Progressio has been working on gender in Zimbabwe for several years. To celebrate International Women’s Day, Progressio’s Southern Africa Sub-regional Manager, Fiona Mwashita, talks to us about being a woman in Zimbabwe.

What would you say are the main challenges facing women in Zimbabwe?

Since the first World Conference on Women, held in Mexico, and the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995, the situation for women in Zimbabwe still remains as it was before these conferences. Women still remain marginalised and are still deprived of their human rights. Although the country has very good legal provisions, in practice, Zimbabwe is mainly dominated by patriarchal practices that promote gender inequalities.

Although there are a lot of policy guidelines, implementation and enforcement are still big issues, hence the status of women still remains low in terms of access, control and ownership of productive resources. Most women, because of their limited knowledge of the legal instruments and finances, are not able to access the available legal services. Furthermore, development policies in Zimbabwe, especially the Poverty Reduction Strategy, does not take into account the differences in power relations between men and women.  Comments from Dr. Farkhonda Hassan (Chair of the UN Economic Commission for Africa's Committee on Women and Development) run true in Zimbabwe that 'the majority of African women are still denied employment and have limited opportunities in trade, industry and government’.

In terms of women's representation in key decision making positions, especially in politics, Zimbabwe has not yet managed to reach the 30 per cent quota from the African Union (AU) and the 50/50 target from the Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol. In the 2013, in Government, only 20 per cent of the MPs were women.

In terms of women's access and control over their sexual relations and resources, we are still far below the mark and this is reflected in the rates of HIV prevalence among pregnant women in Zimbabwe.

Is poverty gendered? By this we mean, do women and men experience poverty in the same way or differently in Zimbabwe?

Poverty in Zimbabwe has a woman's face because women do not have access and control over productive, economic and social resources, such as land, income, credit facilities, health and education. In most cases women are denied access to inheritance due to cultural practices which prevail over legal practices in the country.

Compounding the situation in the country are high HIV prevalence rates among women and pregnant women, which is destroying their health and eroding the development gains that women had made, resulting in poverty continuing to wear a woman's face. Women continue to be the champions of the informal traders and the small to medium enterprises, as they do not have access to credit, since most of them do not own property that could be used as collateral when borrowing funds. 

If you compare your generation with that of a girl today in Zimbabwe, have you noticed any changes when it comes to women’s rights or gender equality? If so, which and what has caused this change? 

Definitely, there are glaring differences. When I was growing up, I was not aware of my rights as a child, especially those enshrined in the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, as well as the African Charter on the Rights and Responsibilities of Children. There are many child rights organisations that are now raising awareness among children on their rights these days. In addition, the Government also promotes children's rights.

How would you rate women’s representation in government and in other key institutions, such as the judiciary, academia or the media?

In Zimbabwe, the Constitution guarantees that at least 60 MPs in Parliament are women by ensuring that proportionally each political party appoints women parliamentarians to make up the 60. Although this has its own challenges regarding independence of the appointed MPs, there is therefore a guaranteed number of women in Parliament.

However, the country has not yet managed to reach the AU quote of 30 per cent and the SADC target of 50/50 representation of women in politics and decision making positions.

How do you define women empowerment? 

Although empowerment is complex, you can look at it from an economic, political and social perspective. Basically, empowerment of women relates to enabling women to be able to have access and control over their economic, social and political activities. For example women's economic empowerment means they will be able to make informed decisions and have control over their assets, productive resources and finances, etc. Basically, empowerment means women's practical and strategic needs are fulfilled.

In your view, what has been achieved since the Fourth World Conference on Women, including the Beijing Platform for Action in 1995?

Zimbabwe has managed to put into place enabling legal instruments that are gender sensitive. The country is a signatory to many regional and international conventions and treaties that promote gender equality and women's empowerment, such as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW, 1991), the Convention on Civil and Political Rights (CCPR), the Global Platform for Action and the Beijing Declaration (1995), SADC Protocol on Gender and Development (1977), the addendum to the SADC Protocol on the Prevention and Eradication of Violence Against Women and Children. In addition, Zimbabwe has enacted national laws that promote women's empowerment and gender equality, such as the Legal Age of Majority Act, the Matrimonial Causes Act, the Sexual Discrimination Removal Act, the Sexual Offences Act, the Domestic Violence Act and the National Gender Policy (2002). 

The National Gender Policy provides guidelines and the institutional framework to engender all sectoral policies, programmes, projects and activities in Zimbabwe. The Government also ensured that Gender Focal Points are engaged in all Government departments and parastatal bodies to spearhead gender mainstreaming. A Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development was created in 1995 and has been responsible for the coordination of gender mainstreaming in government.

Progressio has been working in Zimbabwe for several decades. What would you say has been Progressio’s contribution and impact on gender equality in Zimbabwe?

Progressio has been effective in ensuring that the capacities of women have been built by national partners who work in partnership with Progressio. One main area that Progressio has managed to build the capacities of the national NGOS on gender budgeting, where national NGOs are now able to ensure the Government puts in place a budget that is engendered.

If you had the power to make a decision tomorrow that would make an impact on greater gender equality in Zimbabwe, what would it be and why? 

Work on operationalising the policy instruments that are in existence, including raising awareness among men and women and decision makers, on the policy instruments.

Target men and boys. Use the Masculinities approach to gender equality programming that Progressio is renowned for in Central America so that men take the lead in promoting women's rights and gender equality.

What can Progressio’s supporters in the UK do for the women’s movement in Zimbabwe?

Help raise funds for Progressio Zimbabwe to support the capacity building efforts of women's movements in Zimbabwe so they can promote gender equality and do this through as many partner organisations as possible, so that advocacy work on gender is effective in Zimbabwe and Southern Africa.

What message would you like to leave for men and women on International Women’s Day?

Now is the time to take stock of the impacts of the international and national laws that have been put in place since the Beijing Platform for Action. The situation of women in Zimbabwe needs to be looked at with a committed gender eye and from a holistic perspective. Men and boys who have always been excluded from gender training and awareness should now be brought into the programmes, so as to have a holistic gender mainstreaming processes.