HARARE – Zimbabwe remains one of the countries still grappling with abuse of women and seemingly lack of desire to increase women’s participation in decision-making at a time the world has shifted gears to recognise the feminine gender as a tool for economic, political and social transformation.
This week Senior Assistant Editor Guthrie Munyuki interviewed leaders of the Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network (ZYWN) Cecelia Chivunga (CC) of Zanu PF and Maureen Kademaunga (MK) of MDC, who remain on the push for “wholehearted” inclusion of young women in key decision areas.
Below are excerpts of the interview.
Q: When was the Zimbabwe Young Women’s Network formed and who constitutes its membership?
MK: The Network was formed in 2012 by a group of young women politicians from different political parties.
It is a network for and of young women politicians that seeks to promote young women’s participation in decision-making processes and structures.
Our membership is drawn from young women politicians and any young woman who believes that her life is a political statement!
Q: What inspired its formation?
MK: We formed the network in response to the glaring gap of young women’s inclusion in political processes in Zimbabwe.
We realised that there hasn’t been any deliberate initiatives that focus on the political upliftment of politicians who are female and young.
It was also after the realisation that the problems that young women face, be they economic or social, are political problems that need a political solution.
Q: What role can the organisation play in the empowerment of young women some of who are roaming on the streets of major cities as prostitutes?
MK: As the Network, we are focusing on economic and political upliftment of young women and trying to make sure that avenues such as prostitution are neither an option nor a possibility of last resort.
Part of it includes a programme to push for government policies that focus on addressing the needs of young women and the girl-child such as affordable education and opportunities for employment and self-help projects
Q: How are you tackling the abuse and flagrant violation of young women’s rights by law enforcement agents who target them in blitzes, both on the streets and nightclubs?
CC: We are starting a process of engagement with the police that in the execution of their duty of stopping the illegal act of soliciting for sex for purposes of prostitution, they must be careful not to infringe on the rights of women to free movement and patronage of nightclubs.
We are also going to demand that they start targeting the men who buy sex because as far as we are concerned they are the main culprits and we must just kill the market for prostitution.
MK: It must be understood though that as a network, we are condemning the act of prostitution itself and we acknowledge that most women out there are victims of circumstances and there must be deliberate efforts to get them off the streets.
Q: What distinguishes you from some of the civic groups that are involved in the same area of work that you deal with?
MK: Our focus is not just commercial sex but an array of potential policy areas, which if taken up and addressed by government and other policymakers will see the lives of young women transforming.
And at the core of it we believe young women are the most qualified to identify and address the issues that affect them.
They are capable to influence politics and policy — and inspire positive transformation.
Our difference from other organisations that work on politics and governance issues is that our focus is young women in politics, it’s a first!
Q: How successful are you in your advocacy work and who do you converse with?
CC: Our Network consists of young women political leaders who are elected to various levels of leadership in their political parties, which gives them mandate to represent, lead and advocate on youth issues including and especially their own issues as young women.
We think that our advocacy work will be successful if we are to utilise the skills resident in our membership. It will also highly depend on the responsiveness of policy makers.
Q: What role does Parliament have in your advocacy work?
CC: Parliament has a critical role in our advocacy as it is only parliament that has the mandate to craft laws to protect and empower young women and to compel government to put in place policies to implement these laws.
MK: which is why the Network strongly feels that the insignificant representation of young women in parliament, a strategic space we feel our issues could also find expression, is contributing to the persistent plight of the economically and politically abused young woman.
Q: As an inter-party organisation, what leverage do you have in pushing your agenda in the current situation where one party dominates in Parliament?
MK: Our issues as young women transcend political parties, and our parliamentarians have an obligation to represent all sectors regardless of where they come from.
As a network, we realise our common experiences are important, and at the same time, we value and affirm our differences of experience and opinion.
Q: Who is your target in your area of work?
CC: Our constituency is young women doing political work. Our advocacy work also targets the policy-makers such as local government leaders and parliament and all stakeholders whose actions have a direct impact on young women in Zimbabwe.
Q: What is your immediate goal?
MK: Defining the next generation of women leaders by building a formidable movement of young women, and vibrancy is the benchmark of our movement. We are mobilising young women towards a common agenda of economic and political upliftment.
We are mobilising young women in their numbers, from the townships of the cities down to the last hut in the village to rally behind this agenda.
That is our immediate goal, to create a movement of young women that is vibrant and vigilant enough to be effective.
Q: How do you intend to make a difference in the lives of young women?
CC: We intend to make a difference in young women’s lives first, organising them and empowering them to be the voice of their own conscience.
We will also focus on capacitating them with skills and information that will give them a head start to life.
Q: What is the biggest challenge confronting today’s Zimbabwe’s young woman?
MK: Poverty has a young feminine face in Zimbabwe. Poverty is at the core of the young woman’s problems.
From this unfortunate circumstance springs all other challenges such as child-prostitution, lack of access to basic education and health care etc.
And the young woman’s position is worsened by absence of opportunities for employment and self-help projects.
To us, this is all political and as a network we are going to push frontiers and redefine politics in order to address this challenge. Which is why we are clamouring for space in parliament, local government etc
Q: Does the new constitution provide relief to young women and what areas need consolidation and reviewing?
CC: To some extent the new constitution provides relief if you put them under the provisions for women and youth. The problem is that the definition of “women” in Zimbabwe does not include the young.
This is even reflected by the insignificant inclusion of young women in the parliamentary women’s quota
M.K: The constitution presents an opportunity for upliftment of young women through provisions such as the women’s quota, the gender commission, the human rights bill and the equality clause.
But that is not where the real battle lies; the real battle lies in educating the young woman on her entitlements in the constitution.
In terms of the women’s quota, we feel that the insignificant representation of young women in parliament needs to be addressed through a reservation of a percentage of the same for young women and women living with disabilities for instance.
Currently there are only three young women out of the 60.
The quota itself also needs to be reviewed to assess whether it is an effective tool of enhancing gender parity.