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Prison bars vs cocktail bars

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WOZA women have taken to the streets in cities and towns across Zimbabwe to raise awareness of their social justice charter – The People’s Charter. They have suffered arrest and beatings in the process, all the time maintaining their dignity and disciplined non-violence. They have sung and danced, carried flowers, banners and babies. They’ve been hard at work on the public face of this campaign since at least November 2006.

Yesterday, on International Women’s Day, 20 WOZA women remained in custody in Masvingo – illegally detained for over the maximum of 48 hrs allowed for in the Public Order and Security Act (POSA). Meanwhile in the capital Harare, diplomats and bureaucrats from local women’s organisations celebrated International Women’s Day in fine style. They were busy celebrating the passage of the Domestic Violence Act through parliament in 2006. The Domestic Violence Act finished its contentious passage through parliament on Dec 20, 2006. It was finally gazetted on Feb 26, 2007. (Note: Many would consider the provisions of this Act weak when compared with similar legislation in other parts of the world). For all the celebrating you would think that the Act was actually in force. Reading the small print you will see that its date or dates of commencement will be fixed by the President by statutory instrument in terms of section 1(2) of the Act, which allows different dates of commencement to be fixed for different provisions.

I wonder why Mugabe couldn’t be persuaded to sign the necessary documents in time for International Women’s Day? Technical details aside, surely this would have been a date to aim for?

And finally, of what real benefit is the Domestic Violence Act to women in Zimbabwe whilst unemployment and inflation are at world beating record highs? And when laws suffocate the normal freedoms required for the people of a country to organise and mobilise?

The privileged and educated women working for swanky civics and coalitions in the cities need to make more of an effort to support and participate in the grassroots endeavors of organisations like WOZA. Donors need to make an effort to ensure that a significant proportion of the money they mobilise for women’s issues reaches impoverished communities.

Mugabe was recently roundly criticised for his lavish birthday party. Similarly, the next time NGO bureaucrats and diplomats celebrate in the city, I’d like to see them do it over buns and tea and not wine and fancy snacks.

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