The Constitutional Reform Process continues in Zimbabwe. Working at IDASA has allowed me the unique opportunity of continuing to ensure that women have their voice heard in the Constitution even though I am living and working in South Africa. IDASA recently supported The Feminist Institute of Southern Africa (FISA) in the popularisation of a gender analysis of the COPAC Draft of the Constitution. As a young woman, it continues to be my passion that women are equipped with information that enables them to make decisions that are in their best interests. In being part of this process, I was allowed the opportunity to again be in a space where women are free to share, interact and learn. This continues to be my passion. Of the things I learnt in the process for me there are a few that I would like to share.
Women can and must continue to create alternative spaces in which to facilitate their empowerment and networking. It is in this space that women are able to share information, learn and form their own opinions. Opinions that do not have to be uniform, but those that any woman can take home and use to inform her own choices in her specific context.
I attended two workshops, one in Harare and the other in Bulawayo. Women articulated their desire to be heard in the Constitution making process for reasons ranging from a desire to protect the rights of women in the workplace, to shaping the future for the girl child. This Constitution Making Process is ultimately a political process and has its flaws. However it can be leveraged to ensure progress in terms of women’s emancipation and equality.
The current COPAC draft, unlike the Lancaster House Constitution has made a big improvement in setting out rights for women. As a whole the draft finally recognises women as equal citizens in Zimbabwean. It recognizes their role in the liberation struggle and more importantly the role that women play in raising families.
Although it is not traditionally seen as advancing women’s access to rights, the recognition of indigenous languages is important. This will facilitate women’s access not only to the Constitution but to all instruments of law. Women will be able to read and communicate in a language that they understand, in formal settings. They will therefore be aware of what their rights are and therefore be in a position to begin to claim them.
There are challenges that still remain. The protection of culture, while important, is problematic for the advancement of gender equality. Equality is currently subjected to cultural law in Zimbabwe. There are many cultural practises that result in women being subjected to abusive practises and that put stumbling blocks in the way of women’s attainment of basic rights. These rights include the rights to choose (in regards to marriage), access to education, access to health care and freedom from intimidation and violence. This will continue to be a challenge for the women of Zimbabwe even with the COPAC draft constitution.
I continue to learn from women from all walks of life, women who have a passion for the improvement of the lives of other women. While the draft Constitution provides for a framework in which we can achieve more in the journey towards gender equality, it is not enough. Women have to continue to challenge the status quo, and fight for representation and space to effectively participate. It is important that women continue to claim their rights and fight for their implementation. Women must and will continue to take what is theirs.
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