Seeking a consensus on the draft National Women’s Council bill

12 Sep 2012

Consensus building on the establishment of  a National Women’s Council moved a notch higher following a key meeting by Members of Parliament (MPs) organized by UNDP and the Ministry of Women Affairs Gender and Community Development (MWAGCD).

The breakfast meeting held in Harare on 12 September 2012 was aimed at forging a common ground on the National Women’s Council and Elimination of Discrimination against Women Bill. Despite the current adjournment of Parliament, twenty seven MPs attended the event, demonstrating their commitment.

In addition, the breakfast meeting was attended by representatives of the three main political parties, the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus, the Portfolio Thematic Committee on Women’s Affairs, Youth Gender and Community Development (10 MPs), and the Portfolio Thematic Committee on Gender and Development (9 MPs).

The Minister of WAGCD, Dr. Olivia. N. Muchena—an active member of the Women’s Parliamentary Caucus—stressed the importance of this meeting saying that organizations aiming at promoting the status of women are numerous in Zimbabwe, “but what is lacking is a clear coordination framework.” Duplication of efforts and stiff competition for the scarce resources are currently hampering any progress towards women’s social, economic and political empowerment, observed the minister.

It is against this background therefore that the National Women’s Council Bill was crafted to ensure a coordinated and harmonized legal framework to advance women’s issues. Part of the crafting process that was supported by UNDP, involved study visits by members of the women’s caucus and the Gender and Development Portfolio to other countries where similar bodies already exist (e.g. Uganda, Rwanda and South Africa). Furthermore, an all stakeholder meeting held in August this year served to substantially improve and create awareness about the draft.  

According to the Deputy Minister of WAGCD, Jessie Majome the Bill has two main objectives, mainly setting up a National Women’s Council as a forum for women to participate in matters of policy and domesticating three international human rights instruments for women.  These are the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). The deputy minister stressed that the effectiveness of the Council will be measured through the reduction or removal of systematic barriers prejudicial to women’s equality.  Therefore, its investigative function as well the formation of the Women’s Forum will be critical.

During the meeting, participants were invited to share their thoughts and inputs on the Bill. A suggestion on adding another function to the Council relating to advising and informing the general public regarding on what the Government will be doing to advance women’s rights, gained considerable traction. The need to spread and entrench the Council down to the provincial and district levels was also raised as a significant matter. One male Member of Parliament asked if there will only be women representation on the Council. However, the consensus was that this is an affirmative mechanism tool to solely advance women’s rights and therefore, should be restricted to women. But it should be benchmarked so that after some time a review is conducted to establish the necessity of maintaining the Women’s Council.

As the Bill would require additional time to be analyzed, it was suggested that the three Portfolio Committees will each dedicate time to the matter.

In her closing remarks, Dr. Muchena urged the Parliamentarians to pass the Bill during the next and last session of this Parliament. She added that the National Women’s Council would be a useful tool to make crucial progress in advancing women’s rights in Zimbabwe.