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The liberation promise: Gender and Social justice reflections

By Memory Pamella Kadau

When I was young I always looked forward to these two days; Heroes and Defense Forces days. Of course, I marveled at the idea of lots of food, spending unlimited time with my fabulous siblings and cousins and a break from school.

“We had all been in the rain together until yesterday” Chinua Achebe

I write with mixed feelings of optimism and pessimism, as I honor the women and men who paid the ultimate sacrifice for Zimbabwe’s liberation. I reflect on the achievements of these selfless sheroes and heroes because on their shoulders we stand tall with pride. Today, some of this history and achievements are written in ink and are a true reflection that their wildest dreams and aspirations came to reality. I also write in full acknowledgement of the current injustices and oppression facing women and our society in general.

A rearview of the timeline since independence shows that the achievements by the women’s movement and gender activists in Zimbabwe must be saluted. The transition from white minority to black majority rule in 1980 must never be taken for granted as it was a critical first step to the liberation of women. Zimbabwe's education system until the late 90s and products of that system represent an important achievement in fighting ignorance and women empowerment. Zimbabwe achieved various milestones on the social and gender justice front in the last 42 years in part because of a robust education system.

The 2013 Constitution with a comprehensive bill of rights represents a milestone in the legal framework for gender equality. This makes the case for gender justice attainable because of the promulgation of a progressive legal and administrative policy framework that promotes gender equality and the rights of women and girls. In addition to sections 3, 17, 51, 52, 56 and 80 of the Constitution, other laws including the Domestic Violence Act, Inheritance Law, National Gender Policy and others provide legal force to gender equality and equity. Furthermore, the Constitution outlawed all harmful practices and non-discrimination. In 2016, as a result of advocacy and lobby by women’s groups, the High Court made a landmark ruling outlawing child sexual abuse in the form of ‘child marriages.’

The establishment of Independent Commissions like the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, National Peace and Reconciliation Commission (NPRC), Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) and the Zimbabwe Media Commission (ZMC) is also an important step towards redressing historical injustices against women. The adoption, ratification and domestication of various regional and international normative frameworks that seek to provide guidelines and minimum standards on the protection, promotion and advancement of human rights of all is another vital addition to the overall legal framework.

It must be acknowledged that freedom means different things to different people. Therefore, as we celebrate and honor the brave women and men there is need for regular honesty reflections; taking stock of the good, bad and ugly. This is healthy for our budding democracy.

Anecdotal Shona wisdom by one of Zimbabwe's illustrious musicians, Simon Chimbetu, says that 'kuguta kwataita uku pane vamwe vasipo' (Our stomachs are full but others who are not here).

As I grow older I have begun to understand the deeper meaning of the words of the late musician and war veteran Simon Chimbetu, in his hit song Pane Asipo (Someone is not here). He goes to sing we have refused to forget that someone is not here (tatadza kukanganwa).

As I grew older, I got acquainted and got deeper understanding of the colonial and liberation history and how it intersects with the daily struggles of women and girls in Zimbabwe. These two days are a good opportunity to reflect on how the realities of inequality and injustices that seem to undermine the fundamental reasons why these sheroes and heroes went to war.

According to findings from the 2020 Rapid Poverty Income Consumption and Expenditure Survey (PICES) Telephonic Survey conducted by Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency (ZIMSTAT), in partnership with the World Bank and UNICEF, almost half the population in Zimbabwe was in extreme poverty in 2020. Economic decline, drought and effects of the COVID-19 pandemic are also exacerbating this dire situation. What is freedom when half of the population is living an undignified life?

The state continues to increase authoritarianism in an effort to silence dissent through the proposed Private Voluntary (PVO) Bill that seems to eliminate spaces for advocacy that were created after independence which is an onslaught to ideals of free speech, freedom of association and respect for human rights. Some of the freedoms the nation enjoys today are as a result of advocacy initiatives by civic rights groups.

Sherren Essof (2013) in Shemurenga argues that “the political will to meaningfully address gender inequality in Zimbabwe [had] diminished rapidly, being replaced by the desire to regulate and control women both in the private and public (sphere)”. The commitment to the constitution and international conventions is contradictory as reflected by the injustices experienced by women on a daily basis in Zimbabwe. Following an inquiry on child marriages the Zimbabwe Gender Commission (ZGC) reported that ‘at least 22 women are raped daily in Zimbabwe with an average of one rape taking place per 75 minutes translating to an average of 646 women being violated each month. When these women try to seek justice, they face a lot of administrative barriers including corruption. The statistics are shocking and we ask the critical question; do women feel safe in Zimbabwe? It is not enough to pass legislation without implementing it! There must be meaningful intention to uphold the law and bring perpetrators to book.

Women's leadership and political participation is a human right and a fundamental component to gender equality and development. Political leadership and participation at all levels in Zimbabwe is still characterized by inequality and marginalization of women despite the commitment of the government gender equality sections 17, 56, 81 and 104 of the constitution. According to the Zimbabwe Electoral Commission (ZEC), in the 2013 constituency-based elections, women won 29 (13.8%) of the 210 directly elected seats; the figure dropped to 26 (12.3%) after the July 2018 elections. In the local government elections, the percentage of female councillors dropped from 16% in 2013 to 13.3% in 2018. Statistics also reveal that only 15% of the contestants fielded by all political parties were female in the March 2022 by-elections. Additionally, according to ZEC, gender disaggregation of the winning candidates at the Local Authority was as follows: female – 15.5% and 84.5% were male, and 21.4% to 78.6% for Members of Parliament. Representation and leadership of women matter. Is this freedom; when women are relegated to being just voters and praise singers at rallies?

Over the last two decades millions of Zimbabweans are still leaving the country in pursuit of economic freedom. They choose to migrate and reside in countries where they face racism, xenophobia and treated as second class citizens because to a large extent their motherland has failed to provide basic freedoms. Every year civil servants embark on labor actions to demand a minimum wage. They fight to just live on the bare minimum. Most of the productive demographic in Zimbabwe; young people are unemployed. They have resorted to crime and drugs. This is certainly not the freedom which many sacrificed for.

As we remember the brave women and men let us also not forget the words of Simon Chimbetu, “pane asipo…kuguta kwamaita uku/ your stomachs are full but others are not here...”. Zimbabwe must honor the brave women and men by fulfilling these liberation ideals. For any nation to develop it must not leave behind any of its citizens.

Social justice using intersectional lenses is possible

The sacrifices of thousands of women and men must not be reduced to nothing because of injustices and repression. However, the challenges we are facing today are a call to take up the mantle to safeguard and recommit to fight for freedom, equality, justice, non-discrimination and prosperity!

In pursuit of these liberation ideals and for freedom to be enjoyed by all in its truest form regardless of gender, age, social class, and political affiliation equality grounded in equity, respect for human rights and non-discrimination must be practised. There is need for a social justice program that will ensure equitable protection and exercise of the rights of all citizens. Those at the margins must be brought to the center and co-create solutions by reclaiming the value of their own experience. We are not free until everyone is free!

Aluta Continua!

Memory Pamella Kadau is a social justice advocate. She writes in her personal capacity and can be reached on


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