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I congratulate the President on his election to office by the people of Zimbabwe, I read through his inauguration speech and was filled with much remorse when I recognized that once again women remain the forgotten group.
Whilst there is general reference to inclusivity and embracing diversity the Presidential speech does not mention the word woman or gender equality. This is a common mistake often made that equality means sameness therefore the assumption being all these opportunities that the President refers to shall be enjoyed by all – men and women alike.
In Zimbabwe today, for far too many women, gender equality has remained largely rhetorical normative frameworks that ensure equality for women need to be translated into daily reality in the lives of all women. Mr President, the advancement of Women needs to remain a central part of Zimbabwe’s development plans.
In the decade that Zimbabwe has struggled women have remained the backbone of the economy and society – therefore more effort needs to be made to increase the economic rights of women and girls in rural areas , to increase their part in development strategies .
Achieving social justice and equality in land cannot happen if women are not a central part of the conversations. Women in Zimbabwe still need to acquire land in their own right, with security of tenure. Our legal framework needs to integrate the right to free prior informed consent to ensure rural communities especially women are protected from arbitrary land grabs for large scale investments without compensation.
An agriculture driven economy as referred to in the Presidential speech cannot be achieved without giving careful consideration to the role of women in food production. Extensive research has continuously shown that 60-70% of food production is carried out by women in rural communities, without adequate support items of assets and inputs. As such government needs to take all necessary steps to implement terms of Human Rights instruments, the 2003 Maputo Declaration (otherwise known as the Protocol to the African Commission on Human and Peoples’ Rights (ACHPR) on women’s rights) specifically requires African states to “promote women’s access to and control over productive resources such as land and guarantee their right to property”.
As we endeavour to open up Zimbabwe for” investment led economic recovery” it is important that the government takes measures to improve on the following;
- Promote disclosure of basic information about projects – payments, contracts, environmental impacts, etc. – is a necessary but not sufficient condition for improved management of these valuable resources.
- Citizens, especially women must have basic information about these projects, the revenues they generate and the impacts they produce in order to have a democratic debate on their management and use.
- In addition, governments must allow for freedom of expression and association to allow citizens especially women, CSOs, journalists and others to use information for accountability purposes.
- Adopt policies to wean ourselves off of dependence on extractive commodities and use existing revenues to invest in economic diversification, in sectors where women participate the most.
- To prevent corruption through increased transparency of revenue and expenditure flows.
- Reduce inequalities in taxes and ring fence taxes/revenue from mineral resources towards community development programmes that benefit women such as improving access to water , renewable energy, health sector among other things
Furthermore government should take all measure to implement the Constitutional provisions on gender equality by promoting women to participate at all levels of activity, and should be involved, above all, in decision-making levels. This includes but is not limited to ensuring that the new Cabinet has 50% women .The President needs to promote women’s rights, so they could be “agents of change” for sustained socio-economic development. “Without women’s empowerment and gender equality, Zimbabwe will not be able to achieve the SDG Goals and their full development potential,”
Re-visiting the Story Of ‘Neria’ 25 Years Later
In relation to the inheritance rights of Women And Children In Zimbabwe`
Kufirwa nemurume hanzvadzi (When a husband dies my sister) Zvinoda moyo wekushinga (It calls for a strong willed heart) Usawore moyo ka Neria (Don’t be disheartened Neria) Mwari anewe (God is with you) Oliver Mtukudzi, Neria he film Neria was a well-crafted Zimbabwean film which zoomed in on the inheritance rights of women and children in Zimbabwe.
Being the highest grossing film in Zimbabwean history, it captivated both the local and international audience. It focused on the life of the protagonist Neria, who was a young modern woman whose husband died in a car accident.
Taking advantage of Neria’s grief, her late husband’s older brother Phineas selfishly took everything that Neria and her husband Patrick had worked for. At the end of the film, the audience saw Neria regaining custody of her children and her husband’s property through the assistance of a lawyer. This gave Neria the heroine status that she is still know for today in Zimbabwean film and media. However, it has been 25 years since the film Neria aired on national television but it is still alarming to see the number of widows who are still going through the same fate as the protagonist Neria, but without the happy ending. In many parts of Zimbabwe,women and their children are often excluded from inheriting from their husband’s estates and such property stripping/ property grabbing is driving widows into extreme poverty. The patriarchal nature of some of our Zimbabwean customs is still upholding the belief that a woman does not inherit anything after her husband dies- especially if he dies intestate. This is known to emanate from a history dating as back as the colonial period whereby female oppression was prevalent. Just as there was belief of not educating the female child because she would go off to get married, women were regarded as having no capacity to act as consenting adults who were capable of owning property or even entering into enforceable contracts. Despite the fact that Zimbabwean law has remarkably made a constitutional provision highlighting that women are equal in status with men before the law and further guaranteeing that women and children should be accommodated for in inheritance matters, many women and children are struggling to claim these rights for the following reasons: If it is an unregistered customary marriage, the challenge lies in proving the marriage.
Doing so is difficult as courts can require confirmation from the widow’s in-laws who are the very people who stand to benefit if the marriage is not confirmed. Till date, there is resounding belief that the laws that currently govern marriages and deceased persons estates in Zimbabwe are to the advantage of those in civil marriages (Chapter 5:11) and those in registered customary marriages (Chapter 5:07). Unfortunately, the majority of marriages in Zimbabwe fall under unregistered customary marriages. A significant number of cases which are prevalent in the ruralareas are due to the lack of legal knowledge. Some societies (although no longer the norm) still believe in the inheritance of the widow and the deceased person’s estate (kugarwa nhaka). So many women who fallunder this category are not aware
of the rights that they possess.Those who are successful in warding off intimidation tactics by their in-laws face procedural difficulties as court fees are exorbitant and are deterrence such that some widows would require proceeds from their property to pay for the cost of the proceedings. Others have to travel from afar to resolve issues with the deceased’s estate and with the current prevailing economic climate some choose not to continue with the process. Conclusively, the above issues highlight that there is still a lot of work to do with regard to reforming inheritance laws in Zimbabwe so that widows, despite the type of marriage they are contracted to, are protected from greedy
relatives. The harmonisation of our marriage laws together with those dealing with the administration of the deceased’s estates will surely guarantee a fairy-tale ending to our widows and their children’s plight and will ultimately reflect the purpose and will of the Constitution. Although it has been 25 years since the film Neria aired, we can safely say that there are many Nerias out there who are also waiting for their happy ending and many subscribe to the lyrics of the song Neria by popular artist Oliver Mtukudzi.
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