U.S. Commemorates Women’s History Month

Ambassador Thomas Jr.
Ambassador Thomas Jr.

The United States Embassy started Women’s History Month commemorations that will see regular discussions about women and gender equality every Tuesday in Harare. On Tuesday, March 8, Ambassador Harry K. Thomas Jr. opened a lively discussion session that featured women speakers in politics, health, education and governance.

In welcoming the speakers and launching the Women’s History Month discussion series, Ambassador Thomas Jr. said women deserve equal opportunities to participate in all spheres of social and economic life, and he underscored the United States government’s commitment to engaging and assisting Zimbabwean women and men in this effort.

Quoting Secretary of State John Kerry, the American envoy noted that “No country can get ahead if it leaves half of its people behind. This is why the United States believes in gender equality and it is critical to our shared goals of prosperity, stability and peace, while investing in women and girls worldwide is critical to advancing U.S. foreign policy.” He further encouraged participants to take the discussion beyond the regular forums.

“I hope that you will return to your work places and your communities and start asking the men and women around you the same questions,” he urged. “International Women’s Day and Women’s History Month is not meant to be a single moment in time that we focus on women’s issues. Rather it is a starting point, a catalyst to spark ongoing reflection and conversation.”

The panel, moderated by lawyer Rudo Nyangulu-Mungofa, looked at the status of women in Zimbabwe. Among them were two parliamentarians; Honorables Irene Zindi and Jessie Majome. The speakers noted several gains in the empowerment of women in Zimbabwe, including gains facilitated by the 2013 Constitution. They also noted that challenges exist and called for continued efforts targeted at ensuring gender parity.

Honorable Jessie Majome, Member of Parliament for Harare West constituency, said women were the biggest beneficiaries of the 2013 Constitution but were the biggest losers when the provisions of the same constitution were not implemented.

“I decided that I want to live in Zimbabwe as a woman with full rights as an equal human being,” she said. She said the passing of the Legal Age of Majority Act in 1982 was an important development because it allowed women to be taken as adults with responsibilities to make own decisions upon reaching the age of 18. She said prior to this law, women could not do many things like registering properties in their name. She called for amendments to the electoral law and said the 20 seats for chiefs prevented women from achieving gender parity in Parliament.

“I fought in the liberation struggle that brought independence to Zimbabwe,” stated Honorable Zindi. She noted that despite all these struggles she still had to labor to get to where she was. “I have seen myself as a woman joining active politics and now I am Member of Parliament. It’s not anything that came on a silver platter; I worked hard for it. I have taken up the position to upgrade myself educationally,” she said.

Netty Musanhu, lawyer and director of Msasa Project and a member of the National Peace and Reconciliation Commission said of her work with women, “I would rather talk about the many women I work with that a lot of people choose to ignore. “There are not many women that have an opportunity to be standing where I am and I take myself as that voice. We run shelters, and I know what it is to go through violence, and these women have lost their voice.”

Dr. Agnes Mahomva, Executive Director at the Elizabeth Glazer Pediatric Foundation and President of the Zimbabwe Medical Association, said her status demonstrates the significant progress in the empowerment of women. “I am here because of the strong women in my family — my mother, for example, was a teacher and she never went to high school.  But I believe if she was raised in an era that I was in, she would have accumulated many PhDs,” said Mahomva. She called for more action in advancing and supporting women in Zimbabwe.

Rudo Gaidzanwa, a Professor of Sociology at the University of Zimbabwe, said women can be proud of what they have done in empowering women. However, she noted that some of the gains were being eroded, citing the number of children dropping out of school and the reduction in funding for social services in the national budget. “That is a very major problem because we can see now that the victories that we had won and put safely in the bag we are losing again,” she said.

In the United States, March is Women’s History Month.  It is a time to commemorate the important contributions of women to the development of American society.

The next Food for Thought discussion session on March 15th will look at the issue of sexual harassment at Zimbabwe’s tertiary institutions, and will be facilitated by the Female Students Network, an independent nongovernmental organization working to empower female students in tertiary institutions. – ZimPAS © March 11, 2016