Statement by Elizabeth Tsvangirai on the occasion of International Women’s Day. Speech read out to the Movement for Democratic Change (MDCT) Women’s Assembly provincial commemoration at Harvest House, Harare.
Today is International Women’s Day; that day when as women, we take stock of our lives and evaluate whether we are making any progress in terms of living as equal global citizens with our male counterparts. Today, we reflect on the dangers, the frustrations and the impediments faced by women to live as equally respected citizens on the global stage. In the case of Zimbabwe, it is sad to note that today, we are commemorating—not celebrating—this day at a time when the nation is facing hunger and starvation.
I say this because in acute times like these, it is the mothers who struggle every day to put food on the table even under these very difficult circumstances where only the President of the country can afford hosting a million dollar birthday bash in the droughtstricken Masvingo province—a province where most citizens and livestock will be lucky to make it to the next farming season!
The theme for this year’s International Women’s day The 2016 theme for International Women’s Day is “Planet 5050 by 2030: Step It Up for Gender Equality”. The United Nations observance on 8 March will reflect on how to accelerate the 2030 Agenda, building momentum for the effective implementation of the new Sustainable Development Goals. It will equally focus on new commitments under UN Women’s Step It Up initiative, and other existing commitments on gender equality, women’s empowerment and women’s human rights
Indeed, whatever struggle for equality we are engaged in as women, we have to step it up to ensure that we step up to the plate and make this dream a realization. As African women, we need to simplify these struggles and these themes so that they are clearly understood. The essence of the women’s struggle must have traction at the shop floor level. It must begin to have meaning to our women in the villages and in the various spaces where they are oppressed, vilified and looked down upon.
The struggle for equality is also the struggle of the poor woman in the illequipped maternity ward in Mutoko, on the food distribution queue in Muzarabani and at the community borehole in Plumtree and Maphisa. It is these ordinary women whose plight we must reflect on today with the aim of ensuring that this struggle begins to alleviate the desperate lives they live every day.
The theme this year speaks to the desire for equality in positions of authority and responsibility. What it means for the poor women in the village, whether Zanu PF or MDC, who are sitting in the scorching sun waiting for their share of food relief from predominantly male councillors and distribution agents, is that they must begin to look forward to females occupying these important roles of providing food relief to our nation.
I say this because women are known for their soft hearts. In a year in which we are all struggling to put food on the table, it is only the woman who understands the plight of children and families. Indeed, women are likely to be fair in ensuring that food is fairly distributed in a nonpartisan way. And yes, the political struggles of today’s women will not end until women occupy decision making positions
I am happy that the MDC has since realized that women must occupy decisionmaking positions. Long before the United Nations had come up with Planet 50/50 as a theme for this year’s International Women’s Day commemorations, the MDC had already made a similar pledge to the women in this great party. You will all recall, that one of the resolutions adopted at the party’s 4th Congress on November 1, 2014 clearly stipulates that the MDC must have an equal number of women and men in all the decisionmaking organs of the party. It is my hope that the party will live up to this pledge adopted its highest decisionmaking organ. Conclusion I want to conclude by saying it is sad that as Zimbabwean women we commemorate this day against a sad background of suffering, of inequality, of hunger and genderbased violence
Every day, we read sad tales of genderbased violence, including murder that is mainly targeted at women. I am particularly saddened by the plight of the rural woman. Not only does she bear the brunt of scavenging for food in a bad year like this one, but her health is not regarded an important issue, especially by this clueless government. There must be free medical care for our pregnant women because they are executing an important national duty. In the same vein, it is my wish that women, particularly the suffering rural woman, are provided with free sanitary wear. And because the girl child has been sidelined for years, it is important for the country to seriously consider bringing back the good old days of adult education or the night schools of the early 1980s so that our women catch up with their male counterparts in the true spirit of Planet 50/50. I also want to take the opportunity of this day to welcome the ruling by the Constitutional Court to outlaw child marriages. My only concern is that our communities have not been properly educated that these child marriages, so prevalent in our communities, are now illegal.
There is need for enabling legislation to give life and meaning to this ruling. In fact, some women I have spoken to told me they would have wanted the age of marriage consent set at 21, their argument being that even 18 year olds are still children. On a day like today, we need to spare a thought for all those women who were maimed, raped and killed in the various struggles of the nation since 1890. From the war of liberation to the current struggle for democratic change, it is the women who have suffered most and today, we must remember them. Indeed, we must salute them. As we celebrate this great day today, I wish to challenge those in government to ensure that there is no partisan distribution of food aid. Everyone is a Zimbabwean and hunger knows no political party card. As I have said before, it is the women who are bearing the brunt of this ElNino induced drought. Please give them food and don’t ask them for their party card or their political affiliation.
Zimbabwe belongs to everyone. Happy International Women’s day and indeed, let’s go 50/50! I thank you