Women legislators mobilise for just family laws

Lawmakers from across the political divide have buried their political differences and resolved to make the new constitution work for women throughout the country.

Chiedza Simbo, the director of ZWLA:  women prisoners have no equal educational opportunities with men.
Chiedza Simbo, the director of ZWLA: women prisoners have no equal educational opportunities with men.

The Zimbabwe Women’s Parliamentary Caucus is scrutinising the constitution and mobilising its constituency ahead of the expected alignment of laws with the new supreme law of the land.

To capacitate themselves for the task at hand, the parliamentarians are conducting educational workshops under the facilitation of organisations such as Women and Law in Southern Africa, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA) and Women in Politics Support Unit (Wipsu).

They noted with concern that gender equality was far from being achieved in the country as women continued to be discriminated against and treated unfairly compared to men.

According to Chiedza Simbo, the director of ZWLA, women prisoners have no equal educational opportunities with men.

“Male prisoners are provided with education tutors while serving time behind bars, but women in the same situation are not provided with the same service,” Simbo told the Parliamentary Caucus at a recent workshop.

She said it was public knowledge that most of the national leadership acquired educational and professional qualifications in prison and should help extend the same to present inmates.

Simbo urged the legislators to champion the women’s cause in Parliament and make the constitution a reality for them. She said the female electorate entrusted the law makers with the mandate to ensure that women enjoy their constitutional rights through alignment of criminal and commercial laws.

The legislators asked the facilitators to help them identify aspects of the constitution that needed revisiting. The rights of women prisoners, family laws and general gender equality issues top the women’s agenda.

According to Section 3 of the constitution, Zimbabwe is founded on a principle and value of gender balance. The constitution provides for the state to promote gender balance to ensure that women fully participate in all spheres of society based on the fact that they are equal to men.

The state is obliged to take practical measures to ensure that women gain access to resources, which include land. The law makers concurred that they would defend gains achieved by women through the new constitution.

They vowed to fight for the right not to be sentenced to death, the right to fully paid three-months of maternity leave, the right to equal remuneration for similar work with men, the right to 50:50 ownership of resources and empowerment programmes.

Gaps in marriage and related laws such as the state’s failure to recognise unregistered customary law unions, the Customary Marriages Act, Marriage Act, Married Persons Property Act, Matrimonial Causes Act, Inheritance Laws, Deceased Persons Family Maintenance Act and Wills Act were cited as being in need of revisiting.

Edna Madzongwe, President of the Senate, urged the legislators to fulfil their mandate and push for the urgent alignment of the laws to the constitution.

Besides laws to do with women’s rights, Zimbabwe is yet to align some 400 laws to the constitution, over a year after the constitution was adopted.

Observers blamed lack of political will on the part of the Zanu (PF) government for the delayed alignments. The Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs has passed the buck to other line ministries which it accused of not forthcoming to assist speed up the process.

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