THE COVID-19 pandemic, which has been ravaging the world for more than a year and is still raging, has worsened gender gaps in communities, with women, young girls and children being the most affected. Chinga Govhati (CG), a gender and child rights consultant with more than 20 years’ experience say most communities that did not respect the rights of women and the girl child do not prosper. The former magistrate told NewsDay senior reporter Miriam Mangwaya (ND) in an interview that there was need to educate victims of societal injustices about court processes so that they knew how to approach legal institutions for help.
ND: Why is women and girl child empowerment important to communities?
CG: Communities that ignore gender equity and equality needs are in danger of missing out on development. A community that is concerned with the empowerment of girls and women reap positive rewards. Women constantly and consistently invest back in their communities. As a result, when community leaders shun practices, whether religious or cultural, that prejudice girls and women’s freedom, their communities will prosper. Societies should strive for the girl child’s access to education, health, sanitation, and several other needs. When a community ignores girl child rights violations, cases of child marriages, abuse of children and domestic violence against women, poverty will define that community. School dropouts, early marriages and suppressed women are the key indicators of a community that is lacking development. These are retrogressive factors to development. Community leaders should always be aware of the factors that are against development so that they hasten to address those issues.
ND: How do women-empowering communities differ from those dominantly headed by men?
CG: The issue about gender equality and equity is not about men and women competing. It is about the society taking an inclusive approach that gives women the same opportunities in leadership with men. Research has shown that communities with more women in public decision-making positions tend to benefit from policies that promote women, girls and children participation. Scholars agree that there is enough evidence across the globe to prove that women have been successful on governance and leadership. The Global Women Leadership Index 2019 report shows that the proportion of women in senior management roles globally grew to 29%, the highest number ever recorded. Statistics also show that Africa is progressing more than other continents on women empowerment. Recently, we witnessed a woman being sworn in as a president in Tanzania, which shows the positive attitude of the continent on gender issues. Women form the bulk of the population, so when communities consider women for leadership roles, they are also indicating a proactive approach to development. Such communities would be cognisant of the fact that women have been historically prejudiced and they need to be emancipated.
ND: What has the government done on policies that are aimed at capacitating women?
CG: Although there have been strides to promote women empowerment, there is more that still needs to be done. In 2013, Zimbabwe saw a new Constitution in place that had special rights for women and children in sections 80 and 81 respectively. The Constitution also provided for the rights for people surviving with disabilities in section 83. This was a milestone achievement and we have seen the Constitutional Court coming up with judgments that uphold the supreme law, as in the famous 2016 ruling that outlawed child marriages. We have also seen a number of policies promoting women and aiming to empower them but the challenge has always been with resources to fully implement them. Of late, there has been talk of the National Plan of Action on ending child marriages, but we are yet to realise full achievement because of limited resources to enable communities to implement the policy. The other major challenge is lack of willingness by communities to implement the policies. While we applaud efforts to have laws aligned to the Constitution, concern has been on the slow pace to do so. We are yet to see the Marriage Bill turning into a full law. The same applies to other Acts or laws that will help make the lives of women and children better such as principles on minimum mandatory sentences for sexual offences that were approved by Cabinet in 2019.
ND: What sectors of the economy can you say need serious consideration for increased women participation?
CG: UN Women, a global champion for gender equality says economic empowerment of women and girls involves giving women and girls the ability to participate in developmental processes and economic markets, access to and control over resources, access to decent work and increased voices. Here in Zimbabwe, we are celebrating women heading companies in the various sectors of the economy. We have women who are running their own companies. However, generally, the proportion of women who have key managerial or administrative posts across all sectors is still very low. We have some sectors such as the mining industry, which are dominated by men with limited participation of women due to the perceived masculinity of the activities. It is estimated that gender gaps cost the economy some 15% of gross domestic product (GDP) therefore, increasing women’s and girls’ educational attainment contributes to women’s economic empowerment and more inclusive economic growth.
ND: Gender-based violence (GBV) was reportedly on the rise during the COVID-19 pandemic. What has to be done to ensure that there is healing and restoration, especially for the victims?
CG: Activists should improve co-ordination efforts so that every girl and woman affected by GBV knows where to seek help and actually gets the help she needs. Efforts to have a national GBV hotline are applauded, as well as efforts by the different anti-GBV service providers to have several hotlines. At some point, I together with other activists, compiled a service providers’ list of hotline numbers, which we shared on different social media platforms to encourage GBV victims to use the free services on seeking help. Efforts by the Women Affairs ministry in fighting GBV are commendable, but there is need for a reaction mechanism that is faultless. Also of importance, there is need for a strong court support system. So far, the victim friendly system and the help desk efforts being co-ordinated by the Legal Resources Foundation are doing wonders in the civil courts across the nation. Such efforts should be extended to the criminal courts. The COVID-19 lockdown stalled finalisation of several GBV cases at the courts hence the Judicial Service Commission should expedite prosecution and hearing of such cases so that victims get redress in the shortest possible time.
ND: There are rising reports of cases involving child murder for ritual purposes across the country. What do you think should be done to protect children against such abuse?
CG: It is unfortunate that when the economy teeters, the vulnerable are even more exposed. Cases of ritual killings and general child abuse need to be dealt with seriously by the justice actors. Apart from the court processes and activism against child abuse, the media also plays an important role in ending child killings through informing and raising awareness on such issues in communities. Ritual murders have become a new worrying trend in Zimbabwe and it should be stopped forthwith. Government needs to step up on child protection mechanisms and this may be enhanced through crafting stiff penalties for perpetrators. It is also vital for the law enforcement officers to scale up their operation in preventing violation of children’s rights. Although perpetrators of child murders use various tricks and tactics to steal children, parents and guardians should not let their guard down on protecting their children from murderers or child traffickers.