Women and Access to Information; Barriers and Opportunities in Freedom of Information Act

The latest research report by the Media Alliance of Zimbabwe  assesses the gendered access to information needs and how women can be fully equipped to enjoy their right to information in Zimbabwe. The paper focuses on freedom of information, freedom of access to official documents/information as stated in the Freedom of Information Act (known as FOI) and the gaps and opportunities for enhancing access to information for women, men, boys and girls. Read on for more on this.

Information remains a very crucial commodity for any person or groups of persons and its use in making decisions has been noted by many scholars and researchers. While everyone needs information, women particularly need information on issues affecting their health, for their social and economic development, and as a means to contribute to sustainable economies.

Access to information is intrinsically linked to the realization of United Nations Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5: Gender Equality and Empowerment of Women and Girls, and in turn contributes to the achievement of other SDGs. Access to information, as defined in this report, is a human rights norm which entails an enabling environment that allows individuals to access, use, and disseminate information and further develop their capabilities to apply this information meaningfully in their everyday lives. The development of their capabilities is key to their equality and empowerment, the objective of Goal 5, while the overall focus of the SDGs is on empowering the poorest and hardest to reach. In terms of equality, empowerment, and access to information, girls and women in less developed countries are those who have the least and need the most. Girls’ and women’s increased access to information will not only contribute to their empowerment but will also have a beneficial impact on society as a whole. In the struggle for the right to information and expression, the freedom to access official information has been acquiring greater salience. Though according to Walby and Larsen (2012), legislation to ensure public access to official records can be traced to centuries ago, it was only after the Second World War, after the experience of Holocaust and the authoritarian regimes and dictatorships that engendered it, that the crucial importance of the right to information was fully recognized.

In contemporary society, information has increased its power and when diligently used, can spur development of countries, grow economies, promote democracy, good governance and respect for human rights. For women, access to information would bring about great transformational change in the quest to challenge and reform patriarchy; which remains the biggest barrier for women participation in all spheres of life. However, Freedom of Information (FOI) has not been readily acceptable in Zimbabwe where the state has been largely opaque and secretive in its operations. The State in Zimbabwe has always had an inclination towards control of information available to the citizens, civil society and political actors. This saw the enactment of the Access to Information and Protection of Privacy Act (AIPPA) in 2002, a draconian piece of legislation which was used by the State to deny freedom of information (Makumbe; 2002). The same Act was also used to control the media space and determine which journalists could or could not work in the country.

Access the full report here (782KB PDF)

Source: Media Alliance of Zimbabwe

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