'New constitution a game changer'

HARARE - Those who love rock will surely remember the Irish band — The Fat Lady Sings — a band fronted by songwriter and singer Nick Kelly.

But students of English language are quite familiar with the quote “It ain’t over till the fat lady sings”, a colloquial phrase meaning nothing is cast in stone, the future can always be changed.

This has a true meaning to Zimbabwean women whose future is set for a sea change following gigantic steps taken during the constitution-making process.

As the draft constitution sailed in the Senate Tuesday, it became clear that Zimbabwe will have a new constitution, condemning to the archives the Lancaster House charter which has been in existence since independence.

The draft constitution now awaits President Robert Mugabe’s signature to become law.

This week deputy minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development — Jessie Fungai Majome — was purring over the document which she said is a game changer for Zimbabwean women.

Their coronation is here!

“The key stride and key achievement is the development and the adoption of a constitution that guarantees equality for men and women. Effectively it eradicates discrimination against women,” Majome told the Daily News.

“It entrenches a bar to discrimination which is a state of affairs that is totally opposite to the one that prevailed before; the four years of the coalition government and even from before since time immemorial for Zimbabwean women.

“This draft not only guarantees equality for women and men but also specifically addresses girls as a constitutional entity. It has a provision that entrench the rights of children. It requires there shall be no discrimination between boys and girls in educational opportunities, for example.”

This is a cause for celebration, said Majome, as comparisons were being made to the yesteryear laws which influenced and shaped the lives of women from a tender age.

One of the contentious and emotive issues raised by feminine and pro-democracy groups has been the absence of empowerment and protection of women and girl-child in the constitution.

Majome said the socio, political and economic rights which have been recognised in the new constitution are key towards women development.

And as Zimbabwe hurtles towards watershed elections whose dates are yet to be announced and agreed on by the three political parties in the inclusive government, Majome said the government had made strides in realising gender parity between men and women.

“If there is a clearly marked benefit for women, it is the whole political prospects and status of women.

I am happy to say that in the tenure of this government, the 7th Parliament ratified the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development that has about 22 critical benchmarks that are time-sensitive that must be achieved all by the year 2015.

“And one of them which is the most talked about is Article 12 which requires that by the year 2015 there must be at least 50 percent women in decision-making positions. I am happy to say that in the tenure of this transitional coalition government, Zimbabwe has committed itself to ensuring that we have that 50 percent representation up from the 30 percent that was there before,” said the affable minister, a respected lawyer who once served as deputy Justice minister.

“Even in the draft constitution, there is a 50 percent quota for women in decision-making, in the national objective as well as mechanisms that are in the body of the constitution that have adopted an innovation that of introducing an electoral system that makes it easier to attain that representation is now also there,” said Majome.

Zimbabwe is poorly ranked amongst global countries on women in Parliament index where it is pegged at 15 percent although figures here say it is 17,8 percent.

Rwanda has the highest number of women in Parliament and is ranked first because of the commanding 56 percent.

Lesotho leads on the number of women in local government which stands at 58 percent.

“I am happy with the draft constitution because it takes a very robust step in carving out that area. I would have been happier if we had just split our Parliament in the middle. The reality is that there is tremendous amount of resistance to the ascendancy of women into decision-making and equal level.

“It’s a struggle. Men are presently occupying women places. They have encroached and are on the other side and need to now vacate those places and leave them to women because they have always belonged to women.

“But it’s a long entrenched state of affairs and there is resistance. Women are leading in Zimbabwe but they have not been leading at a higher level,” Majome told the Daily News.

“We have to really shake things up in political parties to get parties to start now to set aside seats for women. We need to really work and change the political culture to ensure that women in political parties achieve an equal higher status so that they don’t remain at the peripheries and hold lower positions.”

To that end, she urged her colleagues to continue pushing changes that would cushion women against lack of resources especially those eyeing political office.

The start would be to broaden the Political Parties Finance Act (PPFA) to include funding for women with larger representation in Parliament.

At present, the PPFA recognises and funds political parties who are represented in Parliament on a scale determined by representation.

Majome paid tribute to the inclusive government for bringing to an end politically-motivated violence against women.

“The environmental and circumstantial effect of this coalition government, in terms of the security of women, it is no secret that in 2008 the political violence that gripped Zimbabwe took a very dark and really disproportionate toll on women.

“There were women who were raped. There are no less than 200 women who were raped in the 2008 political violence. The very existence of this government has brought what I may call a ceasefire.

“This government has brought an improvement in the personal security of women. It has become a practical measure for ending violence and introducing a climate of political stability,” noted the Harare West MP.

She lauded government for improving the healthcare of men and women but expressed concern at the increasing maternal mortality rate.

“I continue to be horrified by the high levels of mortality rate. I gather there is a removal of fees for maternal key services in the rural areas. Efforts are being made to realise that also in the urban areas. This whole debate about free maternity and the shocking levels of maternal mortality, prompt me to ask this question: where are the men of Zimbabwe in all this?

“When a woman gets pregnant, she doesn’t get pregnant by herself. I am really disturbed by the deadly silence of the men of our country. Where are the men and what is happening to them?

About 10 women die every day of pregnancy-related complications in Zimbabwe, three times higher than the global average, according current United Nations statistics.

The maternal mortality rate is the number of pregnancy-related mothers’ deaths per 100 000 live births or the number of women who die due to childbearing, pregnancy or within 42 days of delivery or termination of pregnancy in one year.

According to the Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey (ZDHS), 960 deaths are recorded for every 100 000 live births.

While globally there has been a 34 percent decline in the maternal mortality ratio from 1990 to 2008, Zimbabwe has experienced an increase from 283 deaths per 100 000 in 1994 to 960 in 2010-2011, according to the statistics.

The ZDHS noted that infant mortality is now 57 deaths per 1 000 live births and under five years mortality is 84 deaths per 1 000 live births, meaning one in 12 children die before his or her fifth birthday.

Majome, while expressing concern at the maternal mortality rate, was confident that overall, the gains brought by the new constitution during the lifespan of the inclusive government, would not be reversed.

“The chances are very slim. It’s very hard to amend a constitution. Zanu PF has been able to do it over the years because it was almost controlling Parliament.

“You need a two-thirds majority to amend a constitution. We are now a totally different political terrain from what we were and we are continuing. We were a de-facto one party State for a long time and that’s why Zanu PF was able to amend the constitution many times,” said Majome.

“But now we have a reality of political plurality. In my view it’s not likely to vanish or disappear. We have made very strong political contestations either side. In addition to the two thirds majority, we have also taken measures in the draft constitution.”

The measures demand that before an amendment is made, an outreach would have to be made and in some instances, a referendum would be made to determine the amendment, said Majome.

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