The Sunday News
Vincent Gono, Features Editor
THE celebration of independence can never be enough without the country taking stock of the milestone achievements it has so far made in moving away from the colonial discourses that sought the socio-political and economic subjugation of the people of Zimbabwe.
It is the excesses of the unforgiving colonial regime that trampled on the rights of the black African natives while perpetuating gender disparities that the sons and daughter of the soil rose against and fought. The liberation struggle freed the country from the painful shackles of the oppressive colonial regime and narratives of inferiority bringing equality and a semblance of fairness in the distribution of national wealth.
Although the process of change was systematic and gradual, one will not have missed the point to say the post-independence government has moved mountains in consolidating the gains of independence and improving the status of women. It has set in motion a number of political and economic initiatives to empower its population and ensure the objectives of the liberation war are met.
In the area of addressing gender discrepancies, one would say although the country is not yet on top of the situation, a lot has been done to address gender issues in politics, economics and in social roles.
And according to Ms Chido Manzini, a social analyst and lecturer at Midlands State University such initiatives have given impetus for women to create their post-independence identity in the political, economic and social spheres, as they disrupt the traditional barriers which had been predominantly set for their male counterparts to surpass them.
She said the pivotal role women played in the liberation struggle meant that they knew what they wanted and it has aided in the creation of women’s identity post conflict from 1980 to present day. She defined identity in the context of women’s position, character, value and respect which they now have among their male counterparts in societies.
“When looking at the identity of women in the Zimbabwean context there is need to give it a holistic approach so as to see their evolvement in all dimensions and fully conceptualise the level of growth post-independence.
“The government of Zimbabwe over the years has been committed to changing the narrative of women post-independence through various legislation and initiatives which have served to positively give women the support they need to navigate various platforms,” said Ms Manzini.
She posited that it is incontestable that women have faced a plethora of challenges that sought to confine them to the periphery of all development discourses as they were previously considered a part of the minority groups.
The country has therefore made efforts towards the fulfillment of the United Nations Sustainable goal number five which states that there should be women’s political empowerment and equal access to leadership positions at all levels.
Minister of Women’s Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Cde Sithembiso Nyoni said there was a lot of movement in the positive in as far as issues of women upliftment were concerned. She said it was only wise that the position of women who were identified as oppressed groups after independence be changed by crafting and implementing policies which would ensure the elimination of such disparities.
One would start by looking at the political growth of women as a catalyst in their attainment of freedom.
Zimbabwean women post-independence aggressively infiltrated the political field taking a number of positions in government. She said at independence it was only two women who held important political position who are Cde Joice Mujuru who was Minister of Sports, Youths and Recreation and Cde Victoria Chitepo who was deputy minister of Education and Culture.
The quota system introduced by the Government has seen present day women occupying 41% of the seats in parliament and therefore having a say, although limited in the passing of legislation. Minister Nyoni said they were doing their best to conscientize unliberated female counterparts who still hold the skewed traditional norms and cultural beliefs that relegate women to the kitchen and who see no need to support other women.
She said there was a deliberate effort by government to encourage women to participate in politics through magnifying the importance of gender equality to bring about a paradigm shift in mentality embedded by the cultural norms.
She added that it was gratifying to note that women were now occupying every other profession without hindrance saying it was unfortunate that the country recently lost a female army helicopter pilot to an accident.
“The government has tried to create a conducive environment so that women assume their rightful positions in the country’s development matrix strategically equal to their male counterparts. And I am happy we are gradually getting there. They are excelling in education and choosing career paths that were traditionally male dominated.
“We now have engineers, miners, professors, doctors and pilots. We are not yet at 50:50 but we have made several strides towards attaining that. We have big women in the corporate sector and in the education sector as well. It’s encouraging I would say,” said Minister Nyoni.
She said the Gender Commission was also working to ensure that gender issues in the country’s constitution were realized such as the implementation of the Act that talks about the 30 percent women representation in local authorities.
Economically, the passing of the legislative pieces such as the Equal Pay Regulation of (1980) saw women attaining economic freedom as they were now rewarded equivalent to their male counterparts which was not the norm before independence.
This therefore meant women could also excel in the workplace as the Labour Act (Chapter 28:01) gave women the instrument to shatter the glass ceiling. The Labour Act has been a key weapon in the emancipation and protection of women rights in the workplace as it has ensured the transparency of recruitment and development of women in the work context against discrimination.
The minister also said women were significantly affected when it came to inheritance as they had no entitlement once their spouse or father died as it was only subject to the male child or relatives of the deceased.
“This is no longer the case as the government has made strides through inheritance laws that protect property from being taken by the man’s relatives in the event that he dies and leaves behind a widow and children. Efforts have also been made to give daughters the capacity to inherit their father’s property and women to qualify as guardians and be able to administer their deceased spouse’s estates.
We have also seen women owning land in their personal capacity which was not the case. By so doing they now own the means of production which is an economic tool for their upliftment,” she said.
The government has also given impetus to the importance of educating the girl child. The country, Minister Nyoni said was however faced with an elephant in the room in the form of challenges affecting women ranging from domestic violence, child marriages and poverty.
Ms Manzini echoed the same sentiments and submitted that although the Government has put in place the Domestic Violence Act (Chapter 5:16) the truth of the matter was that there were still women succumbing to violence due to the financial dependency they have to their husbands. This therefore, she said, leads to women not reporting cases and over and above that the traditional setup also forces women to stay in abusive marriages in the name of submissiveness.
“Change in the social identity of women in Zimbabwe has come a long way and still has more strides to take as the grassroots need to be shaken out of the archaic way of thinking and embrace that empowerment of women as the way to go in turning around the narrative of poverty,” said Ms Manzini.
She added that despite several legal reforms being instituted to challenge the status quo in order to empower women in Zimbabwe, patriarchal values have not died but have continued to simmer under the surface waiting for an opportunity to re-emerge.
It is therefore, imperative that women continue to break the barriers which were set and create the new normal where the identity of the girl child is not questioned as it will be represented in all spheres of society and the nation at large as Zimbabwe continue to celebrate its independence.