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Women's watch - Bulletin 2
November 05, 2007

News Flash

Minister of Women’s Affairs Oppah Muchinguri has appointed the following eight-member Anti-Domestic Violence Council which will review cases of domestic violence, disseminate information on domestic violence and promote research and services delivery in domestic violence cases:

  • Government Ministry Representatives: Mr Herbert Mandeya – Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, Ms Sibusisiwe Zembe – Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, Mr Bigboy Sylvester Mashayamombe – Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture
  • Police Representative: Ms Isabella Nyarai Sergio – ZRP
  • NGO Representatives: Ms Edna Bhala – Musasa Project, Ms Edna Masiyiwa – Women’s Action Group, Mr Kelvin Hazangwi – Padare Men’s Forum
  • Church Representative: Bishop Trevor Manhanga – Pentecostal Assemblies of Zimbabwe

The Act makes provision for four more members – one each from the Ministry of Women's Affairs and the Ministry of Health and Child Welfare; a nominee of the Council of Chiefs; and one representing other interests.

This week’s highlight

Constitution of Zimbabwe and Discrimination against Women

There is still discrimination against women in the Constitution. It was disappointing that when Constitution Amendment No. 18 was going through Parliament, women parliamentarians did not raise this issue although women’s organisations have been pressing for change for many years.


In the 1980 Constitution in section 23, discrimination was prohibited on the grounds of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinions, colour and creed. Only in 1996 in Constitution Amendment No. 14 was "gender" added to the list. But, unfortunately subsection (3) paragraphs (a) and (b) were left intact. These paragraphs significantly detract from the rights of women by permitting discrimination in matters of personal law and customary law.

In 2005, Constitution Amendment No 17 added sex, marital status and physical disability to the list of prohibited grounds for discrimination. It also added new subsections requiring the implementation of land reform to be on an equal basis between men and women and allowing affirmative action programmes for previously disadvantaged groups (obviously including women). But again, although Parliament was lobbied to delete the offending paragraphs in section 23(3) detracting from the rights of women, they were left unchanged.

The 2007 Constitution Amendment No 18 Act which has recently come into force, did not alter section 23(3). In its passage through Parliament input from the women’s lobby was once again ignored.

The Position Now

The Constitution continues to permit discrimination against women to a significant extent. In brief, although section 23 prohibits discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender or marital status in general terms, the scope of the prohibition is substantially restricted by section 23(3), which permits discrimination against women in personal law [e.g., adoption, marriage, divorce, burial, devolution of property on death] and the application of customary law.

We urge all women activists to read section 23 of the Constitution again and resume their lobbying for changing this section.

Recommendations of the Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Youth, Gender and Women’s Affairs

In its report on The Status of Women and Law in Zimbabwe in relation to the Amended Section 23 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe and Related International Conventions presented to Parliament in June 2006. The Committee recommended the further amendment of section 23.

Extract from the above Parliamentary Committee report [quoted verbatim]

“4.1 Your Committee recognises that the constitution is the highest law of the land and any law inconsistent with it is void. In view of the above sentiments your Committee therefore recommends prioritizing the inclusion of the following provisions in the Constitution during the next Constitutional review:

4.1.1 Section 23 (1)(b) should be amended so as to provide for non-discrimination in the private sector in the same way it provided for non-discrimination in the public sector.

4.1.2 Section 23(2) should be amended so as to include age as a ground for non-discrimination.

4.1.3 The term “Marital Status” should be clearly defined and specify that it applies to all types of marriages to ensure that women in all different marriages have equal status within marriage and before the law.

4.1.4 There is need to reconcile other laws, such as Marriage laws and Inheritance laws, with the constitution so as to ensure security of women’s rights.

4.1.5 Customary laws should subordinate to the constitution. While the right to practice and enjoy one’s culture is recognised, cultural practices, which fall under customary law, and are in conflict with the principle of equity and equality and that discriminate should be made unconstitutional. This has been successfully done in Namibia, South Africa and Uganda and Zimbabwe would also benefit from such an amendment to the constitution.”

Unfortunately, despite the Committee’s recommendation that these changes should be prioritized in the next constitutional review, when the opportunity arose with Amendment 18, section 23 was not even debated. We need a concerted campaign to get Parliament and our Minister of Women’s Affairs to act on these recommendations.

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