Issue of focus: In June 2019 , the Zimbabwean government released a draft Marriage Bill which has since taken the lime light and attention of citizens due its controversial provisions. This Marriages Bill, 2017, repeals and replaces the current Customary Marriages Act [Chapter 5:07] and the Marriage Act [Chapter 5:11]. There will be one Act of Parliament governing marriages in Zimbabwe and the new Act will also update the law in line with the Constitution. If successfully amended the bill will also address comments made by the CEDAW Committee in February 2012, were specific points relating to the issue of marriages in Zimbabwe were made. The CEDAW Committee recommended that the state amend, with immediate effect, any and all laws and regulations that discriminate against women in matters relating to their family, marriage and divorce, and to ensure that women are treated fairly and justly when marital property is divided after divorce, whether they contributed with money or not to the purchase of that property. Since 2000, women’s groups have been lobbying for marriage law reforms.
Women occupy positions of inequality within their marriages in both customary and civil marriages. Such inequalities relate to women’s authority regarding; we noted ,The reality on the ground is that most citizens do not know the law and do not know about the existence of this option to object to the issuance of a marriage license. Further, those who do know may fail to get the requisite information about who will solemnize the marriage for numerous reasons including corruption and bureaucratic hurdles in accessing certain information. The challenges that the marriage system poses to parties within the marriages usually manifest when relationships begin to break down. The law does not adequately and equitably protect all women in all marriages upon divorce, separation, or dissolution of a marriage through the death of a spouse.
One of the biggest challenges in pushing for any legal reforms is always the lack of political will. Where political will lies, reforms are swift. For instance, the amendments to the Constitution to allow for compulsory acquisition of land went through Parliament swiftly, because at the time the issue of land reform was a priority for politicians, and hence the political will to see those amendments go through was high. If an issue appears not to be a priority to lawmakers, then they will drag their feet in seeing it through. The delays can arguably be attributed to the lack of sensitivity in the makeup of both the cabinet (which proposes laws) and parliament (which debates and passes laws). The process of law reform or formulation is not systematic, but rather ad hoc and haphazard. Parliament cannot propose laws (except through private members’ bills), but these are extremely rare. Cabinet has the responsibility to propose laws informed by their needs assessment on any particular subject. This is why the Attorney General in 2004 prepared and presented a White Paper before Cabinet and Parliament on the issue of marriages. From those discussions, the drafters should have drafted the proposed amendments to the existing laws, which amendments would then have gone through the numerous procedures of Parliament including the first, second, and third reading up to the point when the Draft would have been presented to the President for his signature and assent.
It is therefore important that Women Organisations – play a midwifery role to this process to agitate for political will , generate public interest and debate , correct messaging based on gains made through alignment of laws to the Constitution amongst other issues.
WLSA is to play midwifery role to the recently gazetted Marriages bill. There is urgent need to raise awareness of the bill before Parliament consultations which is likely to happen in 14 days . There is need to strengthen the capacity of relevant Parliamentary Committees on the bill and importance to reform Marriage laws , to get buy in from different stakeholders such as church groups and traditional leaders. There is need for sustained advocacy at different levels to ensure this bill is not aborted prematurely . Civic education and correcting the messaging from dissenting voices is critical to support advocacy for this bill to go through . The organisations will continue to provide technical expertise and joint effort to implement these various interventions at different levels.