Ruth Butaumocho Gender Forum
Last week Zimbabwe joined the rest of the world in commemorating International Women’s Day, by holding a series of events to celebrate women’s achievements calling for equality among men and women.
This year the day was commemorated under the theme “Make it happen”, a topic which encouraged women to make their choices in politics, getting an education, living in societies free from violence, discrimination in all aspects of life and ensuring that their dreams become a reality.
For Zimbabwean women, the day afforded them an opportunity to evaluate the progress made towards gender equality, the challenges they still have and the vision they have towards social economic and political emancipation.
Although gender quality still remains a contentious issue, with some organisations, individuals and implementers of government policy paying lip service to gender policies, the Government remains committed to gender equality.
Its commitment is clearly shown by the promulgation into law of different legislations and statutory instruments that seek to promote women’s advancement in all sectors.
Our Constitution is one such empowering piece of legislation that has strong provisions to advance gender equality and the rights of women and girls.
Signed into law in 2013, the Constitution gives legal guidelines to the government at all levels, the private sector, traditional and religious leaders, all institutions in society and women, men and youths on how to ensure that every one has equal access to resources and opportunities
Of course the greatest challenge lies in implementation, where allocated resources are inadequate, lack of political will and sometimes the issues are not given due attention.
Touted as the best constitution that looks at women’s rights, the legislative pieces on gender equality contained in the Constitution did not emerge from nowhere. They were as a result of combined inputs from different pieces of legislation promulgated into law in the 1980s and 1990s, which gave a good basis and foundation for the good laws on equality that Zimbabwe enjoy today.
Many will remember with nostalgia how the “legal age of majority” became a buzz phrase and the in thing that was to end discrimination of women following the enactment of the Legal Age of Majority law in 1982.
A product of the independence revolution, the Legal Age of Majority Act was in itself revolutionary in addressing the central issue of women’s disadvantage under the African customary law: their total lack of capacity to act as legally recognised adults, capable of owning property, entering into contracts and making legally enforceable decisions without having to involve men.
Below are 15 pieces of legislation that had a significant impact on Zimbabwean lives in the 1980s and 1990s many of which still affect Zimbabwean women’s lives today — courtesy of Fungai Machirori — and are also the basis for the formation of laws that address gender equality issues.
1. Minimum wages stipulated (1980)
These were minimum wages for various unskilled occupations, which included many female workers. Seasonal workers (tobacco, tea and cotton pickers) were categorised as ‘permanent workers’ for purposes of pension benefits.
2. Equal Pay Regulations (1980)
This provided for equal pay for equal work, and also provided for half an hour’s time before and after lunch for breastfeeding.
3. Customary Law and Primary Courts Act (1980)
This piece of legislation established and empowered community courts to administer maintenance laws. It also provided for maintenance claims for women in unregistered customary marriages.
4. Legal Age of Majority Act (1982)
This conferred full legal capacity on every Zimbabwean aged 18 years and above.
It also gave daughters the capacity to inherit their fathers’ estates. It also authorised women (including widows) to qualify as guardians of minors and to administer deceased estates.
5. Labour Relations Act (1984)
This provided for three months’ maternity leave with some reduction in salary. The Act outlawed discrimination against any employee on grounds of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, or sex, in respect of wages, promotion, recruitment, training and retrenchment.
6. Matrimonial Causes Act No 33 (1985)
This provided for equitable distribution of matrimonial assets upon divorce. It also removed the ‘fault principle’ (that is, when one partner is said to be at fault in the breakdown of the relationship) as grounds for divorce.
7. Public Service Pensions (Amendment) Regulations (1985)
With this development, women could now contribute to medical aid schemes in their own right. Female contributors in public service could also now contribute to their pension at the same rate (7.5 percent) of pensionable enrolments as men.
8. Taxation Regulations (1988)
These regulations meant that spouses were now taxed separately. Husbands could claim tax exemptions on children.
9. Deceased Person’s Family Maintenance (Amendment) Act (1987)
This meant that a surviving spouse — in the case of death — and children had a right to continue occupying the matrimonial house, use the household goods and effects they were using before the deceased’s death, use and enjoy crops and animals belonging to the matrimonial estate. Property grabbing by relatives of the deceased therefore became illegal.
10. Maintenance (Amendments) Act (date unspecified)
This required the non-custodian parent to contribute regularly to the maintenance of minor children in the custody of the other parent. As such, an appeal against the maintenance order no longer resulted in suspension of the order.
The courts were empowered to attach terminal benefits (eg. pension) accruing to the person who was ordered to pay maintenance if he/ she subsequently left employment. A woman could now file maintenance claims from the court nearest to her, with the man legally obliged to travel to that court.
A woman could also claim maintenance from an ex-spouse any time after divorce if there was need for it, and a woman in an unregistered customary marriage was entitled to maintenance from the man after dissolution of the union.
11. Infanticide Act (1991)
The crime of infanticide replaced the murder charge out of consideration of a mother’s post-natal depression, rejection by boyfriend/ husband, parents and/or relatives.
12. Deeds Registry Amendment Act (1991)
Women could now register immovable property in their own name (applied to urban and rural commercial land where title deeds were obtainable).
13. White Paper on Marriage Inheritance (1993)
This sought to replace the African Marriages Act with legislation equally applicable to all Zimbabweans. As such, it sought to give the surviving spouse, and children, equal rights to inheritance as opposed to one heir.
14. Constitutional Amendment Act (1996)
This outlawed gender as a basis for discrimination, and put male and female spouses of Zimbabwean citizens on a similar basis in terms of right of entry into Zimbabwe, based on the marital relationship.
15. Administration of Estates Amendment Act (1997)
This Act provided for the rights of the surviving spouse/s in an intestate estate, over the matrimonial home, and also for them to receive a share in the deceased spouse’s intestate estate.
An intestate estate is one in which the deceased’s estate is not effectively disposed of by the deceased’s will.
While some of these laws have since been merged, amended and upgraded, and others are up for realignment, it is critical to note that they heralded unprecedented gains for Zimbabwean women.