International Women’s Day: A ‘Pledge for Parity’

Catherine Mwauyakufa, CNS Correspondent, Zimbabwe
International women’s day is marked the world over on March 8 and this year’s theme is ‘Pledge for Parity’. There is need to celebrate success and for Zimbabwean women have a cause to celebrate a number of successes, on the gender equality front, where we have scored high. The International Community of Women living with HIV in Zimbabwe (ICW) commemorated the day in Harare.

Young women spoke of why they love themselves and the impact they have made in their country. Celebrating womanhood brought light moments as each of the participants had a story to tell and the impact their lives had had on their families and communities. A young woman Annah Sango proudly talked of her family of three and a loving husband: “My name is Annah Sango and you can call me mummy yummy. My disclosure about my HIV positive status has helped many young people to pick up their lives and move on after being diagnosed HIV positive. As far as I am concerned, my status no longer affects me; rather I control it”.

“I love life, I love myself, and this year we young women in ICW Zimbabwe are running with the theme ‘Take 5 Moments’. This is a moment to breathe and rediscover ourselves. So we are inviting partners and stakeholders that we will be knocking on your doors with our programme. All women ‘take 5 moments’; you need it,” said Sango. This pledge for parity has to be put into action as every man and woman takes concrete steps to help achieve gender equality by helping girls achieve their goals; by having gender balanced leadership; by respecting and valuing socio economic differences; by developing a more inclusive and flexible culture as workplace bias is rooted out.

Everyone is a leader in their sphere of influence— be it at home, the church, school, workplace or community. Janet Tatenda Bhila, a young woman, said that though she is happy with the progress made so far in Zimbabwe, but there is still a long way to go and there can be no rest from pushing for equality. “There is need to celebrate the successes scored so far. Women are no longer treated as minors and there is equality in colleges. I am happy that I am a free woman. I do not need a man to open a bank account for me, nor does the law see me as a minor. I am a woman of age and am happy to celebrate this day. I wish to see more women take up leadership roles in the workplace,” said Bhila, who is  a leader in her own right in her community.

She hailed the recent Constitutional Court that has banned child marriages. “I applaud the recent ruling that puts girls at par with their male counterparts. A girl under 18 is a minor and am happy that this has been made law as marrying an underage girl is now criminal,” said Bhila. The Constitutional Court outlawed child marriages. It ruled that no male or female may enter into any marriage— be it unregistered customary law union, or any other union, including one arising out of a religious belief— before attaining the age of 18.

The ruling followed an application in 2014 by two victims and survivors of child marriage- Loveness Mudzuru  and Ruvimbo Tsopodzi— who took the government to court arguing that the customary marriage act was unconstitutional. The two were represented by Tendai Biti. This is indeed a cause for celebration for women. However, the age of consent for sex remains at 16 and this does not make sense. It must at par with the age of marriage, else a girl can be sexually abused and the man can refuse to marry her. It is a matter of great urgency to raise the age of consent to 18 years, in order to provide a safe society for girls. Young girls have also to get support to go back to school.

“We can celebrate that no girl under 18 is ready for marriage but if the age of sexual consent is left at 16 then men can ravish the girls with impunity and say they are not marrying them any time soon. There is a problem there,” said Robert Mukondiwa, a journalist. Priscah Nkomo, another young woman, asked why advertisers used women as sex objects and called on women to refuse to be used. “The tobacco and alcoholic beverages industry uses women to lure them to harmful practices. They show slim and attractive women smoking. they make smoking appear fashionable; yet in reality it is harmful to health and pregnant women are at risk of giving birth to deformed babies. This has to stop and as a woman celebrating my womanhood, I urge woman to be wary of wolves in sheep’s skin,” said Nkomo.

This point was also brought out at a recent webinar hosted by CNS in the lead up to International Women’s Day by looking at tobacco use, maternal and child health and TB through a gender lens. Experts from the International Union Against Tuberculosis and Lung Disease were concerned that the gap between male and female is narrowing: in over 50 countries, women smoke as much as men, while in 24 countries women surpass men in tobacco use. There is also a growing use of smokeless tobacco by women, especially in Asian countries, where tobacco in this form is more socially acceptable than smoking. Waterpipe/hookah/sheesha use amongst women is also growing at an alarming—especially among young girls. Although the World Health Organization’s Framework Convention on Tobacco Control states that signatories must ‘incorporate gender-specific tobacco control measures’ not enough progress has been made on this yet.

Smoking definitely has a negative impact on health, and if one has TB the damage done to the lungs is severe. Pictorial health warnings must state that ‘smoking is very dangerous to health and causes cancer’, rather than say meekly that ‘smoking may be hazardous to health’. Mrs Mary Chiponga of Epworth Harare raised her concern for women who are still dying when giving birth. “As we celebrate the above land mark ruling in Zimbabwe, more needs to be done for women’s health. No woman must die while giving birth. Maternal mortality rate is still too high,” she said. In 2010 it was indicated that 960 women died while giving birth per every 100 000 live births recorded in Zimbabwe. In 2014 this figure decreased to 614 but was still too high to be celebrated.The maternal mortality report was given in a report titled ‘H4+’ by UNFPA, UNAIDS, UNICEF, UN Women, WHO and the World Bank.

The objectives of H4+ are to deliver equitable health services in emergency obstetric neonatal care, prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV, post natal care, and adolescent sexual reproductive health services, along with improving quality of data and community engagement. As the world gathered in different centres on March 8, the International Community of Women living with HIV (ICW) observed the day in Harare in solidarity with women the world over with a renewed resolve to fight for their cause. Let everyday be a celebration of women’s day and let us say a vehement no to gender based violence.

Catherine Mwauyakufa, Citizen News Service - CNS
March 11, 2016