A Zimbabwean Perspective on the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW)


The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) is an international agreement adopted in 1979 by the General Assembly of the United Nations. Described as an international charter on women’s rights, it was launched on September 3, 1981 and ratified by 189 states (Dziva, 2018). More than fifty countries that have ratified the Convention have been subjected to specific statements, reservations and remarks, including 38 countries rejecting Article 29 of the Convention, dealing with ways to resolve disputes concerning the interpretation or application of the Convention.

CEDAW in Zimbabwe
This means that Zimbabwe has taken up its given commitment at international level to take all necessary measures to ensure that no woman in Zimbabwe is discriminated against on the grounds that she is a woman. In practice, the government adopted an individual approach in which it adopted certain provisions of the CEDAW in various laws. The national constitution itself has many provisions in the CEDAW Bill.
Since CEDAW is an international law, it is important to first define its position within the national legal system. The National Constitution of Zimbabwe has a provision that stipulates that all international conventions and agreements become part of a national law only if they are incorporated into national law by parliamentary law (Dziva, 2018). This process is known as domestication and has not yet been done in conjunction with CEDAW. However, Zimbabwe has ratified CEDAW. Ratification is a legal process by which a state gives a formal consent to a treaty or convention.

After the recognition that gender-based violence is a legitimate rights issues, governments, CSOs and some gender activists started lobbying against this violence which resulted in the promulgation of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and the Convention on the Rights of the Child followed in 1989. These conventions explicitly identify violence against women or children as a violation of their rights. The 1995 Beijing Platform for Action is another document that specified that gender-based violence includes violations of the rights of women in situations of armed conflict, such as: systematic rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancy, forced sterilisation, forced abortion, coerced or forced use of contraceptives, prenatal sex selection and female infanticide (Damiso and Stewart, 2018).
Domestic Violence, also termed domestic abuse is violence or other mistreatment by one individual against another person in a domestic situation, such as in marriage or cohabitation (Dziva, 2018). Domestic violence can affect any person of any age or gender (Damiso and Stewart, 2013). Whether it’s physical or emotional, domestic abuse is damaging for both the abused and the abuser and its trend of being passed down over generations makes it all the more imperative that there is a development of effective procedures for fighting abuse (Dziva, 2018).

Half of countries in developing regions report a lifetime prevalence of intimate partner physical and/or sexual violence of at least 30 per cent (WHO, 2017). Prevalence is generally high in Africa, with one quarter of countries in the region reporting prevalence of at least 50 per cent (WHO, 2017). The WHO document adds that Domestic violence or Intimate Partner Violence in Africa, as elsewhere in the world, is a complex issue that has as its root the structural inequalities between men and women that result in the persistence of power differentials between the sexes. Fidan and Bui (2016) state that because of cultural and religious teachings and implications, most women find it difficult to report, reject or resist violence against them from their partners. Women are taught to be submissive and to listen to their husbands at all times. Since the 1990s there has been an explosion of public attention paid to domestic violence within Africa (Alessina et al., 2016). New pressure groups have formed, new laws have passed, and new names have been given to old kinds of violence.
A study conducted by SAFAIDS in “Cultural Attitudes, Perceptions and Practices of HIV Infection” stated that 34% of Seke women found it normal for a couple to “spar, here and there” and as such did not consider it as abuse. This perhaps shows the prevailing attitude of the residents towards domestic violence and why numerous cases have been recorded in the Seke area of women being beaten by their husbands. Another similar story led to a woman’s thumb being amputated after being assaulted by her husband (Meya, 2015). Another story saw a Seke man impregnate a 15 year old girl (Zaniest, 2013). It is said when the girl told the man she was pregnant, he physically and verbally abused her, accusing her of being unfaithful and denying the pregnancy was his. The matter wasn’t reported to the police until after the beatings continued even as the girl was no longer living with the man. The laws of Zimbabwe stipulate that sexual intercourse between an adult and a minor (below 16) constitutes minor rape (Mutanana and Gasva, 2015). The parents of the child had originally tried to push their daughter into marriage at the age of 15 despite the laws of the land and the abuse that the girl endured in the relationship. Another article pointed out to one week in which 7 women died because of being physically abused by their partner, with one of those women being part of the Seke district (Razemba, 2012). The prevalence of domestic violence cases in the Seke rural area shows that there are various factors which are “encouraging” the violence of men against their wives.

In Zimbabwe gender-based violence is seen particularly in acts of domestic violence where rights are violated because of physiological make-up and gender roles performed (Zimbabwe Human Rights Bulletin, 2011). In Zimbabwe, according to the Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey (ZDHS 2016) domestic violence is widely acknowledged to be of great concern not just from a human rights perspective but also from an economic and health perspective. Spousal abuse is the most common form of gender-based violence. As a result of the patriarchal nature of Zimbabwean society, women are affected more by gender-based violence than men. Cultural and traditional practices have perpetuated the subservient position of women, which makes them more vulnerable. Patriarchal socialization portrays women as perpetual minors who can be punished by their fathers, brothers and husbands.

The Government of Zimbabwe enacted the Domestic Violence Act in 2007 to protect women against gender-based violence but such violence continues to occur. The Domestic Violence Act of 2007, in its pre-amble spells out that the Act is intended to make provision for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing. Establishment of victim friendly units in police stations for reporting of abuse has assisted in addressing gender-based violence (Dziva, 2018). In 2012 the ministry of Women Affairs and Gender Development of Zimbabwe also established the National Gender Based Violence Strategy (2012-2015) which was a commitment of the Government of Zimbabwe to eradicate Gender Based Violence and promote Gender Equality. Zimbabwe ratified the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) in 1991, the Protocol to The African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa in 2007 and the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development in 2009. These instruments call upon member countries to implement strategies aimed at eradicating Gender Based Violence, which has become a social ill in our communities and hinders sustainable development.

Various organizations in Zimbabwe are working to uphold the values of CEDAW, of which over 45000 cases were recorded in the year 2016 (Damiso and Stewart, 2013). One such organization is the Anti-Domestic Violence Council, which aims to rid the Zimbabwe society of domestic violence. Its objectives, as portrayed on its website are:
• To keep under constant review the problem of domestic violence in Zimbabwe
• To take all the steps to disseminate information and increase the awareness of the public on issues of domestic violence
• To promote research into the problem of domestic violence
• To promote the provision of services necessary to deal with all aspects of domestic violence and monitor their effectiveness.
• To monitor the application and enforcement of this Act and any other law relevant to issues of domestic violence.
• To promote the establishment of safe house for the purpose of sheltering the victims of domestic violence, including their children and dependents, pending the outcome of court proceedings under the Act.
• To promote the provision of support services of complaints where the respondent who was the source of support for the complaint and her or his dependents has been imprisoned
• To do anything necessary for the effective implementation of this Act.

The Act noted is the Domestic Violence Act (Chapter 5:16), which was enacted on 26th February 2007, became operational on 25th October 2007 and the Regulations were gazetted on the 20th of June 2008. It stipulates that “The Domestic Violence Act makes provision for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence and provides for matters connected with or incidental to that. The defination of domestic violence is any unlawfull, act, omission or behaviour which results in death, or the indirect infliction of physical abuse, sexual abuse, emotional abuse, economic abuse, intimidation, harrassment, stalking, maliciosus damage to property and abuse derived from negative cultural or customary rites such as forced virginity testing and force wife inheritance. Most Acts of domestic violence are criminalised exceptin emotional, verbal, psychological and economic abuse, which can only be subject to civil proceedings” (advcouncil, 2018).

The Zimbabwe National Gender Based Violence (2012-2015) reported that a number of coordinating platforms have been initiated and established, including the GBV-Sub Cluster, the Gender Forum and the Victim Friendly Initiative, the coordination efforts have, however, been rather fragmented and lacking synergy. The inadequate coordination has resulted in fragmented responses to domestic violence by both the government and NGOs.
From another view point, any practice that limits, excludes or discriminates women, preventing them from enjoying or exercising their political, social, economic, cultural or civil rights, should be considered discrimination. Women’s restrictions are those that limit or control their potential. It can be argued that discrimination takes place in decision-making where women are minorities in decision-making positions. Political party companies and other institutions prefer men in these positions and where women are involved, they are often limited to lower learning decisions.

Ahikire (2014) states that the gains of CEDAW are not instant but rather happen on the backdrop of the people being re-socialized against what the African culture has taught them pertaining to women. Various success have been seen within the Zimbabwean context. For example, the country saw the inauguration of its first ever female Vice President, Dr Joice Mujuru in (Krook, 2017). Krook states that this was a culmination of concerted efforts by the government and various gender activist groups to enable women to enter into positions of power and authority within the professional and economic spectrums.

In essence from the discourse above we can see that there has been a concerted drive by the Zimbabwean government and various activist groups to ensure that CEDAW is adapted within the country. Although one may argue that it is not specifically mentioned with Zimbabwean law, we can see that the fundamental ethos it promotes have been inscribed into parliamentary law. There is still more to be done but the country is on the right track.

Ahikire, J., 2014. African feminism in context: Reflections on the legitimation battles, victories and reversals. Feminist Africa, 19, pp.7-23.
Damiso, C. and Stewart, J., 2013. Zimbabwe and CEDAW Compliance: Pursuing Women’s Equality in Fits and Starts. Women’s Rights CEDAW in International, Regional and National Law. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp.454-481.
Dziva, C., 2018. The 2013 Constitutional Reform and the Protection of Women’s Rights in Zimbabwe. Eastern Africa Social Science Research Review, 34(2), pp.21-35.
Krook, M.L., 2017. Violence against women in politics. Journal of Democracy, 28(1), pp.74-88.
Shaw, C.M., 2015. Women and Power in Zimbabwe: Promises of Feminism. University of Illinois Press.
WHO, U. and Mathers, C., 2017. Global strategy for women’s, children’s and adolescents’ health (2016-2030). Organization, 2016(9).

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