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This article participates on the following special index pages:

  • Truth, justice, reconciliation and national healing - Index of articles

  • "When the going gets tough the man gets going!" Zimbabwean women's views on politics, governance, political violence, and transitional justice
    Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), Idasa (Institute for Democracy in Africa), and the International Center for Transitional Justice (ICTJ)
    November 26, 2010

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    In November and December 2009 the Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU) in partnership with the International Centre for Transitional Justice (ICTJ), Institute for Democracy in Africa (Idasa) and the Women's Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) conducted a survey on Zimbabwean women's views on transitional justice. This survey included questions regarding elections, violence, the inclusive government, women and peace, transitional justice mechanisms and law enforcement amongst other topics. A report entitled Women, Politics and the Zimbabwe Crisis was produced in May 2010, the first in a series to be produced on the results of the survey. A second, companion report, dealing wholly with the political violence experienced by women, was released in October 2010.

    In addition to the survey, 10 focus group discussions were held to discuss the findings of the survey. These discussions were held in June 2010 with over 150 women from Harare, Chivhu, Marondera, Masvingo, Mutare, Chinhoyi, Bindura, Gwanda and Bulawayo. The aim of the focus groups was to bring women who had not participated in the survey to discuss the findings, and to substantiate the quantitative data with the qualitative findings from the discussions, as well as to get the views of the women in more detail. The quantitative data from the survey was simplified and explained in the focus groups and this formed the basis of the discussions.

    Demographically, the women who participated in the focus groups ranged in ages from early twenties to sixties and they were picked from both rural and urban areas. The majority of the women were married with children and they were mostly women from a variety of different backgrounds including those who were informal traders, students, hairdressers or were unemployed. The Harare groups included women from the NGO sector, teachers, accountants, and there was a group consisting exclusively of female university students. This student group was the one that was at variance with all the other groups on most of the issues, this could be attributed to the fact that they were younger, lived in Harare and had access to more information. The civil society group also were understandably well informed.

    The women's responses varied depending on the following factors, their experiences, political affiliation, age and backgrounds. There was no specific response based on their geographical locations except for the Matebeleland groups, i.e. Bulawayo and Gwanda. The fact that the Zimbabwe government has not yet addressed the Matebeleland massacres popularly known as "Gukurahundi" of the 1980s where approximately 20 000 people were killed is a serious source of tension as the Ndebele people are of the opinion that they are discriminated against on tribal grounds. There were on average 12 women per group to encourage all participants to contribute their views.

    The focus groups were held over one day with facilitators asking specific questions. The major focus of the discussions revolved around the findings of the first survey report, and also included issues about transitional justice, however, there were also discussions about other current issues that the participants themselves introduced.

    The first report, dealt briefly with women's views on political violence, as well as women's views of elections the Inclusive Government, and peace. The findings from this first report were summarized and provided to every member of the focus discussion groups in order to provide a basis for discussion. These summarized findings are given at the beginning of each section below.

    Other areas discussed, that were brought up spontaneously by the participants included the ongoing constitutional reform process and threats of violence following the June 2010 Soccer World Cup in South Africa. With regard to the latter, participants claimed that members of the security forces and the ZANU PF youth were threatening violence, saying that they didn't want to unleash violence with the international attention on Southern Africa, but wanted to ride on the back of the anticipated xenophobic attacks against Zimbabweans in South Africa. The motives behind these attacks were not known, but this was mentioned by groups from Chinhoyi, Bindura, Chivhu, and Marondera.

    With regard to constitutional reform, participants expressed little confidence in the process. They stated that they want a people driven constitution, but, because of intimidation, they are not keen to participate in the process. They stated that in most areas people have already been chosen to speak at the outreach meetings by political party supporters and no one else is allowed to speak, so if they have already chosen people there is no use in participating, and that they will vote "No" should a draft based on this process be put to referendum.

    "We should just drop the constitutional issues because since last year nothing has come out of it. We should go for elections and the party that wins the elections is the one that should draft the new constitution."

    Some of the women raised the issue that the constitutional process is being used to campaign for elections and this was the case for all political parties involved as they are just focusing on their interests and not the interests of people.

    In introducing the purpose of the focus groups, the facilitators talked about Zimbabwean women's involvement in politics and one of the major problems raised by all groups was that men and women are not treated as equal; women are seen as lesser beings. The groups stated that society's perception of women is what holds them back.3 This includes both men and women, as it is said women's involvement in politics is not in line with married life and women who are seen to be involved in politics are considered women of loose morals or wanting to be like men. There is no equality between men and women. There are still certain things that are considered to be only for men and not for women and politics is one of them. Cultural beliefs were also raised as another reason why women are not participating to their full potential. This problem is compounded by the fact that women do not know their basic human rights; i.e. right to life; right to adequate standard of living; including the right to food, housing, medical care; right to freedom of movement; right to education; right to equality; right to equality before the law and right to peaceful assembly and association to mention a few. Women are lacking confidence to enter the male-dominated world of politics; this lack of confidence is not only seen in politics but in all spheres of women's lives. The women stated that confidence should start at home and NGOs should be holding workshops for ordinary women to gain confidence and at the same time involve the men so that it is not seen as though when women are confident and claiming their space they are taking power away from the men.

    Each of the topics covered in the focus groups is discussed in detail below.

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