Women working together in Zimbabwe - A Coalition of Hope

Mike Clulow | Oct 31, 2017

Members of the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe gather at a meeting


The women of Zimbabwe face many challenges.
In 1979, the Lancaster House agreement saw the end of white minority rule in what was then called Rhodesia, but gender-based discrimination was not addressed and women were sidelined from the talks. The Zimbabwean constitution of 1980 even upheld sex discrimination on the grounds of culture and traditional practices, contributing to the persistence of harmful practices such as virginity testing, marriage by abduction and child marriage, as well as high rates of violence against women.  

Women’s rights organisations and activists have worked tirelessly to overcome these and other challenges, and Womankind is proud to have supported them since we were founded in 1989. We are now intensifying our work with the Zimbabwean women’s movement, supporting the strengthening of women’s collective action to claim their rights, including their full participation in the political process.


Women working together

One of Womankind’s longstanding partners in Zimbabwe is WCoZ, the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe. WCoZ is a key space for collective action and empowerment of Zimbabwean women’s rights organisations and activists. Since its creation nearly 20 years ago, the coalition has steadily grown, now bringing together 116 member organisations and 10,000 women right’s activists from all areas of the country. Womankind has supported WCoZ directly and through our partners, most of which are members of the coalition, several of them coordinating areas of joint action.

WCoZ members work together through provincial chapters and thematic clusters based on their areas of expertise and passion. The clusters cover a wide range of work and the members implement programmes, advocacy and campaigning at local, provincial and national level.


New laws and a new constitution

Work to promote political and legal change is a central element of the coalition’s action. For example, WCoZ was a driving force behind approval of the 2006 Domestic Violence Bill. Members produced and distributed educational materials to raise public awareness and worked closely with cross-party women MPs, who pushed within parliament for the bill to be passed.

A major victory for WCoZ and the whole women’s movement was the elimination of legally-sanctioned sex discrimination through the development and approval of the new constitution in 2013. WCoZ members raised women’s awareness about the constitutional process and promoted their equal and effective participation in its development. Work with women parliamentarians increased and strengthened their participation and led to recognition of WCoZ as a key stakeholder by the Constitution Parliamentary Select Committee. WCoZ also effectively lobbied for strong representation of women in the outreach teams that conducted public consultations. Through these and other actions, the women’s rights movement was able to secure the inclusion of the great majority of its demands in the new constitution.

However these changes in legislation are not enough by themselves. As WCoZ National Coordinator Sally Dura observes:

“The challenge over the years has been lack of full implementation of the commitments, allocating adequate resources and political will to ensure a conducive socio economic and political environment in which women and girls can enjoy and assert their rights.”

Although article 17 of the new constitution makes clear that it is the government’s responsibility to promote full gender balance, it has still been slow to prioritise the creation of laws that promote gender equality. Political parties have also failed to support women’s participation in politics and decision making while the media has continued to spread negative portrayals of women politicians. According to Dura:

“women continue to be marginalised in politics, experience political violence and have limited access to tools, skills and information for informed participation”


The opportunity of new elections

General elections are expected in 2018, providing an important opportunity to push for the fulfilment of the promises contained in the new constitution. Womankind is supporting WCoZ as it seeks to ensure that women are able to fully exercise their rights as voters, candidates and election workers. In particular, women can use the elections to influence the political parties’ positions on women’s issues; in Dura’s words:

“Elections also create an opportunity for women to be positioned for inclusion in governance processes as many political actors will be reaching out to the women electorate.”

WCoZ members and its allies are working together to shape a platform and a women’s manifesto for collective advocacy and action. They commissioned a thorough feminist analysis of the election framework and context, and held a high level women’s conference, that increased understanding of the opportunities and obstacles for women, identified actions to take and provided important recommendations for key actors, such as the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission. 132 women participated in the conference, agreeing on a series of demands targeting the national gender, electoral, human rights, and peace and reconciliation commissions, as well as the National Assembly and the Registrar General. Issues participants highlighted include prevention and monitoring of political violence and intimidation, means to facilitate voter registration, and actions to ensure 50% of national assembly and local government members are women.

As the electoral process continues, WCoZ will lobby and campaign around those demands. They will also take many forms of direct action including monitoring and reporting politically-motivated harassment and violence against women, encouraging women to register to vote, supporting campaigning by women candidates, and challenging and countering negative coverage by the press.

In Zimbabwe, as elsewhere, the women’s movement has led the way in claiming and establishing women’s rights. WCoZ has proven to be an effective space for women’s rights organisations and activists to join together and promote those rights. Womankind is proud to partner with them during the elections and to support the strengthening of WCoZ itself so that it can continue to play its role in the Zimbabwean women’s movement.

 


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