Tag Archives: CEDAW Committee

Campaign empowering female activists and the democracy movement

One year after the National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) embarked on the campaign on mobilisation, education and protection of female activists at grassroots level, it is time to take a moment to look back at what we have achieved so far.

The ACT NOW Against Political Violence, Torture and Rape campaign has gained momentum, in particular in terms of mobilisation of female activists, who have been beaten down from years of repression.

 “Women are strong and believe we need to continue the struggle for democracy. Activism is within us and we will never move backwards. We will continue the fight until we have a people driven constitution in Zimbabwe” says a leading female activists in NCA.

NCA National Spokesperson, Madock Chivasa, speaking about the ACT NOW Against Political Violence Campaign

Mobilisation and education of women

In the past year, the NCA has embarked on a national outreach programme to encourage an open dialogue about the risks and challenges facing women and provide a platform for women to share their personal stories about the physical, mental and social attacks by the law enforcement agencies, militia and youth gangs.

Around the country women and men has gathered in small groups to break the silence and talk about the trauma resulting from being targeted by the state in response to their call for a people driven constitution. This has contributed to building women’s self-esteem as individuals and as active participants in the movement for a genuine democratisation of Zimbabwe’s repressive regime.

Responses to police brutality

In spite of the courage and unity of the democracy movement, activists are still putting their lives on the line when they take up the fight against repression. Many female activists have been faced with police brutality, and women who choose to become active in NCA are acutely aware of the risks of physical assaults, arrest and torture. By teaching women about their rights they have become better prepared for how to react, when the police interrupt demonstrations and NCA meetings.

Women now stand firm against the police. We tell them that we will not run away, so they can just go ahead and arrest us all. If one of us is arrested we stand together as a group and tell the police men to arrest us all. The police will leave us alone because we stand firm” says one of the women, who has educated grassroots women.

Protection and support to female activists

No matter how firm the women stand, the effects of the medical and psychological trauma from political violence cannot be underestimated. In the past year, NCA has scaled up the efforts to provide counselling, medical and legal support for women, who have been subjected to political violence. No woman should be left alone with the physical, mental and social wounds from violence, rape and torture. Therefore NCA has put a system in place, where women can report any incidences of political violence to the local offices, who will then refer them to medical, counselling and legal support.

Unfortunately the Zimbabwean police and court systems are under Robert Mugabe’s control, and it is not possible to report cases to the police or take the perpetrators to court. The police routinely refuse to investigate any cases of political violence against civic activists, who are perceived as being affiliated with Mugabe’s political rival, Morgan Tsvangirai.

Prosecution of perpetrators of political violence is therefore rare, and in the few court cases, the political elite has sought to threaten or pay the judges to rule in favour of the perpetrator. However, human rights lawyers and doctors still document all the cases, and are preparing to take them to court as soon as the political control of the court system is reduced. Attempts have also been made to prosecute perpetrators in other countries.

International lobbying

The women of Zimbabwe are not alone in their fight against repression. Throughout the past year, NCA and Africa Contact have put pressure on policy makers in Southern Africa and Europe to push for an end to political violence in Zimbabwe.

NCA has held a series of demonstrations around the campaign in Johannesburg. When the Southern Africa Development Community held an extraordinary summit in Johannesburg in June 2011, NCA handed in a petition calling on SADC to pressure Zimbabwe to put an end to political violence.

NCA Activists on their way to hand in petition to SADC

NCA Chairman Lovemore Madhuku and International Coordinator Munjodzi Mutandiri visited Copenhagen in December to mobilise support for the campaign. Civil society arranged a conference to address the issue of women’s political participation, and the Danish Government opened the doors to discuss the current political situation. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs took note of NCA’s analysis of the Government of National Unity’s failure to provide stability and security for Zimbabweans, and NCA stressed that there is an urgent need to ensure that all Zimbabweans are free to choose their leader and contribute to building the future of the country.

In February, NCA’s partner Research and Advocacy Unit (RAU), went to Geneva to engage the United Nations in the fight against political violence. During Zimbabwe’s review by the Committee on the Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), RAU successfully lobbied the Committee to condemn the systematic use of political violence against women. The CEDAW Report called on the Zimbabwean Government to end political violence.

International Solidarity

On the International Women’s Day and May Day, activists from Africa Contact took to the streets to urge Danish citizens and policy makers to show their solidarity with the women of Zimbabwe. More than 500 Danes showed their support by having their picture taken for a virtual petition on Facebook.

Danes calling for an end to political violence against women in Zimbabwe

The events caught the attention of Danish policymakers and the then Minister of Foreign Affairs Lene Espersen said: “I think we should fight all attempts at trying to misuse women for political purposes. So let’s speak up and speak up loud for the Zimbabwean women”, when she had her picture taken for the petition.

Strengthening the movement for a democratic Zimbabwe

The campaign has not only contributed to improving the situation for female activists. It has also strengthened NCA as a movement. The fear and consequences of political violence is something that is present in the lives of all activists. By initiating discussions about political violence at all levels of the organisation, NCA has become even more relevant for its grassroots supporters, because the organisation acknowledges and seeks to assist the physical and psychological risks the membership face.

The campaign against political violence is the first of its nature in NCA. We have always campaigned for a people driven constitution, and our members were positively surprised to see us talk about political violence. It has helped us mobilise our grassroots, especially women“, says a member of NCA’s Task Force.

But the struggle does not end here. Political violence, especially against women, has become integral to Zimbabwe’s political battleground as is still used as a tool to silence critical voices. It is expected that Zimbabwe will have a referendum on a new constitution this year and elections next year. Mugabe is not expected to give up power without a fight and is likely to launch a new campaign of intimidation and violence against the democracy movement. We need to prepare ourselves to protect women and provide support for the victims of political violence – and speak out to the international community on the continued human rights violations in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe promises respect for human rights

When Justice and Legal Affairs Minister, Patrick Chinamasa, attended the 19th Session at the UN Human Rights Council in March 2012, he made a number of promises to improve the human rights situation, including special attention to women’s rights. But with the Government of National Unity’s poor track record when it comes to respecting human rights, it is questionable if these promises will translate into actual changes on the ground.

In October, 2011, Zimbabwe underwent the Universal Period Review (UPR) at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva. Chinamasa, accepted a wide range of recommendations aiming to improve the human rights situation in Zimbabwe, including 15 recommendations directly dealing with women’s political participation and prevention of marginalisation and gender-based violence.

Since October, Chinamasa has had some time to think, and in his address to the Human Rights Council on 15th March he made further promises, such as implementation of domestic policies to prevent political violence; ratification of the Convention Against Torture and operationalizing the Human Rights Commission to enable it to investigate human rights abuses.

Zimbabwe Minister of Justice and Legal Affairs, Patrick Chinamasa, speaking at the 19th Session of the UN Human Rights Council

These words are full of promises of a brighter future for women of Zimbabwe, but knowing the history of the current regime’s disregard of its obligations to protect its citizens and promote human rights and social justice for all, there is limited hope that the words will lead to significant changes for men and women of Zimbabwe.

On the contrary, Zimbabwe’s regime has over the years repeatedly proved that promises and signatures on conventions have very limited impact on the actual actions on ground. The Convention on the Elimination of All Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) serves as a good example.

Zimbabwe ratified CEDAW in 1991, but at the review by the CEDAW Committee in February this year, it became glaringly clear that the state had done very little to live up to its obligations to protect and promote women’s right to take part in the social, economic and political development of Zimbabwe. Despite rosy words and intentions laid out in the Zimbabwean State Report to the CEDAW Committee, the result of the review showed that in reality very little has been done to protect and promote the rights of women.

Women in Zimbabwe are still to a large extent excluded from influence on equal terms with men, and in addition female politicians and civic activists, associated with the democracy movement, are direct targets of state-sponsored political violence.  No serious efforts have been made to end impunity for perpetrators of political violence and make sure women are free and safe to participate in politics and public life.

In spite of the increased pressure on Zimbabwe’s government based on the international human rights obligations, these are only small steps towards greater respect for the rights of all Zimbabweans.

International human rights treaties and review mechanisms are important ways of identifying and addressing human rights violations, but the only way Zimbabweans will see real improvements on the ground is when people stand up and demand their rights as human beings and as citizens of Zimbabwe. Civil society and the broader democracy movement plays an important role in mobilising and organising Zimbabweans to push for the government to become accountable to its people.

To improve the status of women in Zimbabwe: Reflections from the 51st CEDAW Session

Rumbidzai Dube from the Research and Advocacy Unit reflects on Zimbabwe’s review on the Convention for Elimination of all Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

The overarching or should I say recurring theme during the review process of  Zimbabwe by the Committee on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (the CEDAW Committee) was that the process was a constructive dialogue with the state in order to assess the extent of the improvement of the status of women in Zimbabwe. The review was hence a process to know the challenges, successes and future plans that the state has in store for the improvement of the status of women in Zimbabwe. Wow, interesting choice of words.

I clung on to the phrase in that theme; improve the status. This got me thinking that when we talk of improving there is an underlying assumption that the current status is not as good as it should be. And so that was the first step of the review; establishing what is wrong with the currents status of Zimbabwean women? A lot really! Women in Zimbabwe are discriminated by their own constitution, the supreme law of the land which allows them to be treated differently from men when matters of personal law or custom are being considered. Women in Zimbabwe make up 51% of the population yet not even 10% of them own the means of production such as land. Women in Zimbabwe are exposed to all forms of violence such as political violence, domestic violence, economic deprivation, human trafficking, sexual harassment, child marriages, pledging of virgins, and wife inheritance among others. Women in Zimbabwe are predominantly the caregivers of HIV/AIDS patients yet their work is unremunerated. They are also housewives yet this contribution is often considered negligible and insignificant when it comes to division of matrimonial property. I could go on forever, listing the things that are wrong with the current status of Zimbabwean women but what is more important right now is how the CEDAW review process sought to change them.

 The CEDAW Committee inspired me with confidence that they are a group of experts who understand the Zimbabwean context including the politics, the law, the culture, religion, economy and the intersectional impact of all these factors on women. They thoroughly analysed the state and civil society’s written and oral submissions and they did their own research to best assess the status of women in Zimbabwe. I heard the Committee members ask questions relating to programmes that I had no idea existed in Zimbabwe. I watched the Committee members keep their cool in the face of evasive responses by the state and just probe further. One of their favourite lines was ” I asked the state delegation … and you said… I would still like to know… Can you provide me with more concrete details on that issue.” Thorough, well informed, professional, calm and composed-those are the words I would use to describe the Committee if anyone asked for my opinion. Having seen the concluding observations of the CEDAW Committee, they predominantly carry specific recommendations that, if implemented fully will vastly improve the status of women in Zimbabwe.

 Sadly, the Secretary of the CEDAW Committee, who deals with these issues on a day to day basis because that is his job, did not inspire the same level of confidence in me. First I asked myself how come a man is Secretary of CEDAW. Then I admonished myself by saying, he must be gender sensitive and of course gender sensitive men and may even be more committed to improving the status of women than women who do not have an appreciation of the issues. But no it was not the case with him. He had no idea what issues affect women in Zimbabwe. He had no idea what the current context in Zimbabwe and for the women in my country. But of course he knew a lot about the issues in Algeria and Jordan. Oh well, when it turned out that he is American, I related to this fact-Americans are preoccupied, no the right word is obsessed with the Middle East so it is no wonder he had an interest in Jordan and was clueless about the things happening in dark, poor Africa. Frankly for me that was unforgivable but I hope he reads this blog and redeems himself by familiarising himself with the issues in all countries coming for review at the CEDAW Committee whose day to day runnings he supervises. Maybe I am sounding too harsh but would anyone forgive Ban Ki Moon for failing to know that there is conflict in Syria?

 I was quite impressed with the Zimbabwean delegation present at the Session. Undoubtedly some of their responses were bogus, evasive and plain ridiculous. For instance when asked what the state is doing to give police proper training in human rights and gender sensitivity, the state responded by saying that the police were being trained by SAHRIT. Excuse me that non governmental organisation closed more than 5 years ago. Asked when the state plans to ratify the Palermo Protocol on Trafficking in persons, they evasively responded by saying they are currently reviewing the current list of ratified treaties and only after that review will they think of ratifying new ones. Asked what they are doing to ensure the non-recurrence of political violence, the state responded saying that they have always thoroughly investigated, prosecuted and convicted perpetrators of violence. When the CEDAW Committee further probed asking for statistics of those convicted, the state had none- of course they had no statistics because close to zero people have been prosecuted for committing political violence.

 However, the approach of the head of the delegation, Minister of Women Affairs Gender and Community Development, Olivia Muchena is commendable. Unlike the Ministry of Justice which goes for its Universal Periodic Review prepared to accept all recommendations by China and the Far East and dump all recommendations no matter how progressive they are for Zimbabwe by the West, she was looking for ideas that improve the status of women. She was not on the defensive, she sought guidance from the CEDAW Committee in certain aspects and I am happy to say she made several commitments to the CEDAW Committee on behalf of Zimbabwean women. For instance, she assured the CEDAW Committee that Section 23(3) of the Constitution which discriminates women would not be part of the new constitution. She also committed to improving the economic status of women by providing them with land, credit facilities and other financial support as she found women’s economic disempowerment one of the main causes of violence in the homes which then feeds the continuum of violence from the home into the community.

Now that the concluding observations of the CEDAW Committee have been published, we can get started working to improve the status of women in Zimbabwe.

Download the recommendations and reports from the Zimbabwean state and civil society here

Zimbabwe reporting to UN on women’s rights

Africa Contact activist, Copenhagen

In early August there will be a pre-session in Zimbabwe’s upcoming review by the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

 It has been 16 years since Zimbabwe submitted the last report, and reading the government’s assessment on status on elimination of discrimination gives a bleak picture on the situation for Zimbabwean women.

Not only is the report completely silent on the use of political violence to hamper women’s active participation in politics and development and to define and shape their future. It also fails to address the underlying social and cultural barriers women face in the patriarchal society where women are beaten and discredited as being ‘loose’ if they dare put themselves forward to positions of influence and power at local or national level.

The report praises the ratification of international conventions and introduction of new legislation to promote women’s rights and protect them against discrimination and violence, but there is not mention of the enforcement of these laws. The authors seem to have forgotten that a convention or a law is worth noting if it is not followed by action. Without prosecutions of the perpetrators of political violence, the abuses will continue.

I hope the CEDAW working group will see beyond the rhetoric of progress and take a strong stance against the Government’s failure to protect and promote the rights of Zimbabwean women.

Read the report here