ZIMBABWE: Zimbabwe Women Make Themselves Heard on Draft Constitution

Monday, November 8, 2010
Southern Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

A parliamentary select committee has begun compiling comments on a new constitution, gathered at 4,000 meetings held across Zimbabwe over the past three months. Gender activists are confident that women's views have been expressed; it will be up to the eventual drafters of the new constitution to ensure they are reflected.

Over 700,000 people attended public meetings on Zimbabwe's draft constitution. The creation of a new supreme law of the land is part of the Sep. 15 2008 Global Political Agreement (GPA), signed by President Robert Mugabe's Zimbabwe African National Union-Patriotic Front party and the two Movement for Democratic Change formations led by Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai and his Arthur Mutambara.

The accord followed a mass rejection of a draft constitution in 2000, before fierce farm invasions and political violence stemming from what have widely been described as flawed elections -- developments that caved-in the country's economic and legal structures.

The GPA makes special reference to women in Article IV on the constitution, noting that the planned law should deepen national "democratic values and principles and the protection of the equality of all citizens, particularly the enhancement of full citizenship and equality of women."

Raising women's voices

Sylvia Chirawu, the National Coordinator of Women and Law in Southern Africa, an NGO, says her organisation has since last year been involved in almost all stakeholder meetings and discussed a number of issues women want included in the supreme law, among them socio-economic rights.

"The right to shelter, the right to health, the right to land, and also the issue of customary law that we don't want to be subjected to anymore," says Chirawu.

She says lobby groups have, through the Women's Coalition, devised the Women's Charter in which they articulate all the concerns female citizens would like to see in the constitution: "From that point of view, there is some form of consensus ."

Chirawu feels some of the issues discussed are too technical for the majority of the women to understand."For instance, how do you break down the preamble for an ordinary woman? It's now up to the drafters to take into account all things that were said and hopefully come out with a document that reflects the wishes of everyone."

The Minister of Regional Integration and International Cooperation – the only woman to take part in the inter-party negotiations that led to the GPA – says there has generally been support for the idea that women needed to be protected by the country's highest law.

Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga says while the ongoing public consultations have remained a politically-led process, political groups have been able to convey the common feelings of female members of society.

"If reports coming in [from different regions of the country] are anything to go by, then the major concerns of women have been captured in the planned draft document," she told IPS.


However, Misihairabwi-Mushonga accuses the various women's lobby groups in the country of failing to present a common message: "They spent too much time trying to fight for recognition, like political parties, instead of educating communities on what is going on and capturing public views on the process."

But Jenni Williams, leader of Women of Zimbabwe Arise, WOZA, says her organisation has carried out "a lot of parallel programmes" to make women aware of the ongoing exercise and the need for them to take part.

A September report by the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee, COPAC, says women slightly outnumbered men at its outreach meetings, which started on Jun. 23.

But on the streets of Harare, some members of the public seemed disinterested in the whole process, seeing it as a matter for politicians.

"I hope they get over it without the violence we saw during the [2000] referendum," said Eniah Benyura who hails from the southern district of Zvishavane. "Many innocent people were killed that time… We don't mind what they come up with, as long as it helps the country return to normalcy."