that the new constitution must have measures to protect young girls and ensure their equal access to educational opportunities.
Labor Minister Paurina Gwanyanya-Mpariwa told tells VOA Studio 7 reporter Sandra Nyaira the conference will help to consolidate the standing of Zimbabwean women as they seek to enshrine their rights.