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  • Zimbabwe's Elections 2013 - Index of Articles

  • Women in Zimbabwe Parliament could change widows' lives
    Michelle Chifamba, IPS
    June 24, 2013

    When Maude Taruvinga* votes in Zimbabwe’s elections later this year, she will be voting for her local female politician. Why? Taruvinga believes more women in legislature will make for a better future.

    In January 2012, Taruvinga (her name changed to protect her identity) became a victim of Zimbabwe’s patriarchal traditions. After her common-law husband passed away intestate, her in-laws had forced her out of her matrimonial home in Marondera, Mashonaland East Province.

    “I eventually decided to leave my husband’s land because I could not endure the harassment any more. No one could help me. Even the police took the side of my husband’s relatives,” recalled 45-year-old Taruvinga. “Many widows find themselves thrown out of their homes by greedy relatives and give up because of a lack of knowledge and [because they do not receive] protection from the police.”

    The Zimbabwe Administration of Estates Act No. 6 of 1997 stipulates that if a spouse dies without a will, the surviving partner inherits their immovable property. Prior to this act, a husband’s estate was dissolved if he died intestate.

    According to Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association director Emilia Muchawa, although 86 percent of the country’s women earn a living by farming communal land allocated to their husbands by traditional chiefs, legislation is silent on the issue of women’s rights to inherit this land.

    “Customarily, chiefs allocate land to male heads of households, but women do not automatically inherit this upon their husband’s death. They may be evicted from the land when widowed, regardless of the years they spent married. Many who remain on the land do so at the goodwill of their in-laws or traditional leaders. Childless widows are often evicted, as are young widows who refuse to be physically ‘inherited’ by a male relative of their late husband,” she explained.

    Need for revised laws

    Zimbabwe’s new constitution, enacted into law in May, currently provides for equality of both sexes. Activists have said that there was a need for laws to be revised to reflect this and to protect widows married under customary law. At the same time, civic groups have expressed a belief that if more women were elected to Zimbabwe’s parliament, they would be more vocal in addressing this and other discriminatory practices against women.

    Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU), an NGO that aims to increase the participation of women in policymaking and decision-making, launched a Vote for a Woman Campaign ahead of the presidential elections. The campaign is meant to help the country achieve gender equality in accordance with the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender Development. The protocol includes several progressive clauses and 23 set targets, including the target that women will hold 50 percent of decision-making positions in public and private sectors by 2015. (Women constitute some 6.7 million of Zimbabwe’s 12.9 million people.)

    “The Vote for a Woman Campaign will accelerate the number of women taking up positions in parliament and local government. It is meant to raise awareness among the general populace to vote for a woman in the hope that women in parliament will improve the lives of women at the grassroots,” explained WiPSU director Fanny Chirisa.

    Marlene Sigauke, programmes manager at the Center for African Women Advancement, an organization that works for the development of African women, emphasized that policies and political party manifestos on gender equality must be fully implemented.

    “Women in power should be able to develop strong, gender-sensitive policies [that benefit] women at the grassroots,” she said.

    Time to fight for women’s rights

    Deputy Minister of Labour and Social Welfare Monica Mutsvangwa believes it is time to fight for women’s rights.

    “The new constitution reserves seats for women and we want to take that opportunity … to improve their welfare,” she said.

    The constitution allocates 60 total affirmative action seats for women in both the country’s 210-seat parliament and 88-seat senate.

    “The constitution now approves an 18 percent quota of women’s participation in politics. We are therefore going to use this constitution to implement policies and turn theory into practice,” Mutsvangwa said.

    MP and chairperson of the Regional Women’s Parliamentary Caucus Beatrice Nyamupinga said that although Zimbabwe was signatory to a number of conventions, the government has failed to implement these policies.

    “Many victims [widows not allowed to inherit their husband’s property] are afraid to report their cases for fear of being judged and interrogated by authorities and the police. The new constitution has provisions for gender equality and certain clauses protect the rights of women. If women themselves are not present in parliament to make sure that the laws are implemented, then the provisions will never come to pass,” Nyamupinga explained. “Only a woman in parliament is capable of changing the life of another woman.”

    *Name changed to protect identity.

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