Zimbabwe at 33: reflections on gender issues and solutions for the future PART 1
As Zimbabwe celebrated 33 years of independence I took time to reflect on how things have changed or not changed since 1980. The reflections are based on people I have met and shared stories with and my own observations as a young woman in this country. One thing that I can safely say is that though things are still difficult a lot has changed.
It is gender based violence that seems to have eluded all mechanisms to stop it. Cases are increasing and especially in the rural areas. What is worrying is the reluctance of victims to report. Even educated women are victims and do not report the cases. There is still stigma associated with victims. Lack of empowerment and economic stability means that a woman can’t afford to have her husband in jail so she just keeps quiet.
Women can now open bank accounts without their husband’s permission. I go to this issue and many times because as a young girl I will always remember my aunt crying because she wanted to open a personal bank account. It has given some women financial independence whilst for some it has meant the end of relationships, however the pros outweigh the cons as many women have managed to be part of financial decision making processes and have send their girl children to school.
Inheritance was always a sore subject as relatives of the male spouse have grabbed property as they view it as theirs. Now women can own resources and are protected by law from greedy relatives. However, many times by the time women turn to the law their inheritance would have been long squandered and sometimes they fail to recover anything. My uncle passed away years ago and his brother took everything living nothing for the children who were all minors. By the time the children went to the police the uncle was in debts after a few months of bliss. Such cruelty is unexplainable as the children were left with nothing. The reaction of the whole family was absurd: he was their father and they could not report him to the police. Family protected him yet he did not spare a single thought while plundering their inheritance.
Another story that touched my heart was of polygamy and its implications on shared resources. A 70 year old woman was given a peace order to protect her from her husband of over 50 year. After working for years the man brought home a second wife who claimed everything as hers. She had wed the old man at court whilst the 1st wife had married him traditionally. Unfortunately, the law recognized the court marriage and left this woman who had great grandchildren homeless. Women lawyers association had to come in and she won the case but had to share her assets. Many women are thrown out of their matrimonial homes when husband gets another wife and the children also suffer.
The new constitution has caused a lot of noise with many voting yes especially women who have been empowered in terms of parliamentary sits and guardianship of children. This is a welcome change as women were being taken as minors who could not get a birth certificate for their children. Many children were unable to go to school or were given the wrong identity. The father could refuse to go and take a birth certificate and the mother had to look for any male who could help.
Access to decision making positions has improved but men still dominate in decision making positions even though many women have high qualifications. commendably we have a woman vice president.
Many girls go to school but few go beyond primary especially in rural areas. Mainly this because they have to work in the fields and lack of funds and commitment.
Lastly the upcoming elections spell doom as there is fear of violence and sexual assaults for many women. There is need to speak out against violence of any form during this time.
As I look back realise that my own story began 29years ago and I cannot remain quiet. My vision remains as that of equality which requires more women to speak to be heard. Creating platforms that promote indigenous methods whilst empowering women and helping conserve the environment. Using technology to connect, share, speak out and network
to be continued................................................