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Harmful practices rob girls of their rights

by Staff reporter
30 Jul 2023 at 08:58hrs | Views
Zimbabwe has ratified various international conventions and declarations on gender equality in its effort to create an enabling environment for the attainment of equity and equality between women and men.

These include the 1979 Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (Cedaw), the Beijing Platform for Action (1995) and the Sadc Gender and Development Declaration (1997), among many others.

Locally, a plethora of legislative instruments and policies aimed at guaranteeing women's legal and constitutional rights have been put in place, which are offshoots of the 2013 constitution, regarded as "gender-sensitive".

Section 52 of the constitution says every citizen has a right to personal security and bodily integrity, while Section 78 is on marriage rights.

It provides that every person who has attained the age of 18 years has a right to found a family and that no person can be compelled to enter into a marriage against their will.

Despite these efforts to bring about gender awareness at various levels in communities, customary law has been allowed to prevail over legislative instruments, leaving women vulnerable to harmful traditional and cultural practices.

Twenty-three-year-old Marble Moyo (name protected) had to ditch her seven-year abusive marriage and seek refuge in Masvingo town where she worked as a house maid before moving to Harare where she remarried.

She has never set foot in her home area — in Mwenezi — fearing that society would derogate her for "making her choice".

Moyo was married off to a local man, two times her age, who had pledged to support the family financially.

"This man died during the early stages of our marriage, but things changed for the worst when the young brother inherited everything, including us, the two wives," she said.

Known as kugara nhaka, the traditional practice of wife inheritance is whereby the wife of a deceased man to be inherited by the man's male relative, usually his brother.

"He was abusive and never fulfilled his brother's pledge of supporting my family compelling me to relocate to Masvingo before I got married and moved here to Harare," Moyo said.

"It was not my choice to get married at the age 13, but someone else's choice."

Moyo said she was now at peace after making her own choice to marry someone she loves.

She is now a volunteer for a non-governmental organisation that deals with women and girls rights in Hopley surburb in Harare where she stays with her husband.

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), in Zimbabwe about one in three women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence and about one in four women have experienced sexual violence since the age of 15.

The UNFPA's flagship 2023 State of the World Population Report titled 8 Billion Lives, Infinite Possibilities: the case for rights and choices calls for action to ensure the rights of women and girls are respected even in a world of growing anxieties of a growing population.

According to the report, a staggering 44% of partnered women and girls in 68 reporting countries, including Zimbabwe, do not have the right to make informed decisions about their bodies when it comes to using contraception and seeking health care.

"Every member of our human family has the right to make free and informed choices about their health, bodies and futures," said UNFPA executive director Natalia Kanem.

"This right should be the starting point for all conversations about population.

"Population is, after all, about people, about creating the conditions for all eight billion of us to live freely and fully, equal in dignity and rights, on a healthy, safe and prosperous planet."

The State of the World Population strongly recommends governments institute policies with gender equality and rights at their heart, such as parental leave programmes, child tax credits, policies that promote gender equality in the workplace, and universal access to sexual and reproductive health and rights.

Several researchers that have examined the origin and extent of harmful practices around the world have revealed that the number of girls and women affected by these practices is staggering — and even, in some cases, growing.

One in five marriages today involves a child bride.

"Part of my duties as a peer educator is to engage communities on the dangers of harmful practices such as kugara nhaka, chimutsapfuwa and other practices that violate the rights of women and girls," Moyo s said.

"I want to be part of those that would go to rural communities where these practices are rampant."

Moyo said she was planning to reunite with her family and engage her community on issues around child marriages.

Her predicament is faced by a number of other girls and women in Zimbabwe, who have not been protected by the law and whose fundamental civil liberties have been violated because of traditional practices and norms.

Zimbabwe, just like any African country, is riddled with traditional practices, rituals and attitudes which perpetuate the discrimination and infringement of women's fundamental civil liberties.

"Efforts are being done in Zimbabwe to address the issue around harmful practices and the Spotlight Initiative is one such programme," said Zimbabwe Gender Commission chief executive officer Virginia Muwanigwa.

"The Spotlight Initiative, which is being implemented in gender-based violence and child marriages hotspots, seeks to eliminate all forms of violence against women and girls."

Muwanigwa said it was one such programme that is complimenting other efforts such as gender sensitisation workshops with traditional authority structures.

"All these efforts are being done with the aim of transforming rural communities to be more sensitive to women's economic and social rights and gender equality and equity issues," she added.

"We are also raising awareness on GBV through the media as well as doing referrals of complaints to service providers.

"The commission also liaises with the police for speedy responses to GBV cases."

Women Affairs, Community and Small to Medium Enterprises Development ministry's permanent secretary Moses Mhike said efforts were being made to create an "enabling" terrain for community patriarchal structures to be more receptive to gender equality.

"We are working with our partners such as UNFPA and others in doing awareness campaigns in these marginalised communities to address the issue around harmful practices and GBV," Mhike said.

"It we unlock women's potential by empowering them to make choices about their bodies and lives, they and their families thrive – and their societies – thrive as well."

Mhike said the State of the World Population Report makes it clear that advancing gender equality was the best tool for managing population change and building resilient societies.

He said adolescents, especially girls, must be empowered to speak up for their rights and develop the self-confidence and autonomy needed to take control of their bodies and lives.

"Apart from empowering the girl child, we also need to engage the boy child and I am happy to say that a lot of programmes are also considering the boy child," Mhike added.

UNFPA deputy country representative Gulnara Kadrykulova said advancing gender equality was a crosscutting solution to many population concerns.

"In ageing societies that worry about labour productivity, achieving gender parity in the workforce is the most effective way to improve output and income growth," she said.

Source - The Standard