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Statements Treaty bodies
13 February 2020
Committee on Elimination of Discrimination
13 February 2020
The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women today considered the sixth periodic report of Zimbabwe on the implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women. The Experts called on Zimbabwe to, inter alia, improve implementation of laws and the compliance with the Convention and to protect women and children from deepening gender-based violence.
At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the country’s political will and the efforts to implement the Convention and stressed that the constructive dialogue aimed to strengthen and improve the situation of women’s rights in the country.
They commended the elaborate list of grounds for non-discrimination in the 2013 Constitution and then pointed to a huge gap between the excellent text and its application. Many laws had not yet been aligned with the Convention, while weak compliance with its provisions and inadequate oversight mechanisms hampered the quality and level of progress in many fields, they said.
Despite economic and other challenges, Zimbabwe adopted positive policies and administrative measures to curb negative stereotypes and gender-based violence. But, although criminalized, harmful traditional practices - forced virginity testing, female genital mutilation, forced wife inheritance and child marriage - continued. Today, 32.8 per cent, or one in three girls, were married before the age of 18, said the Experts.
The delegation of Zimbabwe said that the country was doing everything possible to address the gaps between legal texts and practice and ensure the full application of the laws. Parliament had accelerated the alignment of legislation with the Convention and the priority was placed on the rights of women. The domestication of the Convention had been done in part and the inclusion of some of its provisions in the Constitution represented an important step forward.
Zimbabwe did not spare any efforts to combat gender-based stereotypes and stop harmful traditional practices, said the delegation. The age of marriage was 18, the Marriage Law prohibited all forms of child marriage, and the child marriage bill would become law by June 2020. Combatting domestic violence was a priority for Zimbabwe, which was working closely with the police, the courts and the health services to assist the victims.
Sithembiso Nyoni, Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development of Zimbabwe, said in the presentation of the report that her country had adopted in 2013 a very progressive Constitution which incorporated gender equality and women’s rights.
The National Programme on Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response 2016-2020 had, inter alia, led to the establishment of One-Stop Centres and community-based shelters for survivors of gender-based violence, and free legal aid. The national action plan and communication strategy on ending child marriages, which was being rolled out throughout the country, tackled social and cultural patterns that lead to discrimination and stereotyped roles for women, she said.
In her concluding remarks, Ms. Nyoni said that Zimbabwe’s new Government embarked on a reform process and renewed the commitment to eliminating all forms of discrimination.
Hilary Gbedemah, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the array of responses and explanations provided.
The delegation of Zimbabwe was comprised of representatives of the Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development, Public Service Commission, Parliament and the Permanent Mission of Zimbabwe to the United Nations Office at Geneva.
The Committee will issue the concluding observations on the report of Zimbabwe at the end of its seventy-fifth session on 28 February. Those, and other documents relating to the Committee’s work, including reports submitted by States parties, can be found on the session’s webpage.
The webcast of the Committee’s public meetings can be accessed at http://webtv.un.org/.
The Committee will next meet in public tomorrow at 10 a.m. to consider the sixth periodic report of Eritrea (CEDAW/C/ERI/6).
The Committee is considering the sixth periodic report of Zimbabwe (CEDAW/C/ZWE/6).
Presentation of the Report
SITHEMBISO NYONI, Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development of Zimbabwe, in the introduction of the report stressed that her country had adopted in 2013 a very progressive Constitution which incorporated gender equality and women’s rights. Its Section 56 provided for equality and set grounds for non-discrimination on the grounds of sex, gender, marital status and pregnancy, amongst others. It included an expanded Declaration of Rights and in its Section 80 provided that every woman enjoyed full and equal dignity of the person like men, including equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities.
The Minister then outlined the efforts to bring national laws in line with the new Constitution and to advance women’s rights. The 2018 Law on the Governance of Public Entities gave effect to the constitutional provisions on gender equality, the amended Labour Law addressed the issue of equal pay and the Harmonized Marriages Act criminalized child marriages. The amendments to the Criminal Law incorporated minimum mandatory sentencing for rape and sexual offences ranging from 5 to 30 years.
The National Programme on Gender-Based Violence Prevention and Response 2016-2020 had, inter alia, led to the establishment of One-Stop Centres and community-based shelters for survivors of gender-based violence, and free legal aid. Zimbabwe had reserved a quota for women in the National Assembly and in the Senate - women’s representation in Parliament had more than doubled, increasing from 17 per cent in 2008 to 31 per cent in the 2018 elections. A bill to extend the quotas period beyond 2023 and into the next two legislative mandates was under discussion.
The national action plan and communication strategy on ending child marriages, which was being rolled out throughout the country, tackled social and cultural patterns that lead to discrimination and stereotyped roles for women. Religious and traditional leaders were also involved in the fight against harmful traditional practices. Significant strides had been made to combat trafficking in persons, including by improved compliance with the Palermo Protocol. As a result, Zimbabwe had been upgraded from tier 3 to tier 2 list of countries.
The Minister outlined the efforts to remove barriers to the education of women and girls, including in tertiary education. Two new hostels for polytechnic colleges and three hostels for universities, each with a capacity of 352 students, had significantly increased the availability of accommodation. 2,000 new schools had been built and 3,000 new jobs had been opened in 2019 in this sector, with plans to create 5,000 more in 2020.
On employment, the public service was ahead in implementing the International Labour Organization Equal Remuneration Convention and its principle of equal pay for work of equal value. The Public Service Act was currently being amended to include a code of conduct that would address issues of sexual harassment.
The country’s robust maternal and infant health system was credited with a significant drop in maternal mortality rates, from 651 deaths per 100,000 live births in 2015 to 462 deaths in 2019. Zimbabwe had opened and refurbished Maternity Waiting Homes, removed maternity fees at State’s health institutions and increased access of rural women to family-planning information and services.
Several women empowerment programmes, notably in key economic sectors such as mining, agriculture, tourism and trade had been introduced. The Women’s Development Fund had to date benefitted a total of 2,279 women’s groups, with a total loan amount of over $4 million.
In conclusion, the Minister recognized the challenges Zimbabwe still faced in implementing the Convention, especially the absence of balance of payments support from the international financial institutions, which had forced the Government to largely depend on the domestically mobilized resources. Effects of climate change continued to impact negatively the livelihoods of women, particularly those in marginalized areas, by imposing a huge burden on women’s access to water, means of production, energy, shelter and food.
Questions from the Experts
At the beginning of the dialogue, Committee Experts welcomed the delegation of Zimbabwe the country’s political will and the efforts to implement the Convention. The dialogue today, they said, aimed to strengthen and improve the situation of women’s rights in the country.
The Expert commended the elaborate list of grounds for non-discrimination in the 2013 Constitution and said that the concern, however, remained about a huge gap between the excellent text and its application and about the lack of a comprehensive gender equality law. Also, many legal texts had not yet been aligned with the Convention.
What was being done to get the debate on this issue going in Parliament, to prepare the society for the upcoming legal amendments and to complete the domestication of the Convention? Would Zimbabwe reconsider its position and ratify the Optional Protocol?
The Experts lamented the limited offer of free legal aid and asked the delegation to outline how women could access justice.
Responses by the Delegation
Responding to questions raised on the national legal framework, the delegation said that Zimbabwe was doing everything possible to address the gaps between legal texts and practice and ensure the full application of the laws, especially through strong policies. Parliament had accelerated the alignment of legislation with the Convention, the delegate stressed. The alignments were ongoing and the priority was placed on the rights of women. The Charter of Rights could be invoked directly before the courts, which provided remedies to women.
While there was a broad consultation of society to raise awareness about the efforts to align the laws with the 2013 Constitution, significant efforts were needed to effectively implement the legislation on the ground.
The domestication of the Convention had been done in part, explained a delegate, stressing that the inclusion of some of the Convention’s provisions in the Constitution represented an important step forward. Efforts were made to ensure that all parts of the gender machinery “moved together” and to increase awareness of the Constitution and women’s rights guarantees it offered.
The decentralization of justice had allowed the provision of legal aid in various parts of the country. The new “transformation” Government, which had come to power in 2017, had undertaken to study the ratification of the Optional Protocol.
Questions by Committee Experts
The Experts commended Zimbabwe’s efforts to date and said that concerns remained about the quality and level of progress in many fields, stemming largely from weak compliance with the Convention by stakeholders and inadequate oversight mechanisms.
The complexity and multisectoral nature of gender equality demanded significant technical expertise, the Experts noted and asked whether, with the creation of new gender institutions, the gender architecture and gender officers had the capability and resources to drive systematic progress towards the globally agreed standards and targets. The delegation was asked about the gender mainstreaming in critical sectors and areas of interest to women, such as economy, labour, technology and others.
How was the national gender policy implemented in practice and what was the coordinating role of the national gender machinery in this context? How did the national gender machinery ensure synergy and coordination between various bodies and arms of Government working on gender equality?
In the face of challenges such as economic downturn or climate change, the country’s prioritization of gender equality was ever so important, the Experts said.
Legal framework for the protection of women had been inherited from the 2013 Constitution and the peace accord to establish equality, cohesion and the unity of the nation. The National Reconciliation and Peace Commission had been transformed in 2017, but it did not seem to be fully functioning and efficient, which hampered women’s access to justice and reconciliation. What was Zimbabwe’s vision of the role of this Commission, especially in achieving social peace, which was of utmost importance for Zimbabwe, and how it would work with other commissions dealing with human rights?
Another Expert congratulated Zimbabwe on progress made since the last review by the Committee and remarked that the Constitutional provisions on gender equality and the quotas for women were not fully implemented. For instance, there were fewer women in decision-making positions since the last elections and women’s participation in Parliament and local governments had decreased. Commending the Government’s strategy to foster political participation of women, Experts asked the delegation to explain how it was being implemented. What temporary special measures were in place to improve the status of vulnerable groups of women, such as elderly and women with disabilities?
Responses by the Delegation
Zimbabwe had recently revised the gender policy in consultation with civil society, which took into account issues that had been neglected for many years. It was committed to learning from the experiences of other countries in the development of the gender equality law. A unit on gender equality had recently been created within the Public Service Commission and all ministries would be required to create a position dedicated to gender issues.
Women were increasingly included in decision-making. They occupied 42 per cent of the positions in the country’s eight commissions - including the Judicial and the Public Service Commissions – and 54 per cent of the decision-making positions in the ministries. The delegation recognized that additional efforts were needed to increase women’s participation in the diplomatic service or in the positions of responsibility in the private sector, 24 per cent of which were currently held by women.
Poverty and historic oppression and marginalization explained the low rate of participation of women in leadership and decision-making positions. The number of women in the public sector was on the increase, and while most were in the lower ranks, the training and support they received would enable them to rise through the ranks in due time.
Parliament was considering expanding the quota system to local governments and had already taken steps to extend the national quota beyond 2023, the year they were initially due to expire. To increase the number of women in the lower house, the Government was engaging with political parties and had put in place measures to encourage them to put women’s name forward in various constituencies. There were two reserved seats for persons with disabilities in Parliament and the Senate.
Gender focal points in each ministry were currently human resources officers, which was problematic since gender equality was an entirely separate area of work. That was why gender specialists were being recruited into the executive branch. The Zimbabwe Gender Equality Commission had subpoena power and could draft reports and send them to Parliament. Several ministries were developing sector-specific gender policies and gender mainstreaming guidelines. All ministries were encouraged to involve women in the planning stage of policies, to foster confidence and treat them as generators of ideas, rather than mere recipients of development projects.
Questions by Committee Experts
Continuing the dialogue, an Expert recognized the positive policies and administrative measures Zimbabwe took to address negative stereotypes and gender-based violence, despite the economic and climatic challenges facing the country. She noted with concern the reports that the risk of gender-based violence, harmful traditional practices, discrimination, abuse, exploitation and neglect for women and children had depended.
Despite being criminalized, harmful traditional practices such as forced virginity testing, female genital mutilation, forced wife inheritance and child marriage continued. Today, 32.8 per cent, or one in three girls, were married before the age of 18. Women and girls were increasingly targeted by sexual predators who took advantage of their vulnerability.
Citizens did not trust the justice system and did not file complaints; accessing justice in rural areas was very difficult. Sentences handed down in the context of domestic violence lacked consistency and did not seem to reflect the seriousness of the crime. The Experts denounced the intensity of harassment of women in public spaces, which had become a place of fear for women, especially for female political candidates. What was being done to dissipate the climate of fear for women and to strengthen their safety in public spaces?
Experts noted with satisfaction that since 2014 Zimbabwe had stepped up its efforts to curb trafficking in persons and support the victims and that the situation had improved. They welcomed the ongoing amendments to the law on trafficking in persons, which did not include all forms of trafficking, and asked about the timeline for its alignment with the Palermo Protocol.
Noting a low number of women ambassadors, the Experts asked how more women could be encouraged to join the diplomatic service and become professional ambassadors. They also requested information about women’s representation in the army and peacekeeping missions.
The Experts asked the delegation to explain the requirements for naturalization in the light of reports that they might be more onerous for women than for men.
Responses by the Delegation
Responding, the delegation said that Zimbabwe was doing everything it could to combat gender-based stereotypes and to stop the harmful traditional practices such as virginity testing. The High Court ruling that women could not be arrested for loitering had sent a positive message to the nation about stereotypes, especially concerning women in prostitution. Female genital mutilation was not practised in the country.
The Marriage Law prohibited all forms of child marriage and the age of marriage was 18. A strategic plan was being rolled out in the provinces to enforce the law. The Child Marriage Bill would become law by June 2020.
Combatting domestic violence was a priority for Zimbabwe, the delegation said. The Government was working closely with the police, the courts and the health services to assist the victims of domestic violence. There were victim-friendly units in police stations and police officers had received training on domestic violence. The Council for Combating Violence did not have sufficient resources but did its best to combat the phenomenon. Homes had been opened to accommodate the victims through which they could access specialized support.
The act on trafficking in persons was being reviewed, and, in doing so, the Government would take into consideration the Committee’s recommendations and lessons learned from this dialogue. A programme had been in place to encourage sex workers to take part in other economic activities, as well as provide them with rehabilitation services. In 2019, six cases of trafficking in persons had been reported, three had been prosecuted.
Zimbabwe had made efforts to decentralize the court system to bring judicial services closer to individuals. A committee to address online abuse, including revenge pornography, had been set up.
The delegation said that every instrument was in place to encourage the participation of women in diplomacy and that their implementation needed to be strengthened. School curricula raised awareness of girls that they could hold the highest positions in the state, including in diplomacy. They were also encouraged to pursue careers that were once considered “male”. The Zimbabwe Gender Commission was also working on encouraging female participation at all levels. However, addressing this historical imbalance would take time.
The naturalization system had been abused through marriages of convenience, said a delegate. To tackle the issue, the Government had developed a mechanism to ascertain that people who sought to be naturalized after marrying a Zimbabwean woman were not married to someone else in their country of origin. Changes had been made to ensure that children born to a Zimbabwean mother and a foreign father could acquire either one of the nationalities. Zimbabwe worked actively to raise awareness of women about the laws that concerned, especially in matters of citizenship, inheritance and their rights within the family.
Cases of harassment of women on the street had been dealt with immediately and the perpetrators had been arrested. Law enforcement officers were deployed during the political campaigns to uphold law and order. The police did not discriminate on the grounds of sex and efforts were ongoing to recruit more female police officers. A mechanism was in place to complain against a police officer.
Questions from the Experts
In the next round of questions, an Expert congratulated Zimbabwe on the progress achieved in the education sector, saying that it was a pledge to reduce inequality between the sexes.
Taking positive note of the Government’s initiatives to improve girls’ access to education in rural and remote areas, where schools were sometimes 20 kilometres away, the Expert noted that many challenges still remained. Were there affirmative action measures to foster girls’ and women’s access to higher education and what was being done to reduce school dropout rate amongst girls, they asked. The delegation was also asked about the measures to address gender-based violence in schools and to support continued education of pregnant girls and young mothers.
Experts congratulated Zimbabwe on the ratification of several International Labour Organization conventions and asked how the Labour Market Equality Act dealt with women’s rights. What was the approach to fostering decent work and inclusive economic growth and was there a policy on the use of digital technology development to advance the status of women?
Responses by the Delegation
Zimbabwe had the third highest literacy rate in Africa, which would have been impossible to achieve had it been neglecting the education of people in remote areas, stressed the delegation. The country’s vision was to have, in each ward, three or more primary schools and one or two secondary schools, all located within a walking distance from the children’s homes. So far, the Government had set up 2,000 schools and was running school feeding programmes which aimed to provide each child with one meal a day.
Mother support committees had been set up to fight stereotypes and foster education of girls. Pregnant girls had the right to continue their education after the childbirth. The development of low-cost boarding schools was encouraged to ensure that students did not have to walk long distances to school. There were more women than men studying at the University of Zimbabwe and residences for female students had been created, since accommodation was one of the obstacles to higher education of women and girls.
Most of the economy in the country was informal and Zimbabwe was redoubling its efforts to work with the United Nations to improve the regulation in the sector and create decent work. A lot of resources were invested in this programme and future plans would involve local authorities and banks.
The new law on equality in the workplace provided for equal pay for the work of equal value for women and men and it prohibited children under the age of 16 from working. The full participation of women in the labour market was critical to inclusive growth; by providing access to credit and the digital world, women were encouraged to start their businesses. The delegation and stressed the importance of a holistic approach to economic ills and the need to link education to jobs and economic growth.
Questions from the Experts
Turning to health care, the Experts said Zimbabwean women still did not fully enjoy all the health-related rights enshrined in the Convention. They raised concern about lack of access to family planning services and the prevention of unwanted pregnancy, notably in rural areas; measures adopted to prevent the transmission of HIV from mother to child, which was extremely important given the prevalence rate which was among the highest in the region; and steps to improve neonatal mortality and reduce the very high maternal mortality rates.
The mining sector currently contributed 53 per cent of the total exports, supported 45,000 jobs and between 200,000 and 500,000 artisanal miners. What had been the outcomes of the pilot gold mining project that sought to address women’s limited access to appropriate mining technology?
The Experts pointed to gender inequalities in the labour market: women made up the majority of those who worked in flea markets and men owned most of the businesses and cooperatives.
Responses by the Delegation
The delegation said that although the health services had gone through a difficult period, much had been done to improve the situation and to ensure that hospitals were well equipped and medicines were accessible. Improving the rural health system was a priority, delegates assured. Treatment for children under the age of three and people over 65 was free at state centres.
On sexual and reproductive health, family planning services were available in rural areas and abortion was restricted. The school curricula included a course of adolescent reproductive and sexual health and youth health centres had been opened in different regions of the country. The experts of the World Health Organization and the University of Zimbabwe were assessing the situation intending to amend the law.
Zimbabwe had done its best to aggressively address HIV/AIDS prevalence rates and had set aside a substantial budget for raising awareness among adolescent girls to prevent the spread of the virus among this population.
There were three mining centres for small scale female miners, which the Government would like to expand in the future. These centres had helped women to work in cooperatives and fostered solidarity. As a result, the gold intake had improved. The health of the female miners was a concern for the Government, which it sought to address through measures such as training of miners.
While it was true that there had been some pockets of gender-based violence in the mining sector, security forces, the Ministry of Mines and all the concerned ministries took this matter seriously and mobilized all stakeholders to protect the women.
Flea markets were an important livelihood for women: female workers sold goods on markets abroad and brought back goods, to the benefit of Zimbabwe’s economy.
Questions from the Experts
Agriculture was the backbone of the country’s economy and 68 per cent of women lived in rural areas, noted the Experts and commended the setting up of the Zimbabwe Land Commission, the launch of the national water policy and the establishment of the gender strategy for the agriculture sector.
The Committee remained concerned about the continued eviction of widows from their homes by the in-laws and asked about the legal aid and support they had in defending their property rights. The Experts requested information on land ownership by women and steps to protect the health and safety of women and children from working in tobacco production, which represented hazardous work due to pesticide poisoning.
The Experts congratulated Zimbabwe on its ratification of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities and the adoption of a law on disability, which included a paragraph on gender equality. They expressed concern about the vulnerability of women and girls with disabilities to trafficking in persons and exploitation and asked about measures in place to protect them from stigmatization and discrimination.
The delegation was asked about the efforts to harmonize the legislation with the United Nations Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners, or the Mandela Rules, and with 'the Bangkok Rules' for the treatment of women prisoners. What steps were being taken to reduce the number of mothers in prison and to address the plight of children in prison who accompanied their detained mothers?
Experts asked what measures had been taken to combat stigmatization of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex women and the medical treatment offered to intersex women and girls.
Experts requested information on the Government’s effort to protect women from the effects of climate change.
Was it an offence to be a party to a polygamous marriage? If so, could the delegation provide data on prosecutions of this offence?
Responses by the Delegation
Responding, the delegation said that when a man died, the wife automatically inherited. A gender strategy for the agricultural sector was in place and had received $10.5 million in funding in 2020. Child labour was not permitted and the Government took steps to enforce the prohibition, including in tobacco production.
The laws in Zimbabwe were clear: discrimination based on sex, gender or sexual orientation was prohibited. On women in detention, the delegation explained that an open prison system for women prisoners would be set up, to allow them to reunite with her children at the end of the day, in accordance with the gravity of the crime committed.
Climate change drastically affected Zimbabwe. The country now faced floods, mudslides, droughts and heatwaves. Women suffered from these phenomena, which notably caused them to lose their property. The authorities had decided to move certain populations most exposed to these climatic hazards to safe areas as a preventive measure. The country needed to look to the future to protect women and to foster women’s resilience to shocks.
The Government was yet to adopt a marriage bill that comprehensively redressed the old laws. Child marriage and polygamy would be things of the past once the new marriage bill was enacted, delegates assured.
SITHEMBISO NYONI, Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development of Zimbabwe, thanked the Committee Experts for the opportunity afforded to Zimbabwe to participate in the constructive dialogue. Zimbabwe had a new Government that embarked on a reform process, which showed a renewed commitment to eliminating all forms of discrimination.
HILARY GBEDEMAH, Committee Chairperson, thanked the delegation for the array of responses and explanations provided.
For use of the information media; not an official record