By Kathambi Kinoti
Matawira’s game is clearly based on solid reality. The past decade has been difficult for Zimbabwe. Political and economic upheaval has continued to characterise it, even though in the past year there has been a slight reprieve on some situations. Political repression beginning the early 2000s was accompanied by widespread violence particularly against people who were or were perceived to be opposition supporters. Brutal beatings, torture, intimidation and sometimes killings were the fate of many citizens. The current Prime Minister Morgan Tsvangirai was one of the more prominent victims of this routine violence in 2008. Teresa Mugadza, a prominent feminist says that her country has gone through some of its darkest times, and women had it even worse. Already vulnerable because of the prevailing patriarchal culture, they bore the brunt of the crisis.
Hunger is widespread in Zimbabwe, the result of a combination of disastrous economic policies, drought in some years and political instability. The hyper inflation of recent years has contributed to persistent food insecurity. In 2008 inflation was estimated at 56 million per cent per annum. It has now gone down since the “dollarization” of the economy. “Dollarization” refers to the introduction of the US dollar, the South African rand and other relatively stable currencies as legal tender in Zimbabwe after the country’s dollar was devalued beyond rescue. Remittances from relatives abroad have helped keep many families afloat during the trying times.
In 2005, the government carried out mass forced evictions of slum-dwellers – resettling only a very small number – which resulted not only in the loss of homes for hundreds and thousands of people, but also in the loss of livelihoods for informal traders and vendors. Most of the people affected were women.
The state healthcare system collapsed. A report by Physicians for Human Rights says that the health crisis was “a direct outcome of the violation of a number of human rights, including the right to participate in government and in free elections and the right to a standard of living adequate for one’s health and well being, including food, medical care and necessary social services.” Government hospitals shut down, and medicines were in short supply. Private clinics exist, but their high costs put them beyond the reach of many citizens. HIV prevalence is high at 15.3 per cent and every day, 400 Zimbabweans die of AIDS. Maternal mortality rates rose from 283 (per 100,000) in 1994 to 1,100 (per 100,000) in 2006.
Signs of hope
In September 2008, Zimbabwe’s president Robert Mugabe entered into a deal with opposition leader Morgan Tsvangirai to put an end to the country’s political turmoil. The agreement has promoted relative stability, even though major divisions remain, which have taken it to the brink of collapse and back. According to Mugadza, “There has been a significant reduction in violence, even though pockets of violence still remain.” She says that inflation is being arrested and more people have better access to food and water. Some donors are returning and are supporting access to water and health as well as primary education. “We haven’t seen leaps and bounds kinds of changes,” says Mugadza. “But there is definitely a change for the better.”
Women have always played an integral role in political resistance – from resistance to colonial rule to the fight against the more recent repression. (see WOZA). Mugadza says that the ways in which women have played their role has often been unengendered – they have not strictly differentiated women’s rights from the wider body of human rights. In their participation in the resolution of the recent crisis, she says that to isolate women’s rights concerns would have proved unstrategic in the moment.
This is not to say that Zimbabwean women do not recognise the unique concerns and challenges that women face within their social and political context. Mugadza says that the priorities for women’s activism remain the same: confronting violence against women, vulnerability to HIV and AIDS, the feminisation of poverty and the under-representation of women in leadership.
Although Zimbabwe’s government of national unity continues to be plagued by numerous political and operational problems, the ongoing constitutional review process provides an opportunity for women’s rights advocates to press for the consolidation of women’s rights into the constitution. Zimbabwe is signatory to CEDAW as well as to the Southern African Development Community’s Protocol on Gender and Development. It has bound itself to respect, promote and fulfil women’s rights. Women’s rights must be central to the restructuring and operationalisation of the unity government. Perhaps then, Matawira will alter her game so that the formation of an inclusive government – which includes women and women’s concerns – will count for several steps away from premature death for the Zimbabwean woman.
Article License: Creative Commons – Article License Holder: AWID