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Today the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and the United Nations Development Community (UNDP) facilitated the first dialogue and consultation for civil society on the draft Bill to establish the Gender Commission - The Zimbabwe Gender Commission Bill, 2014 on behalf of the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development (MWAGCD) at the UNDP Complex in Harare.

The major objective of the forum was to inform members of civil society on the contents of the Bill; facilitate a dialogue for points of clarification on the content; and make participants aware of the process going forward as the Bill is prepared for presentation to Parliament. The Bill has not yet been made public and is currently with the Government Printers, after which it will pass through parliament for public hearings. Present were representatives from the MWAGCD and from the Attorney General’s office.

A representative of the Attorney General’s Office gave a comprehensive presentation on the draft Bill, taking the audience through the relevant clauses. Some key highlights were the establishment of a Gender Forum Committee to look into civil society issues, and an annual National Gender Forum to allow dialogue between the Gender Commission and the Gender Forum.

Major concerns from the Gender Forum members were that the Bill had not been revealed to them in advance for perusal and familirialisation, and in their view making comments and inputs on presented highlights would not add much value to the process, especially where issues of women and people’s rights were concerned.

“We call on government and all stakeholders involved to understand that where women’s rights issues are concerned we need to move away from the notion of secrecy. Our contributions can only have meaning and impact after we have had sight of the Bill,” said Sylvia Chirau of the Women and Law in Southern Africa Research and Educational Trust. Chirau was part of the Look, Learn and Share delegation to South Africa that Zimbabwe undertook for a shared learning exchange with South Africans on processes leading to the setting up of the South African Gender Commission.
“From what we learnt in South Africa, the process has to be very participatory from the very first stage. Currently the South African legal affairs ministry and the gender commission are fighting for control of processes, and this result from the lack of clear cut terms of reference for the two institutions when it was established. South Africans admitted that their Gender Commission is not working properly and they are reviewing it, and have already come up with a Gender Equality Bill to relook into the issues of the Gender Commission. We want to avoid a situation where we will have to struggle again to make things work, let us put things right from the beginning.”

The Gender Forum adjourned the meeting, calling for the Bill to be made public to enable them to read and understand it for them to make meaningful contributions. They cited today’s forum ‘a mockery of participatory values’, and called for a commitment from government on when the Forum can reconvene for dialogue. They also called for a commitment from the Attorney General as to when the Bill will be made available to them. They also called government to give Zimbabweans the chance to make inputs into the Bill before it is passed into law. The Gender Forum agreed to reconvene once the Bill is made available to them.

Getrude Matsika, OIC of UN Women Country Office defined this moment in the history of Zimbabwe as strategic and historic, and encouraged members of the Gender Forum to keep up with the process, to view this first consultation not as a failed process but as the beginning of an important journey where they must take note of lessons learnt, to re-design their advocacy strategy and ensure that they quickly engage the key policy makers to ensure that they are not left out of this key strategic process. She thanked the government of Zimbabwe, the MWAGCD and the AG’s office for making their time and commitment to share information and enlighten civil society and other stakeholders of processes going on in national development in Zimbabwe.

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