Parliamentarians deliberate on mandatory rape sentencing

In a country where crimes like stock theft have mandatory minimum sentences, there has been a huge outcry over rape, a crime which has destroyed many people’s lives and is yet to have a mandatory sentence.

WALPE with support from Oxfam Zimbabwe has taken up the task to run the #NoToRape campaign calling upon the government to enact a mandatory sentence on rape. On the 14th of April 2021, the organisation conducted a virtual meeting with parliamentarians to deliberate on mandatory rape sentencing. In attendance were the Portfolio Committee on Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care, Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary affairs.

At the core of the meeting was the need for parliamentarians to put in place laws and policies that guarantee mandatory sentencing for rape cases in order to deal with the menace that continue to haunt women and girls in Zimbabwe. They applauded WALPE for taking the initiative to discuss a complex but critical matter which has shuttered dreams of many women and girls around Zimbabwe.

Important points that came out of the discussion include:

·         The need for a robust awareness raising campaign on the ills of rape especially in marginalised, peri-urban and rural areas.

·         The need for media to play its role in reporting and following up on rape cases.

·         To increase capacity of health workers and other medical facilities in clinics and hospitals especially in rural areas to deal with rape cases.

·         To include law enforcers (the police) when conducting awareness campaigns so that they treat rape victims properly.

·         Prosecution of perpetrators as well as enacting a mandatory minimum sentence.

·         Providing support for survivors or victims.

WALPE proposed a mandatory minimum sentence of 40 years and most of participants were in support of the proposal and urged the organisation to engage the Ministry of Women Affairs Small and Medium Enterprises which is also pushing for the same number of years.

The parliamentarians pledged to take up the mandatory rape sentencing issue to the house of assembly for discussion. Rape continues to be used as a weapon to silence political opponents and this affects women’s full participation in leadership and decision making processes.

ii)Parliamentarians in support of an all-inclusive COVID19 vaccination programme.

WALPE with support from Oxfam launched the People’s Vaccine campaign where it is advocating and lobbying for the Government to raise more awareness on the availability, distribution and safety of vaccines especially on the gendered aspect of it. On the 15th of April 2021, the institution hosted a breakfast meeting with parliamentarians on the importance of an all-inclusive COVID19 vaccination programme. In attendance were the Parliamentary Women’s Caucus, Portfolio Committee on Health and Child Care and the Portfolio Committee on Finance, Budget and Economic Development.

Fundamental to the meeting was for the honourable MPs to provide oversight on the vaccination process and ensure it is inclusive and decentralised. One of the points raised was the lack of information on the vaccines and that has given room for people to create myths and lies leading to low uptake of the vaccine.

The government was also urged to prioritise women and women with disabilities since they are the majority by providing them with enough information so that they can have choices on which vaccines to take.

To regain people’s trust, it was recommended that the Medicines Control of Zimbabwe should provide a clear and detailed information on the vaccines’ efficacy and safety, and also give evidence of test runs that were conducted prior to inoculation.

The parliamentarians pledged to lead by example by spreading helpful information about the vaccines and encourage everyone to get vaccinated. They also vowed to engage the government to provide adequate information to everyone in Zimbabwe so that people can make informed and right decisions regarding the vaccination process.

iii) Summer School Leadership retreat for aspiring women leaders.

Women’s Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence (WALPE) in partnership with Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA) with support from the Netherlands Embassy held the second cohort of the National Transformative Feminist Leadership Summer School for aspiring women leaders in Zimbabwe.

The summer school leadership retreat which ran from the 20th to the 24th of April 2021 was attended by 40 women leaders aspiring to run for public office in the 2023 national elections as councillors, Members of Parliament and Presidents. The aspiring women leaders representing the 10 provinces of Zimbabwe were drawn from MDC Alliance, ZANU PF, MDC T, National Constitutional Assembly (NCA) independent candidates, trade unions, student unions- ZINASU, civil society organisations and tertiary institutions (Student Representative Councils).

The participants went through a robust and intensive capacity building, mentorship and coaching process in: Political career development, Introduction to feminism, Building and managing a campaign, Introduction to public service and volunteerism, Negotiation and consensus building skills, Nonviolent campaign strategies, Constituency outreach and voter mobilization strategies, Introduction to climate change, Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR), Resilience building and social accountability, Public speaking and Mastering the art of convincing audiences, Etiquette and confidence building.

The retreat was facilitated by a seasoned feminist and development specialist Ms. Grace Chirenje who did a sterling job in preparing the women for public office through enhancing their political skills necessary for high level public office.

Also in attendance was the guest of honour Her Excellency Barbara van Hellemond, the ambassador of the Netherlands Embassy to Zimbabwe. Ms Hellemond applauded WALPE and WLSA for taking up the responsibility of grooming, coaching, nurturing and preparing aspiring women leaders for public elected positions. She encouraged the aspiring women leaders not to tire but continue pushing and fighting for recognition and inclusion in senior leadership positions as that feeds to the achievement of gender equality in the country.

Hon Fortune Chasi (ZANU PF) the former Minister of energy and power development was also present and gave a presentation on ‘Why men excel in politics’. In his presentation, he brought out some of the strategies that men use in order to elbow out women from politics and encouraged the women to not look down upon themselves but claim their leadership space.

Another guest speaker was Hon Priscilla Misihairambwi Mushonga (MDC T) who gave a reflection on women participation in Zimbabwean politics. She narrated her political journey, the hurdles she faced and the impact she has made so far. She encouraged the women to never give up on their aspirations and fight on.

Ms. Gladys Hlatywayo a former student leader and current International Relations Secretary with MDC Alliance also came through and gave a presentation on the lessons she learnt throughout her student activism and political path. She emphasised on the need for women to rally behind the implementation on sections 17, 56 and 80 of the constitution of Zimbabwe in order to achieve gender equality.

Another seasoned international gender justice expert, Ms. Janah Ncube spoke to the women leaders on “Sexual violence within political parties and why it is important for women to speak up” She emphasised the importance of women leaders speaking out when their rights are violated as it acts as a deterrent to future offenders.

Ms. Cynthia Chirinda Hakutangwi a life coach, author and social entrepreneurship expert presented on Social Entrepreneurship and motivated the participants to build their brands and protect them as it is essential for leaders to have an identity. She further encouraged them to be economically independent through venturing in social entrepreurship to allow them to pursue their political career and at the same time being able to provide for themselves and their families.

The aspiring women leaders were grateful for the skills strengthening process and are confident that they will definitely excel in the pending by-elections and in the 2023 elections. WALPE and WLSA shall continue working with the women, harnessing their skills, offering them long term mentorship and coaching exercises until the 2023 elections and beyond. The two organizations envision to increase the number and quality of women who successfully run for public office.

After successfully completing the Feminist Transformative Leadership programme, the aspiring women leaders received certificates of achievement and they promised to put in their maximum exertion in their journeys to get into public office.