This blog, cross-posted from Oxfam's website, hopes that Zimbabwean women will vote 'Yes' in the referendum on the new constitution.
Women in Zimbabwe are often excluded from social, economic, and political processes due to patriarchal attitudes and practices (especially the exercise of customary laws), as well as by the general political climate of intimidation and violence. As a result, they are seriously underrepresented in local and national government structures: only 7 out of 33 ministers are women, and only 12 women are cabinet, deputy or provincial ministers out of a total of 69.
Zimbabwe's constitution is currently being reviewed part of the Global Political Agreement (GPA) - a mechanism to try and bring together the three major political parties into a Government of National Unity following the violent elections in 2008. The current government will be dissolved after the new constitution is finalised, paving the way for elections and a new government in October 2013.
Zimbabwean women have not passively accepted attempts to sideline them from political spaces.
Zimbabwean women have not passively accepted attempts to sideline them from political spaces. Even before the constitutional process, there was already a women's movement challenging gender inequality, and many individuals and groups began to advocate for women's rights to be recognised in drafting the new constitution. The groups realised, however, that their efforts would be stronger and more effective if they worked together and the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe (the umbrella for women's organizations in Zimbabwe and an Oxfam partner), convened a meeting to discuss how they could work together. This led to the creation of the influential 'Group of 20' - also known as the G20.
The Group of 20 is comprised of civil society representatives, academics, and representatives of the Women's Parliamentary Caucus and the Constitution Management Committee of Parliament (COPAC) - all elected for the particular skills and experience they could bring to realising the aims of the women's movement. This diverse group of twenty organisations, from across the political spectrum, is united by the principle that, regardless of political, religion or social background, the women of Zimbabwe should be able to access their rights and to participate in all national processes.
The Group of 20 has become a working space for women to discuss, mobilise, and organise action around the new constitution, both developing policy and strategy, and advocating for specific measures. It also provides a crucial link and feedback mechanism between different women's groups and those drafting the new constitution - as well as donors, political parties, MPs and other civil society actors. Oxfam in Zimbabwe has provided strategic, technical, and financial support to the development of the group.
The G20 initially conducted a gender audit of the draft constitution to assess the impact on women of all proposed measures and amendments. And it successfully mobilised a wide range of women, from grassroots organisations to national bodies, to advocate around its own 'manifesto' for the constitution. The manifesto makes significant demands - calling for the prohibition of unfair discrimination, the recognition of women as equal citizens, a Bill of Rights to supersede the customary law, and the protection of women from all forms of violence. The Group of 20 also advised on gender-appropriate language for the wording of the constitution.
The G20's advocacy has proved extremely successful and 75% of their demands are reflected in the draft constitution. Sadly, there are still challenges in finalising the constitution, with sticky issues still to be resolved among the political parties. But it is the hope of Zimbabwean women that these issues will be ironed out and Zimbabwe will start on a new page - with a new constitution which promotes gender equality.
The constitution will now go to a referendum and the G20 is calling on women in Zimbabwe to vote YES to what is a genuinely positive development. With support from Oxfam, the group are also running an education campaign to enable women to make an informed vote, based on the implications of the constitution for women - rather than along political party lines as has happened in previous elections.
The inclusion of many of the Group's demands in the constitution marks a real step forward for gender equity and women's rights in Zimbabwe. Women from across society have come together to challenge power-holders and make those drafting the constitution listen.
We hope women in Zimbabwe will vote YES.