Women and Law in Southern Africa is implementing a project titled “Using constitutionalism to enhance women’s participation in decision making in Murewa District in Zimbabwe”. The programme is facilitating initiatives to lobby for the implementation of women’s rights and policy provisions of citizen representation in local government together with the implementation of participatory planning and budgeting processes that respond to the expressed needs of women in these communities. Activities being implemented under this programme are focusing on empowering the communities on local government processes, service delivery, their role in gender responsive public accountability monitoring and on ending gender based violence.
The programme’s annual development objectives are
1) to increase the knowledge and social oversight of 949 women and 238 men to claim and
2) demand gender balanced service delivery in Murewa, to increase community awareness of gender responsive laws, GBV preventive and responsive services in selected wards in Murewa and to offer legal aid services.
WLSA through collaboration of its stakeholders in the project, have directly supported 823 people with 580 women and 243 men and equipped them with tools on social accountability and on how to conduct gender sensitive responsive audits and coming up with action plans which they can use to mitigate GBV. The programme through its help desk initiative also managed to increase access to justice for women and youths in Murewa district. Trainings comprised community members, community opinion leaders, key government institutions on the Constitution and social accountability tools which helped to raise awareness on gender responsive social accountability and strengthen institutional capacity for greater accountability. WLSA support to women candidates in the National elections in 2018 offered a unique opportunity to leverage existing relationships and platforms to promote greater dialogue with opinion leaders and government authorities on service delivery social accountability. Efforts were made to mobilize youth activists, rural communities and rural district authorities to engage in public debate about gender responsive service delivery issues. All of these engagements have somewhat contributed to improvements in the use of revenues through strengthening of accountability and anti-corruption mechanisms and most importantly, to the development of a well-informed and citizenry civil society. Through support of this project, the transparency and accountability measures and principles promoted were taken into practiced as we witnessed communities requesting their council development plans.
The information developed and distributed has contributed to improve the debate and effectiveness of Citizens (particularly women in rural communities) participation on local governance. The project supported the establishment of whatsapp groups as and information platforms, which enables active citizens from across the selected wards to report on and monitor GBV related incidents and discuss service delivery related issues. Through a partnership with Bustop TV, a popular social media TV, public debates on local service delivery issues which affect rural communities in Murehwa were profiled through the production of a video skit. This was viewed by 68 000 people on YouTube and 7000 people on Facebook. WLSA have also continued document the experiences of women and challenges in accessing services such as water, health, education amongst others including the responsiveness of political leaders. Such work will form the basis for ongoing influencing in policy development and engagement with decision makers. The project contributed towards promoting civic space and greater visibility of women and women CSO on social accountability processes in national forums.
Rural communities in Murehwa’s selected district have become responsible and hold their elected leaders and government to account. Rural women in the project areas where the project was operational have increased confidence and increasingly articulate their rights and entitlements and taken purposive actions to hold their leaders accountable. This has been realized from individual community focal persons, women leaders, and the communities supported by the project. Local government structures from village to district in these areas have witnessed actions from communities demanding specified rights, a reality which was not a common practice in the past. Such actions have included for example written requests for the RDC budget and plans, monitoring of income and expenditure reports, demands for regular and well attended village and ward level meetings and rightful vying for positions in decision making bodies by marginalized groups, particularly women.
This is how one villager expressed her views:
“ We had no idea that we are allowed to request for information like council budgets and plans .These leaders once elected they become your bosses you cannot ask them anything , they are the ones to tell us what to do .We did not know the Constitution allows us to ask for information . What we did in the past was to be disgruntled and grumble and wait for the next election”.