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Index of articles surrounding the debate of the Domestic Violence Bill
Challenges, opportunities and setbacks of the women's movement in
from Feminist Africa, Issue 4, 2005
8 February 2001, representatives of the Zimbabwean women's movement
gathered at the popular leftist venue, the Book Café, in
Harare, to answer the question: "Does Zimbabwe have a women's
movement?" As the meeting progressed, I became intrigued by
the spectrum of views generated in the debate.
whether the activities of Zimbabwean women's organisations indeed
constituted a movement, and called for a stocktake to quantify its
concrete achievements. Others suggested that the movement had been
so ideologically weakened that it was reduced to perpetuating the
patriarchal status quo. Muted voices recognised a movement, but
described it as weak and disarrayed. One commentator later referred
to the movement as "paralysed" (Win, 2004: 25).
my experience of witnessing creative and assertive organising by
women while working for the Zimbabwean Women's Resource Centre and
Network (ZWRCN) during 1995–2000. I knew that the terrain of women's
mobilising in Zimbabwe was both rich and deep (Barnes, 1991; Schmidt,
1992; Barnes, 1999), and that women's participation in the nationalist
struggle for independence (Staunton, 1990) provided the impetus
for post-independence demands that sought gender equity and disrupted
pre-existing gender relations and cultural norms. Initially, tangible
gains came in the form of legislative change, the most significant
being the passing of the 1982 Legal Age of Majority Act (LAMA).
This granted women majority status at the age of 18, paving the
way for their further political and economic empowerment.
ensuing years saw patriarchy reassert itself. The political will
to address gender inequality in Zimbabwe diminished rapidly, and
was replaced by intensified regulation of women in both the private
and public spheres. This was done through the powerful invocation
of counter-revolutionary cultural-nationalist discourses, which
portrayed women's organising as feminist, and feminism as anti-nationalist
was perhaps the most blatant example of this. There were
also repeated attempts to undermine LAMA, and to deny property and
inheritance rights to women under customary law. These and other
outrages were met with direct and concerted action by women from
all walks of life. Operation Clean-Up was dramatic enough to provoke
a change in Zimbabwean women's consciousness. As activists realised
how little room state patronage allowed for the advancement of women's
rights, a different kind of women's mobilising began to take shape.
This "new" activism now took place outside the state (although
still engaging with it), bringing together women from all sectors
of Zimbabwe's still divided society around gender interests for
the first time.
growth of women's post-independence mobilisation
Women's Action Group (WAG) was set up in 1983, in the wake of public
meetings to discuss the abuses of Operation Clean-Up. A core group
of forty to fifty Harare-based women engaged in advocacy work. Growing
consciousness and a recognition of the continuing injustices faced
by women meant that WAG was joined by a plethora of organisations
over the next decade. These (at least initially) saw Zimbabwean
women of all races working together to challenge the patriarchal
precepts of a society that tolerated the abuse of women by men,
and the increasing invocation of tradition to validate discriminatory
By 1995, there
were over 25 registered women's organisations addressing various
aspects of Zimbabwean women's lives in urban and rural areas, and
spanning a range of practical and strategic gender interests.2
They reflected a conceptual unevenness in understandings and articulations
of gender as a political struggle, with some overtly feminist in
orientation, and others more mainstream or conservative in their
approach. Nevertheless, by the 1990s, they were all contributing
towards redefining the private and public sphere, and demanding
full citizens' rights for women. They invoked international instruments
and channelled energy into both claiming and protecting women's
rights with regard to land, marriage, sexual harassment and gender-based
violence, property and inheritance, and full political and economic
During the 1990s,
these organisations came to constitute a loose network, each complementing
the work of sister organisations in the struggle for gender justice.
However, as Zimbabwe plunged into socio-economic and political upheaval
in the latter part of the 1990s, conditions for women's activism
became increasingly challenging. By now, the state's open hostility
meant that women activists were targets of state-sponsored violence.
Meanwhile, the deeply uncivil nature of civil society (Mama, 1999)
with regard to gender meant that alliances formed to further women's
rights had to be carefully negotiated and remained tenuous.
With this history
in mind, the question for me at that February meeting was not whether
or not Zimbabwe had a women's movement. Instead, I found myself
asking: what kind of movement develops in this kind of context,
under these pressures? What form and shape does it have to take
in order to survive while seizing the opportunities to further the
struggle for gender justice?
I argue that
during the years 1995–1998, Zimbabwean women's organisations redefined
traditional strategies for engaging the state and civil society
action. Instead, theirs was a strategy that saw the organisational
base, its rural networks and concerned individuals coming together
in various issue-driven configurations and strategic coalitions,
forming and disbanding and reforming again as needed. After years
of organising with somewhat fragile gains, women activists turned
to the Constitutional reform process as the ultimate forum for enshrining
gender equality and entrenching Zimbabwean women's rights. It was
during this process that the power of collective organising was
recognised and strategically refined, as well as challenged, and
it is this to which I turn my attention below.
Constitutional reform process
in the latter half of the 1990s was a potent cocktail of dashed
hopes around land reform, anger over the strangling effects of economic
Structural Adjustment Programmes, and a sense of betrayal regarding
the corruption and flouting of the rule of law seen in the ZANU-PF-led
government. With Zimbabwe at its most politicised level in two decades,
the moment was ripe for organised resistance. In 1996, this came
from within the ranks of civil society through the birth of the
National Constitutional Assembly (NCA). This sought to build a broad
alliance of civic organisations3
around the issue of Constitutional reform. Its objectives were to
raise the level of national consciousness concerning the need for
a new Constitution, review the Lancaster House Constitution,4
and draft a "home-grown Zimbabwean Constitution" in a
process that involved authentic national debate.
The NCA posed
a direct challenge to ZANU-PF by bringing the constitutional debate
onto the streets and to rural communities. Its impact on the political
scene exceeded all expectations,5
with the NCA becoming the largest civil society coalition of the
post-independence period. The coalition worked through an executive
committee and task forces initially headed by Morgan Tsvangirai,
the trade-union leader, a move that cemented the alliance between
the union movement and other civil society organisations.
came to the fore, the state urgently needed to be seen to be responsive.
It thus established the Constitutional Commission of Zimbabwe (CCZ)
and appointed approximately 400 commissioners to gather people's
submissions. The results were used as a basis for drafting a "homegrown"
constitution. But this process was unrepresentative and flawed from
the outset, and the contents of the draft were not only "contrary
to what people said, but also not good for Zimbabwe."6
The CCZ was problematic not only in terms of transparency and accountability;
it showed no particular commitment to gender equity. Women constituted
only thirteen per cent of those on the commission, and despite the
outcry concerning the low level of representation, no redress was
network soon realised that in the context of a national debate in
which women's voices were likely to be marginalised, they needed
to protect their own interests. This was especially the case given
that the NCA was at first openly male-dominated.
Thus, with two
parallel processes underway, neither of which made room for women
to explore their own concerns and consolidate their demands, women's
organisations came together to carve out their own space. In so
doing, they were informed by years of experience of coalition advocacy.
It was felt that most of the discrimination women faced was based
on customary law or culture. The constitutional reform process was
therefore seen as a vital window of opportunity for women.
birth of the Women's Coalition
the Women's Coalition on the Constitution was born. It comprised
a network of about 66 women activists, researchers, academics and
representatives from a wide range of 30 women's and human rights
organisations. Launched in June 1999, the Coalition aimed to inform
and unite women around the Constitutional reform process. It stood
as a broad lobbying and advocacy front that pressed for the adoption
of a constitution that would protect women's political, social,
economic and cultural rights. It was to include women of all races,
linguistic and ethnic groups, classes, religions, occupations (including
students) and political parties, drawn from diverse geographical
locations across Zimbabwe.
faced a mammoth task. From the outset, members pooled resources
and complemented each other in order to sustain a process that did
not necessarily fall within their particular organisational ambits.
However, the participants were united in their understanding of
the Coalition as a space in which a women's agenda could be developed
were fulfilled through an intensive programme that included a series
of national and provincial consultative workshops and conferences
to formulate a women's agenda. These were held in both rural and
urban areas. The Coalition also embarked on an aggressive media
campaign on the Constitutional and reform process. This campaign
was supported by the circulation of posters and flyers in the three
national languages. T-shirts, scarves and pins were issued, not
only to raise awareness of the draft constitution and referendum,
but to develop an identifiable constituency.
challenges presented by political allegiances
soon began to develop. The two Constitutional reform processes,
one government-orchestrated and the other representing civil society
and the emergent opposition, began to divide women according to
their political allegiances. As one Coalition member stated: "[T]he
women's Coalition had members from the NCA, but at the same time
[it] also had links with ZANU-PF, through MPs and commissioners
and that created tensions."7
At first, the
claim that "we were not going to talk CCZ, we were not going
to talk NCA, we were going to talk women" helped to mitigate
differences. Early on, the Coalition had resolved that as an entity
it would not form an alliance with either the NCA or the government
commission, although individuals and organisations within the coalition
were free to do so. It was further agreed that the Coalition would
lobby both the NCA and the CCZ on gender issues. But this rhetoric
could not mask the deepening political polarisation within the country,
and potential faultlines began to develop within the Women's Coalition.
As one member noted, "If you were aligned to the NCA you were
perceived as anti-government, if you were aligned to the CCZ you
identified the struggle for the entrenchment of women's rights as
a common goal, there were multiple views on what strategies to follow
to achieve this. Women who pursued the strategy of engagement with
the state were often frustrated by the cumbersome state-sponsored
process. When a female commissioner was assaulted by a fellow (male)
commissioner, this confirmed the patriarchal power differential
in a very real way:
became obvious working for the CCZ that we under-estimated the degree
of patriarchy in our society. Every single item concerning women
in the CCZ was contested and had to be struggled for, it was not
with the more democratic NCA were somewhat more successful. They
were vocal about gender imbalances within the NCA and campaigned
vigorously for increased female representation on task forces. As
a result, at the NCA general assembly held in June 1999, eight women
were elected onto the eighteen-member committee.
Movement for Democratic Change and the Women's Charter
September 1999, Morgan Tsvangirai announced the establishment of
a "political formation". This would be led by labour movements,
with support from allied progressive social forces, some of whom
constituted the NCA. Thus began the Movement for Democratic Change
(MDC). It was seen as "the biggest ever opposition party in
Zimbabwe with the necessary national support." 10
NCA chair-elect Tsvangirai stepped down to concentrate on the formation
of the new party, and NCA deputy-chairperson Thoko Matshe, a self-proclaimed
feminist and then Director of the ZWRCN, was unanimously chosen
to lead the NCA. This was partly because of her strong personality,
and partly because the NCA sought to project itself as an alternative
democratic space. Matshe's election signalled an important new stage:
having a women's movement leader chairing a civic alliance propelled
the women's movement into a prominent role within the broader civic
society mobilisation. As one Coalition member noted:
a large extent during the latter 1990s, the whole civic process
was in the hands of the women's movement, through the Coalition
and our presence in the NCA. The media would call us the group of
thirteen because we were the thirteen biggest women's organisations.11
militancy" (Hellman, 1992) meant that women were involved in
both democratic and women's struggles: "It felt schizophrenic,
we were all juggling so many hats, but we were clear that when it
came to the Coalition it was about women, women, women first."
Women's Coalition process of nation-wide consultation resulted in
a Women's Charter in 1999. The idea was that this would form the
basis of future advocacy efforts, an optimistic attitude clearly
expressed by one Coalition member:
we were naïve to think we could continue to experience this
Utopia where we weren't targeted. We were happy, we organised, we
felt that women could be a kind of rallying point.13
society groups like the NCA were monitored and severely policed
by the state (to the extent that the state-controlled media were
instructed not to carry any NCA material), the Women's Coalition
seemed not to have attracted the notice of the state. A strong women's
outreach programme, strategic civil society alliances and a vocal
group of women within state processes meant that the Women's Coalition
had a constituency and multiple bases from which to push for change.
It thus constituted a powerful force that could direct action.
February 2000 referendum and the 2000 parliamentary elections
Coalition was about to face its most formidable challenge. In February
2000, the CCZ's draft constitution was put to a referendum, with
heated debate as to whether the Women's Coalition would call for
a yes or no vote.14 It was
this moment that finally saw the political faultlines split open:
women's movement realised that they had gone way beyond what they
had bargained for… we could no longer stay neutral, it was politics
now, that was the game we were playing, and there was no turning
back, we had to take a side.15
There are many
versions of what transpired next within the women's movement. Some
member organisations felt the need to remain "apolitical",
others knew that the push for a transformative agenda demanded that
women vote "No". Members reported a "backlash"
and state "infiltration", as "ZANU women" apparently
argued in favour of the state-led process within the coalition,
reflecting a rising conservatism within the movement.
After much political
jockeying and posturing, the Coalition eventually called for a "No"
vote in the referendum on the constitution. It argued that among
other things, the draft constitution did not guarantee women's rights
to equal social and economic standing, including health care and
education; it did not uphold their right not to experience violence;
it did not offer equal political representation or protect women
from discriminatory cultural practices; and generally ignored the
wishes of the Zimbabwean people. The Coalition went on to mobilise
its constituency, with women's votes contributing to the surprise
victory for the "No" vote in the referendum.
shocked and galvanised the Mugabe-led state, which had never before
been met with such vocal opposition. The government rapidly sidelined
the constitutional debate in preparation for the impending parliamentary
elections, which were delayed until June 2000. Meanwhile, still
riding high on the referendum victory, the Women's Coalition recognised
the potential strength of bringing women together across political
divides and sought to consolidate its position by voting women candidates
has shown that it is not enough to have women in parliament as a
form of window-dressing, as numbers do not necessarily translate
into gender equality.16
Neither does it mean that these forums are accommodating and receptive
to women's interests. The Coalition nonetheless began to facilitate
a women's political agenda by endorsing and supporting the 55 women
candidates who were standing for parliamentary elections: "The
powers that be started to see women could be a force to be reckoned
with politically. Unlike male politicians, women began talking across
This was the
first time in the history of Zimbabwe that a women's agenda had
been articulated in this way. At a meeting in May 2000, women from
different political parties sat together to brainstorm on how to
beat their male counterparts at their own game.18
As one participant noted:
buried their political differences for democratic justice. Every
political party has been guilty of suppressing the rise of women
within the ranks, but women are not out of this highly contested
political race. We have another battle of our own – challenging
men's dominance in politics.19
costs of mobilising for women
the Coalition was only as strong as its constituent parts and these
constituent parts were specific organisations – mostly registered
NGOs and CBOs. With commitments to their structures, systems and
areas of operation, these structures were already buckling under
the pressures of intense political organising. They also had responsibilities
to donors, and these did not readily allow them the flexibility
to engage with the rapidly changing national political landscape.
there remained a general anxiety concerning the meaning of politicised
action. This nervousness manifested through the stance taken by
numerous boards of established organisations, who were in structural
positions of power and who suddenly found themselves vulnerable
to charges of political activism and even subversion. Board members
began calling for a more circumscribed approach to Coalition activities,
curtailing affiliation and contribution to the Coalition for a variety
of reasons: ZANU-PF allegiance, commitments to donors, or security
risks to staff.
violence against all political opponents, real and imagined, presented
a very real threat. Members of ZANU-PF and MDC entered into retaliatory
battles and the police generally ignored the resulting damage to
property, assaults, torture and deaths.20
Women did not go unscathed, and many were assaulted and beaten for
their political affiliations. 21
Both MDC and ZANU-PF women supporters were targeted. Women who identified
with the Women's Coalition by wearing Coalition headscarves or pins
were also vulnerable, as were women contesting seats in the upcoming
elections. Nyasha Chikwinya, a ZANU-PF candidate, was beaten so
severely she had to wear a neck brace. Sekai Holland, an MDC candidate,
also survived assault.
Women also became
victims of violence within their political parties. One activist
there was violence, even within political parties women were exposed
to violence. It was a fight for survival, so there was violence
from without, the violence that seized the nation, but also violence
from within. 22
In the face
of such political violence, it was clear that the Women's Coalition
had overestimated its capacity. It called on women to stand for
election, campaign and vote, but when women became vulnerable as
a result, it was helpless and could not offer support or protection.
Many key organisations lost staff members during this period. The
reasons for this included the disjunctures between the perspectives
of board members and staff, as well as the deepening national and
socio-economic strife, which compelled many women to prioritise
their personal and financial security. In one woman's words:
activists have been exposed, we've had threats, some implied, some
direct. We are doing some serious thinking, counting the costs.
I may be prepared to sacrifice myself, but what about those I am
of intense organising also left many women activists exhausted and
in need of space and time to regroup. This "burnout" led
to resignations, immigration and withdrawal: "As you can see,
all those strong organisations are without staff … a top layer of
leadership has gone."24
This is the
context into which we can place the discourses articulated at the
Book Café. There was a collective pause after the 2000 elections
and the intense activity and expectations that preceded it. Some
Coalition members described this as a need to "lie low",
or to "go underground" in the face of what was expected
to be an even more violent presidential election in 2001. If the
women's movement had found itself in a cul de sac, the Book Café
meeting was perhaps the first step towards a period of necessary
reflection on the women's movement in Zimbabwe, its form and its
learnt: sadder but wiser?
scrutiny of women's organising in Zimbabwe, particularly focusing
on the late 1990s and the repercussions of women's engagement with
the Constitutional reform process, raises some pertinent questions.
What insights can we gain from the particular features of the Zimbabwe
women's movement in the latter 1990s?
Over the past
two decades, there has been a significant transformation of women's
organising in Zimbabwe, a transformation that runs parallel to the
realisation of the power of political consciousness within the movement.
The question is, does a conservative state, together with an increasingly
hostile political, social and economic environment, give rise to
this particular type of coalition politics?
To answer this
question fully would require comparative research on other authoritarian
or militarised environments. In the Zimbabwean context, one can
argue that in the face of state antagonism and the rapidly shrinking
space for organising by civil society, the quiet, strategic coalition-building
that occurred was advantageous. It enabled women to operate "beneath
the radar", to continue working within bounded organisational
entities while simultaneously organising more effectively around
common interests. For much of the 1990s, this mode of organising
enabled the women's movement to continue its activities precisely
because it was not perceived as a threat or a consolidated site
When women did
come under attack, it was not solely because they were women advocating
a certain agenda, but because they were perceived primarily as political
players with the ability to influence and direct the course of action,
while maintaining a clearly articulated "women's agenda."
More significantly, women began to see themselves as a political
force. This signified a radical change, because women had not presented
a political challenge to the state in this way before.
This leads me
to reflect on women vis-á-vis the state. The Zimbabwean experience
confirms that the state has been the central focus of women's organising.
This has been characteristic of women's movements in other African
contexts. Manuh, in her analysis of relations between women, society
and the state under the People's National Defence Committee (PNDC)
rule in Ghana (1993), Tsikata's work on women's political organisations
in Ghana (1999), Mama, writing on Nigeria (1999), and Tamale, writing
on Uganda (1999), have all drawn similar conclusions. These studies
raise questions concerning the "likelihood of existing organisational
forms challenging women's oppression or advancing women's political,
social or economic interests" (Mama, 1999: 19).
case demonstrates the emergence of new kinds of political strategy:
strategies similar to those seen elsewhere on the continent and
discussed elsewhere in this issue. (See the feature articles by
Shireen Hassim and Aili Mari Tripp, the In Conversation piece on
the Ghanaian Women's Manifesto, and the Standpoint piece by Elaine
Salo.) The actions taken by the Women's Coalition show that by 1999,
the women's movement was in a strong position to determine and take
forward both a national agenda and a women's agenda. This tells
us a great deal about context and strategy, and how women's understanding
of the state in Zimbabwe has profoundly shaped the form and content
of their activism.
in Zimbabwe in the late 1990s illustrates those feminist and post-structuralist
theorisations that see the state as a highly complex and contested
terrain. While its members, constituents and institutions may articulate
a hegemonic discourse, the state is also a shorthand term for a
"network of power relations existing in co-operation and also
in tension with and against each other" (Rai, 1996: 87).
of the state as a multiplicity of sites demands a variety of strategies
and actions to take an agenda forward. The extent to which the Zimbabwe
women's movement has understood and fully exploited this conceptualisation
of the state is debatable. In the main, the movement has viewed
the state as an arbiter of development and a bestower of rights.
This can be seen firstly through the movement's emphasis on asking,
challenging and appealing the state to enshrine rights. Secondly,
advocacy has demanded an expansion in the roles of the state through
the provision of services and the establishment of frameworks that
mitigate gendered impacts and ensure gender equality. In this way,
it is seen to be integral to securing women's rights. But the wisdom
of fixating solely on rights and legal reform comes into question.
As one feminist activist points out:
seems a pity that 15 to 20 years after the existence of some of
these organisations, we still peddle the falsity that the answer
lies in the law. You can demand from the state laws from A to Z
but it will not work, we've seen it. Our battle is in fact not with
the law per se, our struggle is with patriarchy.25
should organise within the state or stay outside of it has been
the subject of much debate internationally. Some commentators believe
that effective reform can only come via state instruments, while
others argue that the state co-opts women's issues. Skeptics point
to ways in which new legislation that seemingly favours women has
afforded the state – and not women – more power (Ghandi and Shah,
1991). Alvarez (1990) and Jaquette (1989) take both perspectives
into account when they argue for more pragmatism – working selectively
with the state, while maintaining an awareness of its limitations.
What is clear is that in the process of negotiation and engagement
with the state, not only are women's agendas often ignored, blocked
or watered down, but women themselves are co-opted into state machinations
through personal, professional or political allegiances and interests.
In this way, the state allows a certain amount of leverage, an allotted
space for radical dissenting voices, but this is tolerated only
up to a point. The example of the debate on constitutional reform
in Zimbabwe, discussed above, demonstrates that the state does not
allow for the consolidation of such voices.
Let me also
consider the insights gained regarding civil society. Just as the
women's movement in Zimbabwe has made demands upon the state, it
has also sought alliances from broader civil society. In Zimbabwe,
civil society has become an important force in the push for a democratic
dispensation, to the extent that civil society and the organisations
and political parties it has generated, notably the NCA and MDC,
have come to be regarded as the alternative to the ZANU-PF-led state.
in Zimbabwe is an umbrella term that includes the trade union movement,
student activists, churches, anti-capitalist, socialist, human rights
and women's movements, academics and political commentators, the
media and development activists. By its very nature, it is heterogeneous
and includes multiple and competing agendas. Within an authoritarian
national context, the harsh reality is that civil society structures
are fragile and have limited reach and capacity.
might think that civil society would be a more receptive recipient
and conduit of a gender agenda than the state. But it is something
of a political tragedy that broader civil society in Zimbabwe, increasingly
assumed to be the voice of democracy and progressive principles,
did not at any time spontaneously protest blatant violations of
women's rights. It was only around the issue of constitutional reform
that the brief alliance between women and broader civil society
was cemented. This could be explained bluntly as being borne of
instrumentalism; the NCA needed women to legitimate their agenda,
draw in their constituency, and secure donor funding. Women then
found themselves having to wage a struggle within the NCA for gender
concerns to be addressed in a meaningful way.
then do women articulate their agendas and formulate their interests?
This analysis leads us to consider a third arena, beyond the state
and civil society – the question of women's political interests
and identities. Molyneux argues that whatever form female mobilisation
has taken, it has always expressed demands for full citizenship
and rights, while highlighting women's everyday strength and ability
to pursue their interests in the public sphere. She goes on to suggest
that this formulation of interests, whether they are practical or
strategic, is intrinsically linked to identity formation: "Thus
women's interests are subject to cultural, historical and political
variation" (1998: 233).
of women's interests as informing political identity in this way
leads us to consider how women become motivated to act and make
certain demands at particular points in time. It would be erroneous
to assume that the terrain of the Zimbabwean Women's Movement is
all-encompassing, or that women's interests are uniform. To a certain
extent, the movement has seen itself as fairly homogenous, and this
has been reflected in the fact that discourses and discussions on
internal differences and diversities have been glaringly absent.
Instead, it has defined itself within a liberal human rights-based
agenda that has further contributed to the masking of internal diversity:
"We were clear that we needed to articulate a women's agenda,
women came together. It was about women. This was the only way to
take our issues forward."26
But as Everjoice Win concludes in her reflection on the Women's
Coalition in Zimbabwe, "…if they merely work on common issues
and do not recognise the diversity of values and principles which
exists within them, coalitions will immobilise themselves"
sense of consensus within the movement has been somewhat spasmodic.
Dissonant views, strategies and opinions have repeatedly come to
the fore; as one member observed:
were meetings around constitutional reform where we literally wanted
to throw each other out of the window…. It trashed the whole sisterhood
thing, you know, it was like getting hit in the face with cold water.
Like this is reality, because for those of us who have been in the
movement, we always felt that it does not matter what kind of differences
we might have, but a sister is a sister. We are bound to gel at
some point. But the stark reality is that it was about politics
now, it was a repositioning. 27
to a movement whose agenda is constantly being contested internally,
as women bring to it different subjectivities and diverse political
identities. The movement is neither homogeneous, nor open, but rather
a site in which many different agendas come into play. At the heart
of these variant voices lies the issue of gender politics within
the women's movements, inadequately explored in the broader literature,
but crucial to the shape and definition of a movement.
reticence over being "political" has translated into contestations
over what organisations should or should not attempt. At some moments,
the voices of women whose political affiliations make them uneasy
about challenging the state have surfaced. At other moments, a second
set of voices has articulated a gender and development discourse,
rooted in the relative safety of international instruments. At yet
other moments, a feminist discourse, based on the recognition of
patriarchy as a system of male oppression and domination, has become
salient. This third articulation seeks a holistic structural transformation
of society and relationships.
While a clearly
articulated feminist discourse remains largely suppressed, the strategies
employed have continued to suggest a feminist consciousness. The
Zimbabwean Women's Charter best exemplifies this. Women's persistent
challenge to patriarchy through demands for entitlement, the formulation
of a women's agenda, and the need to advance this through women's
political representation evidence a transformatory agenda informed
by a feminist vision.
Women's Movement, operating in an increasingly hostile political
environment, and traversing similar terrain to other continental
women's movements, has not only worked to change the relationship
between women and civil society; it has also challenged women's
relations with the state. As one Coalition member noted:
African women's movement is not only the most exciting movement
to emerge from the 20th century as a century of nationalism and
nationalist resistance, but it is also really at the cutting edge
of a new politics. The women's movement is very central to crafting
a new politics, a postcolonial politics and this is very central
to the vibrancy of the women's movement, because we are overturning
This has major
implications for theory; indeed, this article demonstrates the ways
in which reflection on activism can pose useful questions for the
development of new theories.
Essof is a feminist researcher. She spent five years working for
the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and Network.
S. E. 1990. Engendering Democracy in Brazil. Princeton,
New Jersey: Princeton University Press.
- Barnes, T.
1999. "We Women Worked So Hard": Gender, Urbanisation
and Social Reproduction in Colonial Harare, Zimbabwe 1930–1956.
- Barnes, T.
1991. "Differential Class Experiences Amongst African Women
in Colonial Harare, Zimbabwe 1935–1970". Paper presented
at Women and Gender conference, University of Natal.
- Ghandi, N.
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"When Sharing Female Identity is Not Enough: Coalition building
in the midst of political polarisation in Zimbabwe", Gender
and Development 12:1.
- This took
place over a weekend in October 1983. Soldiers and police swept
through the major city centres of Zimbabwe, arbitrarily arresting
unaccompanied women and charging them with prostitution. Its purpose
was to harass and control single women, many of whom had returned
home after fighting for independence only to experience unemployment
- These included
the Musasa project, which was established in 1988 to address the
growing problem of violence against women. National branches of
Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) and Women, Law and Development
in Africa (WILDAF) were established in Harare in 1988 and 1990
respectively. The Federation of African Media Women (FAMWZ) was
established in 1988. The Women and Aids Support Network (WASN,
established in 1989), sought to deal with the growing HIV/AIDS
pandemic. The Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN,
established 1990) focused on research, documentation, advocacy
and the distribution of information on gender issues (see Feminist
Africa 3 for a profile of ZWRCN). The Zimbabwe Women's Finance
Trust and Women in Business concentrated on women's economic interests,
while the Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA, established
1995) provided poor women with legal advice and lobbied for reform
of laws that discriminated against women.
- These came
to include trade unions, students' movements, the mainstream churches,
human rights organisations, media houses, women's groups and opposition
- This had
already been amended 16 times in 21 years, most notably to vest
power in an omnipotent president in 1987.
- By September
2000, the NCA had over 30 000 registered individual members and
200 institutional members countrywide.
- See A
Summary of the Main Features of the Draft CCZ Constitution: Some
of the reasons why NCA campaigned for a NO Vote. http://www.nca.org.zw/html/fdraft/fdraft_summ.htm.
See also On the Constitutional Trail, Zimbabwe Biz,
November 1999. http://www.zimbabwebiz/magazine/11-1999/nov04.htm.
- Field interview
(all interviews were carried out as part of research for the author's
- Field interview.
- Field interview.
Launch Sets Stage for Bruising Battle, Financial Gazette,
16 September 1999.
- Field interview.
- Field interview.
- Field interview.
Groups threaten to reject draft constitution, Daily News,
20 December 1999.
- Field interview.
- The 1995
parliamentary elections had seen the largest number of women yet
being elected to parliament (17 women out of 150 MPs). Yet it
was also during this period that women's rights were most under
- Field interview.
Rally Together to Boost Participation in Civic Issues, Daily
News, 15 May 2000.
- Field interview.
- See Statement
of the National Democratic Institute Pre-Election Delegation to
Zimbabwe, issued in Harare 22 May 2000; Who is Responsible?
A Preliminary Analysis of Pre-election Violence, Zimbabwe
Human Rights Forum report, June 2000; Zimbabwe: Terror Tactics
in the run-up to Parliamentary Elections, Amnesty International
report, July 2000.
Brave Violence to say No, Standard, 26 March 2000.
- Field interview.
- Field interview.
- Field nterview.
- Field interview.
- Field interview.
- Field interview.
- Field interview.
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