MUTARE, MANICALAND —
Zimbabwe has since independence in 1980 attempted to create a gender-balanced society through the passing of laws such as the Legal Age of Majority Act, granting everyone above the age of 18 the right to adulthood.
More attempts have been made to achieve this goal as the country’s constitution, adopted after a comprehensive public outreach program in 2013, clearly empowers women at all levels of society, including parliament and other state institutions, through well-articulated provisions designed to dismantle men’s tight grip on women.
Despite some of these positive moves to promote gender equality, a large number of women say a lot still needs to be done to free them from the lop-sided culturally-driven patriarchal society.
Zimbabwe is among a few nations in the world that has enacted laws designed to empower women. Some provisions of Section 17 of the country’s new constitution stipulate that the state must take all steps, including legislative measures, needed to ensure that both genders are equally represented in all institutions and agencies of government at every level.
It further states that women must constitute at least half the membership of all commissions and other elective and appointed governmental bodies. At the moment, parliament is one of the institutions in which great strides have been made to promote women’s representation.
Women now comprise 124 of the 350 lawmakers in Zimbabwe’s parliament, including 86 of them in the House of Assembly – 60 in the reserved seats and 26 elected directly to the 210 constituency seats. Thanks to an electoral quota system used by almost 30 other nations, including Rwanda.
But for Moreblessing Shinya, a resident of Mutare and teacher in rural Marange, Mutare West constituency, there is still need to push for the 50-50 percent representation in this august house.
Shinya adds that despite some missed targets in gender equality, the significant change in parliament is pleasing.
Another Mutare resident, Pamela Chitima, who works for a locally-based non-governmental organization, Peace Building and Development Foundation, says she is grateful that the government is dismantling the old patriarchal system, which relegated women to the kitchen.
Most women believe that some of the laws passed soon after independence like the Legal Age of Majority Act, were difficult to implement as a large number of Zimbabweans still believe in grooming both girls and boys through imparting them with some strong cultural values in various aspects of life before getting married.
They say letting children to be free to marry at the age of 18, even without consulting parents, is hard to implement in Zimbabwe, where the institute of marriage is still revered.
Apart from such laws designed to promote gender equality, some women say their marginalization continues in most institutions as they are mostly relegated to insignificant positions, even if they have the same qualifications as men.
One of the disgruntled women is Mutare resident, Marilyn Nyemba, who is also a student at the Zimbabwe Open University.
Nyemba says when women are appointed on merit, they have to be given the deserving respect that befits their positions.
Perpetual Guwila, who works for the Zimbabwe National Chamber of Commerce in Mutare, agrees, adding that she hopes the government will continue to open more opportunities for women in the public and private sectors as enshrined in Zimbabwe’s constitution.
The majority of women in Manicaland province and beyond believe that a lot is in store for them in Zimbabwe as long as some provisions of the constitution that promote gender equity are implemented in full. They say women should always fight collectively for their empowerment instead of bringing each other down at times for personal benefit.