Gender inequality was identified by We Effect as one of the main causes of poverty and injustice in the world. For this reason, gender equality is one of We Effect’s four priority areas working towards a world free from poverty and injustice. As a result, the Gender Equality Programme (GEP) was established in Southern Africa in 2013 on the basis of the gender policy to mainstream gender in mixed partner organisations and work with women’s rights organisations in the four Southern African countries of We Effect operation. GEP objective is to ‘empower partner organisations to contribute towards gender equality and the fulfilment of women’s rights in Southern Africa.’ The target group being rural and urban population with high poverty levels. Impoverished women, principally, are supported, but the programme also works with mixed-membership organisations to eliminate the causes of gender inequality. The main strategies aim at overcoming some of the significant causes for this inequality. Specific programme clusters (focus areas of work) are organisational development, lobby and advocacy, economic empowerment of women and training as well as HIV and environment/climate change mainstreaming.
WLSA Zimbabwe is implementing the GEP programme in Zimbabwe. WLSA organizes, coordinates and supports evidence based interventions to promote and protect women and girl’s rights through legal and policy reform, and changes to discriminatory socio-cultural practices. The direct target group (primary beneficiaries) for WLSA are marginalized women and girls in rural, peri-urban and urban areas. Secondary beneficiaries include men, boys, law and policy makers, journalists/media, Community leaders/members, civil society and the public in general and communities at large. WLSA aims to contribute to gender equality and fulfilment of women’s rights through its vision of ‘a society where justice is equitably accessed, claimed and enjoyed by women and girls in all spheres of life’.
Gender equality and the fulfilment of women’s rights situation in Zimbabwe
Poverty has been on the increase in Zimbabwe despite the country being well endowed with resources. Since the 1990s, the country has performed poorly on most human development and welfare indicators and indices suggesting declining well-being and life opportunities for the population. Between 1990 and 2010, Zimbabwe’s Human Development Index (HDI) score dropped by 15% from 0.425 to 0.364, while the sub-Saharan average score rose over the same period by 30% from 0.347 to 0.453. In 2010 for instance, Zimbabwe’s HDI was ranked lowest amongst 169 countries surveyed, while for 2011, the country was ranked 173 out of 187 countries. Among the most vulnerable and poverty affected are women. There is gender inequality that disadvantages women in most spheres of life.
Zimbabwe is party to international and regional instruments for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. The country faces challenges of limited coordination of the national gender management system, inadequate implementation of the national gender policy, partial domestication of international and regional instruments, low participation of women in politics and decision making positions, limited access productive resources, and gender based violence. Women’s representation in the Lower and Upper House currently stands at 14 and 33 percent respectively lower than the MDGs and the SADC Gender and Development Protocol benchmarks.
Despite some significant progress made in the area of policy and legislation reform, the legal, socio – economic and political status of women remains relatively low. In the 1998 Human Development Report, Zimbabwe was described as a “highly unequal society”, which is a reflection of the general low status of women in terms of access, control, ownership of economic resources and positions in decision making processes. Most women do not exercise the rights that laws specifically guarantee them, among other factors due to ignorance of the law, its administration, economic hardships that make it difficult to pursue their legal rights, cumbersome court procedures, customary laws and fear of breaking valued relations with family kin. Women’s representation in key decision making positions in both the public and private sector, in spite of recent improvements, still remains relatively low. Political parties have adopted a quota system which has seen an increase in women representation in politics though this is still below the 30% quota set by the AU and SADC and the 50/50 gender parity in the SADC Protocol on Gender. In the 2005 parliament there were 24 women out of a total of 150 members. At the initiation of the inclusive government in 2009 women representation in Cabinet increased from 13% to 20%. This includes the female Vice President, President of Senate and Deputy Prime Minister. Women also have limited control over their sexual and reproductive health. Due to the poor economic base women are exposed to risky behaviour, which increases their vulnerability to GBV and HIV / AIDS. Of the 1.2 million living with HIV, 62% are women (2009 HIV Estimates).
The Constitution of Zimbabwe has gender equality as one of its founding values. The constitution increased women’s participation in decision making with 60 seats for parliamentarians and 60 seats for senators reserved for women elected through proportional representation. The Gender Commission is responsible for promoting gender equality in all spheres of life. Its mandate included; the investigation of possible gender rights violations, receiving and considering gender-based complaints from the public, conducting research on gender and social justice issues, recommending changes to discriminatory laws and practices, and proposing affirmative action programmes.
The country faces challenges of limited coordination of the national gender management system, inadequate implementation of the national gender policy, partial domestication of international and regional instruments, low participation of women in politics and decision making positions, limited access to productive resources, and gender based violence.
 United Nations Development Program, Human Index Reports.The HDI is a comparative measure of life expectancy, literacy, education, and standards of living of a country. The HDI formula result is a number from 0 to 1 with 1 being the best outcome possible.
Women’s access to justice
Access to justice means that one has a right to have their claims heard, understood and fairly decided (Kelvin Nyamudeza; 2014). Access to justice is enshrined in the Constitution of Zimbabwe. Legal Aid Act in Zimbabwe provided for the creation of a National Legal Aid Directorate that is mandated to provide legal aid assistance. The Legal Aid assistance is limited and women cannot access representation in the courts due to lack of resources and in most cases they are not represented. The majority of women cannot afford fees charged by private practitioners. Research has shown that the least experienced lawyers charge US$60 an hour. Other impediments to justice are attitude of the court officials, the geographical location of the courts and the language used in the courts.
Women’s access, control and ownership of land in Zimbabwe is predominantly male owned with 18% under small scale or A1 model and 12% under Commercial scale or A2 model. Cultural and economic factors deprive women from owning land. For those with land also face difficulties in accessing agricultural inputs (Presidential Lands Review Committee Report).
Rights and participation
Zimbabwe signed and ratified international and regional instruments that protect women’s rights among them included the Protocol of the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Southern African Development Community Gender and Development Protocol. The Government of Zimbabwe enshrined Declaration of Rights as promulgated in the Constitution of Zimbabwe to include socioeconomic and cultural rights. The constitution guaranteed and increased women’s participation in public life and reserved 60 seats for women who will be elected through a system of Proportional Representation in the National Assembly and 60 in the Senate. According to Inter parliamentary Union (2014), 31, 84% women were elected as Members of National Assembly and 16% as local authorities.