21 February 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the combined second, third, fourth and fifth periodic reports of Zimbabwe on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.
Introducing the report, Olivia Muchena, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, said that Zimbabwe had embarked on a Constitution making process in 2009, which would enhance the full citizenship and equality of women. In 2009 the National Women’s Consultative Conference agreed a common position on the inclusion of social and economic rights, equal representation in decision-making positions and prohibition of discrimination on the basis of customary laws. The establishment of a family law court, which would incorporate mediation and reconciliatory strategies, was ongoing. The Strengthened Referral Pathway to increase access to life saving services of survivors of domestic violence and a One Stop Centre model to increase access to services for victims of domestic violence were some of the measures addressing domestic violence.
Initiatives to improve women’s health included the 2010 Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality, revitalization of Maternal Waiting Homes to improve birth delivery and reduce maternal mortality, and the 2011 Health Transition Fund to ensure provision of free maternal and child health services by all public health facilities.
During the discussion Experts said that Zimbabwe’s constitutional review was a window of opportunity to address women’s issues and protect all women from discrimination. Enactment of the Human Rights Commission Bill and compliance of the Human Rights Commission with the Paris Principles, were also discussed. Experts asked about enrolment of girls in secondary education, the root causes of high school drop-out rates among girls, measures to address sexual violence in schools, and early pregnancies. The delegation was asked about the decriminalization of abortion and on health services for women who had undergone illegal abortions. Zimbabwe’s marital regime, abolishment of traditional practice of lobola and the protection of women and children in family units created under the customary law, were widely discussed. Measures taken to tackle human trafficking were raised, while other issues included measures on reducing maternal mortality rates, participation of women in public and political life, land reform and access to land ownership by women and the worst forms of child labour in Zimbabwe.
In concluding remarks, Olivia Muchena said that Zimbabwe was committed to the advancement of women and achieving gender equality, it was the subject of a very active debate in the country. Zimbabwe had done a lot in terms of legislation, but women still needed to be empowered though education and information campaigns.
The delegation of Zimbabwe consisted of representatives of the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, the Ministry of State Organ for National Healing, Reconciliation and Integration, the Ministry of Justice and Legal Affairs, the Office of the Public Prosecutor and the Permanent Mission of Zimbabwe to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The next public meeting of the Committee will be at 10 a.m. on 22 February when it will consider combined third and fourth periodic reports of Algeria (CEDAW/C/DZA/3-4).
Report of Zimbabwe
The combined second to fifth periodic report of Zimbabwe can be read here: (CEDAW/C/ZWE/Q/2-5).
Presentation of the Report
OLIVIA MUCHENA, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development of Zimbabwe, said that in 2009 Zimbabwe had embarked on a Constitution review process which would deepen democratic values and protection of equality of all citizens, particularly the enhancement of full citizenship and equality of women. A National Women’s Consultative Conference had been held in 2009 which came up with a common position on the inclusion of social and economic rights, equal representation in decision making positions and prohibition of discrimination on the basis of customary laws and other norms and practices. The Government was working towards the establishment of a family law court which would incorporate mediation and reconciliatory strategies and was undertaking research in the area of marriage law regime to determine the prevalence of each type of marriage and their impact on women. In line with the Beijing Platform for Action, the Government was continuing efforts to strengthen the national gender machinery, but its effectiveness was being compromised by limited budgets and resources. Zimbabwe remained committed to eliminating discrimination against women in political and public life as attested by a female Vice President since 2005 and a female Deputy Prime Minister since 2009. In addition, the Human Rights Commission and the Electoral Commission had 44 per cent female representation and the Public Service Commission had 67 per cent.
In the area of domestic violence, Zimbabwe had adopted the Strengthened Referral Pathway to increase access to life saving services of survivors of domestic violence. One Stop Centre was a model piloted in one province where all services were housed under one roof to increase access to services for victims of domestic violence. Initiatives aiming to improve the health of women included rolling out the Campaign on Accelerated Reduction of Maternal Mortality in 2010, revitalization of Maternal Waiting Homes to improve institutional delivery and reduce maternal mortality, and launching in 2011 a Health Transition Fund which would ensure the provision to free maternal and child health services by all public health facilities. The 2011 Medium Term Plan was a blueprint guiding economic policy to 2015 in which full participation of women and girls in all sectors of economy was set as a national priority. The Women’s Development Fund had been created to promote economic empowerment of women at grassroots level; it provided loans to women without requiring collateral security. The Government had initiated the process of establishing a Women’s Council to ensure coordination and harmonization of national gender machinery and the various women’s organizations working in Zimbabwe. In closing, Ms. Muchena noted that the progress in Zimbabwe was being affected by the illegal economic sanctions imposed upon the country, which mainly affected women and girls.
Questions by Experts
An Expert asked what steps Zimbabwe was taking to ensure its reporting obligations on the implementation of the Convention. Was civil society included in the Constitution review process and how did they contribute? What was Zimbabwe doing to ensure that the Human Rights Commission Bill currently being considered in Parliament would be enacted as soon as possible? What was the legislative agenda to ensure the compliance of the Human Rights Commission with the Paris Principles?
Further, the delegation was asked to clarify the coordination mechanism and principles between various Government bodies and agencies in charge of the implementation of women’s laws and policies. How did the Government undertake training of judges and police officers? On temporary special measures, a Committee Expert said that Zimbabwe had made progress in the areas of microcredit and teacher training, but what was Zimbabwe envisaging as measures to achieve parity for women, especially in areas in which they were under-represented.
Response by Delegation
Responding to questions, the delegation said that the last 13 years had been eventful in Zimbabwe and that reporting on the implementation of the Convention could not be given the attention it deserved. On the constitution review process, the delegation said that space was created for open participation of civil society during the consultation phase. Participation of civil society continued in the current phase of the process, particularly through political parties. The delegation was confident that all matters pertaining to customary law and norms would be thoroughly addressed by the new Constitution, thanks to broad consultation with men and women, old and young and with traditional leaders on the matters of gender equality and parity.
On the delay in passing the Human Rights Commission Bill, the delegation said that those were part and parcel of global political agreement negotiations. The Bill had been sent to the Parliament where the whole issue had unraveled and thus the delay. Notwithstanding the lack of the legislation, the National Human Rights Commission was doing its work in Zimbabwe. On the Paris Principles, the Government consulted the National Human Rights Commission itself and the bill as it stood now was in line with the Paris Principles. There was no duplication of functions between the Public Protector’s Office, the National Human Rights Commission and family courts, as the human rights mandate was now sitting with the National Human Rights Commission. All police officers were trained in violence against women and refresher workshops were organized every year. Police was engaged in awareness raising in communities about the violence against women and all cases were thoroughly investigated.
On peace and reconciliation, the delegation said that the establishment of the Organ for National Healing was in the global political agreement and its aim was to address cyclic political violence since the colonial times. The three commissioners reflected on and recommended the establishment of a national grassroots mechanism and a Code of Conduct that had been sent to all political parties and would be a part of the Electoral Act. The aim was to make the people of Zimbabwe believe politics did not need violence. The Cabinet was engaged in drafting the Peace and Reconciliation Bill, based on the consultations undertaken by the Organ for National Healing with the Zimbabweans on questions on levels and ways of inclusion. Parity of women in underrepresented areas would be more thoroughly addressed by the new Constitution. In its strategic plan to 2015, the Ministry for Higher Education was promoting gender equality in higher education as its objective. This would be achieved through affirmative action in acceptance of women in all tertiary education institutions.
Questions by Experts
An Expert said that the extent of prevalence of harmful traditional practices needed to be known in order to combat them and asked if the Government had any baseline studies on prevalence, kind and sources of harmful traditional practices. Could the delegation say more about awareness raising activities and their impact? Would the new Constitution have the Bill of Rights for women which would guarantee full enjoyment of their rights?
A Committee Expert said that Zimbabwe was taking action on human trafficking and asked what the status of adoption of the Palermo Protocol was at the moment and whether Zimbabwe would be passing a national law to combat the crime of trafficking. Were there shelters at the border with South Africa or did victims of human trafficking rely on traditional leaders too? Was there a need for more hotlines and what were the plans of Zimbabwe to establish them? There was a need to accelerate the study of the phenomena of human trafficking in Zimbabwe and to develop an integrated national plan to deal with it in cooperation with civil society.
Committee Experts also asked if Zimbabwe was using the Convention as a platform to advocate for the elimination of discrimination against women in the constitutional reform process and what the plans were for the full incorporation of the Convention in the future. The constitutional reform presented a window of opportunity to address women’s issues, including the prohibition of discrimination for all women. However, lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender women were discriminated against in a number of sectors in Zimbabwe and Experts asked if the new Constitution would guarantee rights and protection of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons as well? How many people had been sentenced for violence against women? Would the draft Constitution emphasize religious freedom for women? What steps was the Government taking to repeal section 23 of the old Constitution?
Response by Delegation
The delegation said it would provide information on research on harmful traditional practices later. The Government was currently engaging in dialogue with different religious groups that were practicing child marriage. Lobola could be seen as a harmful traditional practice, but it was a way for families to cement their relations. Debates on abolishing this practice did not start in the society as yet and the delegation said that lobola should be looked at within the context of culture. It was important to conduct research into what parts of lobola were harmful and then work on abolishing those. There were certain legal provisions in place or they would be put in place in the area of inheritance for different family units under the lobola system.
On violence against women, the delegation said it was important to put accent on the protection of victims and provision of support to survivors. At the village level, shelter was provided by traditional leaders and the question was what could be done to strengthen the existing system rather than superimpose it with a new system. The Bill of Rights was being drafted at the moment and the issues relating to women were being addressed throughout the Bill and the Constitution itself, in addition to a separate chapter on the rights of women.
Shelters were not limited to those provided by traditional chiefs, and there were specialised shelters in the country, including for refugee women. There were also shelters for victims of human trafficking on borders and they provided services to irregular immigrants as well. Adoption of the Palermo Protocol was expected to happen this year. On cooperation with civil society, the delegation said that it was indeed in place and joint programmes and conferences were being carried out.
On section 23 of the old Constitution, the delegation said that it came loud and clear from the consultation process that the new Constitution would not contain this section. The equality principle was embedded in a number of articles throughout the Constitution. On discrimination of lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender persons, the delegation said that the Constitution consultation process had included a section of homosexuality; communities saw homosexuality as taboo, categorically refused it and did not see it as part and parcel of their cultural ethos. The dilemma for the review Committee was how to balance the people-driven process; the constitutional revision should be against inclusion of externally imposed concepts.
Women would have religious freedom guaranteed in the new Constitution, like all other citizens. On estates in customary marriages, the delegation said that the estate law provided full protection of women in such marriages and what was needed now was more awareness of this law. Concerning specific measures on affirmative action, the delegation said the objective was 50-50 participation of women in higher education institutions by 2020, which was to be achieved through a point system in favour of women, bridging programmes and an increase in geographical coverage by tertiary education institutions.
Questions from Experts
How was the participation of women in public and political life in Zimbabwe shaping up; how many women were participating, in which positions and what happened to the 1998 affirmative measures? Could the delegation comment on the cases of political harassment? How was the non-discrimination clause applied in everyday life and how would the parity be achieved? The delegation was also asked to provide data and statistics on the prosecution of perpetrators of violence against women. What were the measures to simplify the complicated and lengthy nationality and citizenship procedures for women and their children? What were special measures Zimbabwe could take to protect women against political violence and to increase their participation in political life?
Another Expert asked the delegation to provide more information about the enrolment of girls in secondary education, root causes of high girl school drop-out and measures to address the threat of sexual violence, early pregnancies of female students and school drop-out. What concrete measures were contemplated to guarantee free choice of curriculum and area to study for girls at secondary levels? What protection was provided to girls against sexual violence by teachers and students, what reporting mechanisms were in place and how were the perpetrators prosecuted? How was the Government monitoring and evaluating measures to bring about equality in employment sectors? Could the delegation provide more information on the existence of the worst forms of child labour in Zimbabwe?
The delegation was asked to comment on the right to health in the Constitution, the right to abortion and procedures to obtain it, and the impact of the Government’s programmes on maternal mortality rates. The current economic situation did not spare the health sector and an Expert asked about its impact on access to antiretroviral drugs. On social security, coverage for women was very weak as women workers were found in informal sectors and in rural areas; what measures was the Government taking to ensure coverage for those women and to increase access of women to loans? Access of rural women to land was limited since all policies and practices were permeated by patriarchal attitudes; what were mechanisms to monitor the implementation of the land reform process? An Expert said that the feminization of poverty in Zimbabwe was manifested through higher prevalence among female-headed households and asked about poverty alleviation measures and strategies.
Response from the Delegation
Gender equality was not a reality in Zimbabwe as yet but there were indications that progress was being made, particularly in the participation of women in political and public life. Principles of parity would also be included and entrenched in the Constitution which would further help the cause. Since 1998 Zimbabwe had witnessed significant change as seen in the increase of the number of women in public life, including in the Cabinet, Government and diplomatic service. The issue of political violence needed to be addressed by increasing the political space and 50-50 representation as sought by women’s groups might help to resolve this issue. The delegation agreed on the need for simplified procedures and said that the issue of mono and dual citizenship was currently under review. Fear of violence was not the only reason putting women off running in elections; a lot was due to the family situation, resources and support.
The Government was aware of challenges in the participation of girls in secondary and tertiary education, particularly in rural areas. The Government was accelerating the building of schools in rural areas which would decrease travelling time and increase girl attendance. Statutory instruments and measures addressing sexual violence in schools included a circular on procedures and schools had to follow in identifying, recognising and dealing with sexual violence and sexual abuse; a circular on handling pregnant girls including psychological support and reinsertion; and termination from service of teachers who committed acts of sexual violence against students. In higher education institutions, there was a campaign to inform and teach women students about reporting procedures for sexual violence. The delegation deferred the question on child labour, saying it did have data and statistics on this issue.
Legal abortion was allowed in cases of rape and the Government was currently looking into simplifying and shortening this procedure. Decriminalizing of abortion was discussed but unfortunately it had not yet been put on the political agenda so it could be changed. Measures addressing maternal mortality included establishment of a pooled fund, removal of user fees in public institutions, mother waiting homes close to health centres with trained midwives, and free blood transfusions.
Zimbabwe was noted for effective measures in access to antiretroviral drugs and regretted that the suspension of Zimbabwe from the next round of funding from the Global Fund was putting all the progress made at risk. The delegation deferred the question on social security pending further information. On women’s access to land, 20 per cent was a target during the land reform; some provinces did well and some underperformed.
On equal pay for equal work, the delegation said that the Government considered that the International Labour Organization’s definition of equal remuneration restricted diversity in work. However the principle of equal pay was being taken into consideration as part of the ongoing reform of the Labour Law.
Questions by Experts
In follow up questions, Experts asked whether there was legislation against sexual harassment in the workplace, and what maternity leave provisions were. The delegation was also asked about the rehabilitation of prostitutes.
Experts also asked about, provisions governing legal abortion, what happened to women who arrived at hospital suffering complications arising from an illegal abortion, and whether abortion would be decriminalized. How many girls went back to school after pregnancy and how their re-entry to school was facilitated?
Did the Poverty Reduction Strategy and Alleviation Plan have targets and how did they focus on female headed households? On occupational segregation, what measures were taken to ensure access of women to equal training and employment in non traditional sectors? What policies were in place to support career development of women and their access to high level and high paying jobs?
The delegation was asked for further comment on polygamy and ‘lobola’. How could wives married under the customary law system access maintenance in case of a breakdown of marriage? What was the timetable for passing of the revised marriage law?
Response by Delegation
Two laws defined sexual harassment in the workplace as an offence and where consensus by the adults was lacking, it was considered a criminal offence. Rape cases were handled according to the established system, which was victim-friendly, as were the courts that provided justice.
Abortion was illegal in Zimbabwe and whoever was reported for abortion was arrested, with the exception of legal abortion where the mother was mentally challenged. Concerning abortion-related complications, it was hard to say whether the bleeding was due to illegal or spontaneous abortion, so health services didn’t turn anyone down.
Pregnancy in reality was not the primary reason for girls dropping out of school. Re-entry of girls to school after pregnancy was a policy and services were provided to that end. Reinstating didn’t always happen immediately after the pregnancy, nor did it happen in the same school. Maternity leave was 98 days on full pay, as per International Labour Organization regulations.
The delegation said that for the past twelve years Zimbabwe had undergone serious economic downturn and the majority of workers were self employed in the informal sector. Data on occupational segregation was not available at the moment. There were policies on development of employment that would address the issue of occupational segregation and the Ministry of Small Enterprises had put to the Cabinet a policy on the organization and administration of small and medium enterprises, including in the informal sector.
The Government admitted that reform of the marriage law had taken considerable time. There had been a Bill before the Cabinet which had been sent back to the Ministry with the instruction to undertake research on different types of marriages, their impact on women and on the issue of child marriage. The intention was to base the reform on evidence and facts. That research would be completed by the end of 2012.
On access to maintenance under ‘lobola’, there was a law on maintenance which obliged men to support their children irrespective of the sort of marriage they had. Zimbabwe had two marriage regimes, and second wives were not legally considered to be a wife. That issue and others, such as property, custody or guardianship, would be looked into as part of the marriage law reform. The intention of the Government was to enact a marriage law that was human rights based.
OLIVIA MUCHENA, Minister of Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development, said that questions raised in the open and constructive dialogue helped the delegation to think through and beyond a number of issues. Zimbabwe was committed to the advancement of women and achieving gender equality, it was the subject of a very active debate in the country. Zimbabwe had done a lot in terms of legislation, but women still needed to be empowered though education and information campaigns.
For use of the information media; not an official record