The PVO Bill is a Step Backwards for Zimbabwean Women

“Gender equality is more than a goal in itself. It is a precondition for meeting the challenge of reducing poverty, promoting sustainable development, and building good governance.” – Kofi Annan

On 5 November 2021, the Government of Zimbabwe announced its intentions to change the existing Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Act to discourage money laundering and prevent non-state actors from “politicizing charitable giving.” If passed into law in its current form, the Private Voluntary Organizations Amendment Bill, H.B. 10, 2001 will have negative implications on gender development in Zimbabwe.

Zimbabwe has made significant progress toward improving the status of women, and gender justice over the last 42 years by enacting various mechanisms, laws, and treaties. This progress occurred on the strength of effective women’s organizing largely through non-governmental organizations effectively placing gender on the agenda, and whose initiatives, directly and indirectly, promoted gender equality. The PVO Amendment Bill proposes amendments that interfere with the operations of NGOs with long-term consequences that may lead to organizations closing or losing their funding.

Zimbabwe is a state party to several regional and international conventions on gender such as The Beijing Declaration and its Platform for action, the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (2003) which Zimbabwe ratified in 2007, and the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development, ratified by Zimbabwe in 2009. Zimbabwe also subscribes to the Sustainable Development Goals which seek to promote gender equality (Goal number 5). The government of Zimbabwe has collaborated with NGOs to implement provisions of these regional and international conventions. Importantly, this type of constructive engagement between government and NGOs has been critical in yielding positive results.

Among Zimbabwe’s key achievements towards gender equality which may be reversed if the PVO Bill is passed into law:

Response to Domestic Violence

The Domestic Violence Act was passed into law in 2007. The Act includes most instances of gender-based violence in its definitions, such as harassment, stalking, and intimidation, and criminalizes these acts. It also provides a comprehensive framework for reporting GBV including allowing third parties to make a report to authorities. NGOs, like the Musasa Project, played a key role in advocating for the Domestic Violence Act, including drafting it. In addition to the Domestic Violence Act, Zimbabwe also has developed comprehensive frameworks to mitigate gender-based violence. among these are the Standard Operating Procedures for Safe Shelters (2012) protocol in line with the provisions of the Beijing Platform for Action. NGOs have complemented the government in the provision of safe spaces for women and children, with support from external funders. NGO-government partnerships exist to provide adequate access to services including, legal, medical, and psycho-social support to survivors. The victim Friendly Unit of the Zimbabwe Republic Police is another example of effective collaboration between NGOs and the government that benefits citizens. The Unit is pivotal in providing access to justice for survivors of abuse, especially children. Organizations that have successful collaborations with the government of this nature, such as the Musasa Project, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association, and the Legal Resources Foundation, among others are likely to face negative effects if the Bill is passed into law.

Promoting Gender Equality in Accessing Health

Zimbabwe has brought the HIV epidemic under control through successful prevention strategies, including major advances made under the Global Plan on Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV. The HIV response has contributed to strengthening the national health system. Decentralized services, removal of barriers such as user fees, service integration, and strengthened community service delivery have helped fulfill the country’s commitments to eliminate Mother to Child Transmission of HIV, and also boost all aspects of maternal health. According to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS), the maternal mortality ratio declined from 651 in 2015 to 525 in 2017 and then 462 in 2019 The proportion of women of reproductive age who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods has increased from 86% in 2016 to 89% in 2019. Zimbabwe benefited from the 5-year US$25 Million-Challenge Tuberculosis (TB) grant which came to an end at the end of 2019 and according to the 2022 National Budget statement, Zimbabwe is expected to receive US$482,059,110 from development partners. Critically, these funds are channeled through NGOs, and if the Bill is passed into law. Without the financial resource, women’s access to adequate sexual and reproductive health services will decline.

Women’s Economic Empowerment

NGOs promote women’s economic empowerment through capacity strengthening in entrepreneurial skills, and provide technical assistance in areas such as Agriculture and business management (Zivanayi, 2017). NGOs also offer micro-finance facilities to women, and some organizations such as Self Help Development Organization, Plan International, and Jekesa Pfungwa/ Vulingondo, support women’s empowerment through initiatives such as internal saving and lending which promote women’s access to finance for their livelihoods projects. According to Zivanayi’s study, Participants reported that the ability to earn an income has enhanced their capacity to influence domestic relationships, specifically, negotiating with their husbands amicably, something they found difficult without the support of NGOs.

Gender Equality in Political and Civic Participation

Civil society organizations such as the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe, Women In Politics Support Unit, and Women Academy for Political and Leadership Excellence, among others have been essential in supporting and mentoring women to take leadership positions in politics and public decision making. Zimbabwe has a very progressive Constitution that promotes gender equality and non-discrimination, particularly in Sections 17 and 56. Women need to take up more positions of leadership at national and sub-national levels. Without the capacity strengthening, access to networks, and political spaces facilitated by these organizations, many women across the political divide would not be able to become leaders. While the gains made are significant, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done in changing societal attitudes toward women leaders. Women political aspirants face challenges linked to their gender, including higher incidences of violence and harassment. Enactment of the PVO is likely to disrupt the advances being made toward women’s representation in governance by interfering with the operations of NGOs that support women’s political participation.

A nation that is gender-balanced benefits everyone. Unequal societies are less cohesive. They have higher rates of anti-social behaviour and violence. Countries with greater gender equality are more connected. Their people are healthier and have greater wellbeing.

We all have a role to play in making sure that the Bill does not reverse our achievements by taking the following critical actions:

  • Citizens need to engage with Parliament and the government to raise our concerns about the provisions of the Bill that are likely to affect the work of NGOs that are promoting gender equality in Zimbabwe.
  • The Parliament of Zimbabwe should review and remove provisions that jeopardize the work of CSOs through unwarranted ministerial or executive state interference in non-state actors’ work.
  • Parliament should consider conducting an independent assessment of the potential gender implications of the PVO Bill.
  • There is a need for continuous and honest engagements between CSOs and all responsible parties that are working on this Bill to ensure that it is gender-sensitive. CSOs need to raise awareness among citizens regarding the gender implications of the Bill and how they can engage with Parliament to air their views.

Source: Alois Nyamazana*, Accountability Lab

*Alois Nyamazana is a Gender Champion and the Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning Manager for the Accountability Lab Zimbabwe. He is a passionate advocate of gender justice, accountability,and good governance.

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