Why you should be reading the Constitution
Ruth Butaumocho Gender Forum
“We are drowning in information, but starved for knowledge.”
When academic, author and businessman John Naisbitt made this statement, he was amazed at the superfluity of information that people had at their disposal, and yet not using it for their development.
From smartphones, computers, television sets and all gadgets that allow people to surf the web from anywhere, any time, there is now a glut of information from every corner that people can use for their own benefit.
Sadly, only a few are making use of it to know about the world, develop themselves and enhance their knowledge and understanding of issues currently bedevilling the nation.
Information is just everywhere, and yet some people are not using it to their advantage.
It is probably for that reason that the majority of women failed to attend the highly publicised women’s national conference on realignment of the laws in Harare last week that was officially launched by Vice President Joice Mujuru.
Two days earlier, a similar event was held to get views on position papers from women in different sectors so that their concerns on gender equality could be factored in during the realignment of Zimbabwe’s 400 laws.
Both events were launch pads for information that both men and women need to make use of to explore opportunities that are available in Zimbabwe as well as identify problems that have stagnated women’s development, emancipation and empowerment across social divide. They were expected to make their views known during the realignment process.
The majority of women who should have benefited from these grand occasions did not turn up for one reason or the other.
Listening to different speakers on the women’s national conference, what came out clearly was that there was indeed a lot of information available that women can tap into and enhance their own economic and social standing.
The Constitution is one such empowering legal document that has strong provisions to advance gender equality and the rights of women and girls. Signed into law in 2013, the Constitution gives legal guidelines to the Government at all levels, the private sector, traditional and religious leaders, all institutions in society and women, men and youths on how to ensure that everyone has equal access to resources and opportunities.
It contains all the important tenets that women would need to know and be familiar with so that they know what is due to them according to the laws of the land. It has since been described in some quarters as a Constitution for women, because of its sensitivity to women’s issues and the need for gender equality.
If anything, our Constitution is one of a few in the world which have a women’s section singling out by name (Article 6 of the Preamble) and which give women equal citizenship and dignity in addition to other positive attributes, speaking directly to gender equality. It came about owing to long hours of hard work and sustained advocacy.
Knowledge and information on what is contained in the document provide the local citizenry with a starting point to understand the different pieces of legislation that encourage gender equality.
It is, however, sad that not many people, especially women, have had an opportunity to read through the Constitution or better still familiarise themselves with its contents, and yet they constitute the larger percentage of the population that voted “Yes” for the draft constitution so that it could become law.
They are yet to read through, understand sections that appeal to their own cause, and apply it to their own situation currently riddled with marginalisation, discrimination, and an unlevel playing field.
A friend who is doing her last part of a Masters in Development Studies recently admitted that she had not read the Constitution. She said she had no idea as to where she could get a copy, more than a year after the document was signed into law.
If women at her level are ignorant of the provisions of the Constitution, then it is hopeless for women in Mutunga- gore in Mount Darwin.
There are a lot of women like my learned friend who are going about their lives, and have not had time to go through a Constitution that has been described as arguably one of the best in the world when it comes to gender sensitivity.
By not reading through the Constitution women are doing themselves a disservice at a time they should be pushing the gender equality agenda. Unlike before, the gender equality agenda is now ably supported by the Constitution and needs to be implemented.
It also means that women are missing out on opportunities and rights provided for in the document which they should be using for their own benefit.
So, as long they don’t know the provisions that push for their own ascendancy and empowerment, women will continue to play second fiddle on various matters because they cannot argue from an informed point of view.
They are not aware of their own constitutional rights.
Of course, the fact that the Constitution is law on paper does not amount to anything. Its success hinges heavily on implementation and that should only be possible through active participation from everyone.
It would be folly for women to continue claiming they are being overlooked and marginalised in the distribution of resources when they don’t know the provisions of the Constitution, and what the law says.
Naturally those who are learned and well versed with the law are bound to take advantage of the legal provisions to hoodwink others. But the incidence would be less if people knew what was due to them and claimed their space.
The Constitution has varying legal provisions that could change the lives of millions of Zimbabwean women. But that will only happen when women in their various spheres familiarise themselves with the Constitution and demand its implementation in totality.
Don’t we all agree that decisions are best made by those who participate?
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