Home » Human Rights » Women Should Remain Resolute, Says Chikwinya [interview]

Newly-appointed Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development Minister Cde Nyasha Chikwinya (NC) is no stranger to women empowerment issues and she says her new role will see her take head-on a myriad of challenges affecting women and girls such as early child marriages, alignment of family laws and quota systems in mining. Gender Editor Ruth Butaumocho (RB), spoke to her about these and other issues.

Congratulations on your appointment to lead the Women’s Affairs Ministry. What was your feeling when you learnt about the appointment?

Let me start by thanking His Excellency, the President, Cde Robert Mugabe for appointing me into the Cabinet, an acknowledgement that I hold in high esteem. I was elated when I got to know about the appointment and I knew it was time to act and play my part. My appointment into the Cabinet can best be described as “kairos” moment. This is the moment when the Holy Spirit wants you to do special work, after being rewarded for being patient, and I can safely say I was rewarded for being patient.

What new ideas are you bringing to the ministry that represents over 50 percent of the population?

Heading the ministry is merely a continuation of the job that I have been doing for more than three decades, to economically empower women in various sectors. The hands-on experience that I have acquired over the years in dealing with women is the crucial component which will be handy in building on programmes and projects that the ministry is already implementing in terms of women empowerment, gender mainstreaming and economic development. I may not have been in Government before, but I am well versed in the issues around women empowerment. In addition to the existing projects, I have since identified multi-million-dollar projects that we intend to introduce to our women in all the country’s provinces once we finish working on several modalities that have to be in place before we kick-start them.

I am sure you are aware that the Government is hamstrung financially and has not been able to fund a lot of similar projects in other ministries Honourable Minister?

I am fully aware of the financial challenges that Government is facing and we both agree that money is vital in kick-starting any income-generating project, but money is not everything. The targeted beneficiaries have to be spiritually, physically and psychologically prepared to work hard for the fruition of the project. Over the years, Government has poured in millions of dollars in projects, some which never took off because the beneficiaries were preoccupied with the financial aspect and did not contribute anything towards it. In the projects that we have earmarked for the economic empowerment of women, my ministry will work with people who will consciously, consistently and courageously participate for the good of everyone. Even with little resources, we will still make it, while we are creating a conducive environment to generate money.

Your appointment comes at a time when Zimbabwe is battling with a myriad of challenges facing women and girls, among them the problem of child marriages. How best do you intend to deal with this challenge?

It is disheartening to note that child marriages continue to be one of the major challenges facing Zimbabwe today. Child marriages have negative socio-economic consequences for the girl child, notwithstanding the fact that they also limit the opportunities for young girls to fully realise their potential. The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS 2014) indicates that 32,8 percent of women aged 20 and 49 were married before their 18th birthday. The ministry, with development partners and civil organisations has been implementing a number of programmes to raise awareness on child marriages. The ministry rolled out the 18+ campaign in selected provinces which have high incidences of child marriages, namely Mashonaland East, Manicaland and Mashonaland Central. This campaign has seen the sensitisation of the 150 traditional leadership structures on the Constitution and legal provisions prohibiting child marriages, health and economic consequences of the practice. The campaign is still to be rolled out to all provinces. However, all these programmes need to be strengthened and accelerated to reach our desired goal. In 2014, the ministry developed the girls and young women empowerment framework. The framework sets out strategies for protecting and empowering girls and young women in Zimbabwe. It is anchored on five strategic areas of intervention namely, education, economic empowerment, reproductive health rights, safety and protection and leadership development. The framework is currently guiding all relevant stakeholders working on girls and young women empowerment programmes.

Under the strategy of safety and protection, the setting up of young women empowerment hubs at provincial level has been identified in Manicaland, Matabeleland South and Mashonaland Central provinces. The hubs will house various young women empowerment programmes which include entrepreneurship, skill development, financial literacy and leadership development, and the ministry is currently mobilising resources for the initiative. To raise more awareness on child marriages, my ministry will be launching the African Union campaign on ending child marriage on July 31, 2015. The campaign is to further buttress on the negative effects of child marriages and to create a zero tolerance attitude towards child marriages in Zimbabwe. As we acknowledge that child marriages are a form of sexual exploitation of children, my ministry will push for mandatory sentencing of rape and sexual abuse perpetrators, which will act as deterrent measure to child sexual exploi- tation.

Prosecutor General Johannes Tomana a few weeks ago received a backlash from the media after he sought to explain the anomaly between Section 70 of the Criminal Code and the Constitution, where the legal age of consent do appear not to tally. What measures will you employ to safeguard the welfare of the girl child until the laws are aligned?

The laws in Zimbabwe concerning the age of marriage and the definition of a child are conflicting. The Constitution stipulates that the minimum age of marriage for both boys and girls is 18 years yet the Marriage Act specifies that the minimum age of marriage is 16 for girls and 18 for boys. The Customary Marriage Act on the other hand does not set a minimum age for marriage. We are going to approach our leaders and come up with a position as women — in unison– of our expectations’ and the pieces of legislations we want amended. We will not sit and let our girls be defiled by sexual perverts, who are taking advantage of the law.

Women constitute a good percentage of the population, but only a few have leading positions in both the private and public sectors including in the Cabinet. Where does the problem lie and how should it be resolved?

Women face a number of challenges in their bid to take up decision making positions. In terms of political position, you will note that this is an area, which requires a lot of financial resources in order to make it, but you will note that most women have limited access to financial resources, which then limits them from participating in such positions. Further to that, our society is not used to seeing women holding decision making positions. This has resulted in lack of exposure for women, thereby limiting their participation in areas of influence, despite having potential to lead. Suffice to say, women should continue to engage, encourage, empower, strengthen and support each other so that they can speak with one voice when claiming their space. With supportive legislative that is enshrined with our Constitution, we can move the boundaries and create our own space.

You were recently quoted in some sections of the media calling on the Government to allocate a certain percentage of the diamond claims to women so that they can be involved in beneficiation. How should this be implemented and who should benefit?

Yes, we need a quota allocation of the diamonds, and I am not apologetic about demanding such a stake for our women who have defied economic odds over the years to sustain their families. Women of Zimbabwe don’t need a hand out, they need a hand up. They are hard working and have excelled in different areas, so it is only fair that they be allocated a quota. We cannot talk of meaningful poverty eradication and neither can we expect to end the problem of child marriages until women have been economically empowered to equal measures. The Constitution in Section 56 (2) clearly states that women and men have the right to equal treatment, including the right to equal opportunities in the political, economic, cultural and social spheres. Considering that the Constitution is supreme, these provisions ought to be honoured. In terms of how this is going to be implemented, I will meet with the Minister of Mines and Mining Development Honourable Minister Chidhakwa to come up with strategies on how women can benefit from the extractive industry.

African Union has put women at the heart of the Development of Africa Agenda 2063, and declaring 2015, a year of women empowerment and Development. Zimbabwe currently holds the AU chairmanship and is naturally expected to lead by example in women economic empowerment. How do you intend to move the agenda forward and ensure that women in Zimbabwe benefit as much this year and beyond?

My ministry has put in place a number of measures that will be reviewed soon to ensure that women are economically empowered. We will soon engage banks and micro-financial institutions to establish a way of extending to women who have no collateral. We are also sourcing for money for the capitalisation of the Women Development Fund, which is a ministry’s revolving fund that finances women with no collateral security. Plans are at advanced stage to establish a Women’s Bank with the aim of increasing women’s access to credit.

Your parting shot?

Wherever you are, do the best you can. God’s time will arrive, probably not in the manner that you expect, but it will certainly come to pass. While you are waiting for your time, you need to get organised. God has got no time for stupid people. He is a God of order, God of compassion and he ushers his gifts to those that are ready. I am therefore urging women of Zimbabwe to remain resolute,”Mira panzvimbo, usacheuke”.

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