[RC's Statement] on International Women's Day

It is an honour to be here, on behalf of the UN Resident Coordinator, Mr. Alain Noudehou and the UN Country Team in Zimbabwe, to celebrate the International Women’s Day with you.

From the outset allow me to congratulate the People and Government of Zimbabwe for achieving a key milestone on the approval of the constitution during the referendum. This is indeed a very important achievement for Zimbabwe.

The timely and importance of the national theme, “Peace begins with me: Peace begins with you: Peace begins with Us All: Act now to end violence against women and girls” selected to mark this day cannot be overemphasized.  This theme speaks to the national and global commitment by governments to keep their promises of ending violence against women and girls.

As you know, the UN Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), in its 57th  annual session held recently, noted “Ending all violence against women and girls is a rights issue and must be a priority, not an option for achieving universal human rights, social cohesion and sustainable development”.

It is estimated that up to seven in ten women globally are beaten, raped, abused, or mutilated in their lifetimes – and most of this violence takes place in intimate relationships.

The 57th CSW adopted Agreed Conclusions, in which the Commission urges States, “To strongly condemn all forms of violence against women and girls and to refrain from invoking any custom, tradition or religious consideration to avoid their obligations with respect to its elimination as set out in the Declaration on the Elimination of Violence against Women.”

The United Nations commend Zimbabwe for already taking steps in this direction through the 4P’s campaign (Prevention, Protection, Participation, Programmes) which is informed by the Africa Unite to End Violence against Women Campaign, the regional component of the UN Secretary General’s global UNiTE campaign.

Violence against women and girls is a gross human rights violation that fractures families and communities and hampers development. It has enormous social, economic and productivity costs for individuals, families, communities and societies.

Women make up a substantial majority of the world’s population and unfortunately the poor. If we compared the lives of the inhabitants of the poorest communities throughout the developing world, we would discover that virtually everywhere, women experience the harshest deprivation. They are more likely to be poor and malnourished and less likely to receive medical services, clean water, sanitation, and other benefits.

The ramifications of marginalising women go far beyond women, with dire consequences for human development, both in our life-time and beyond. In addition to other underlying factors, there is considerable evidence that gender inequality and all forms of violence against women and girls, play significant roles in accounting for the under development in Africa.  These issues range from inequalities in education and formal sector employment to gender gaps in access to and control over important economic assets and productive inputs, and issues of governance.

In this regard, allow me to quote an inspiring reminder and wise statement from Nelson Mandela, who once said:  “As long as women are bound by poverty and as long as they are looked down upon, human rights will lack substance. As long as outmoded ways of thinking prevent women from making a meaningful contribution to society, progress will be slow. As long as the nation refuses to acknowledge the equal role of more than half of itself, it is doomed to failure.”

Here in Zimbabwe, gender inequality, violence against women and girls is of major concern. Women in Zimbabwe are under-represented in political decision-making, with their numbers in Parliament, for example, far below the African Union and SADC target of 50% women in decision-making. Women are disadvantaged in terms of health; the maternal mortality ratio is high at 960 per 100,000 live births. According to the 2011 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey, 1 in 4 women reported that they had experienced sexual violence, and 1 in 3 women aged 15 to 49 have experienced physical violence since the age 15. If violence against women and girls is interpreted in economic terms, according to a 2009 study by the Swedish International Development Agency, the aggregate cost in Zimbabwe was estimated at US$2 billion.

To improve gender equality and curb violence against women and girls in Zimbabwe, the UN Country Team’s support through the Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework 2012-2015 to national programmes and initiatives primarily led by the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development include:

  • The development of the National Gender Based Violence (GBV) Strategy, the Standard Operating Procedures for Safe Homes and for Legal Aid Services, Protocol on the Multi-Sectoral Management of Sexual Abuse and Violence in Zimbabwe, and the development of the CEDAW Committee Recommendations Action Plan.
  • Integrated Support Programme for Sexual and Reproductive Health and HIV Prevention for 2012-2015.
  • Technical support to women’s lobby groups resulting in a special measure to increase women’s representation in Parliament, a provision for achieving gender balance in all public entities and commissions and 75% of other demands incorporated into the new Constitution.
  • Studies and surveys including: Gender Situation Analysis and Gender Based Violence Information Management System.
  • Production of a simplified Family Law Hand book and access to justice support to more than 3,000 women.
  • Support for the expansion of the Victim Friendly Courts and Clinics.
  • Broad-based Women’s Economic Empowerment Framework which calls for women’s increased access to micro-finance and to local, regional and international markets.
  • Introduction of the Gender Responsive Economic Management (GEPMI), a course designed to enable policy makers to address gender issues in all aspects of economic planning and management.

As we mark the International Women’s Day, it is our collective responsibility to address the root cause of gender inequality and violence against women and girls.

In his message for the day, the UN Secretary General said “Look around at the women you are with. Think of those you cherish in your families and your communities. And understand that there is a statistical likelihood that many of them have suffered violence in their lifetime.

This year on International Women’s Day, we convert our outrage into action. We declare that we will prosecute crimes against women – and never allow women to be subjected to punishments for the abuses they have suffered. We renew our pledge to combat this global menace wherever it may lurk – in homes and businesses … in the minds of people who allow violence to continue.”

In conclusion I would like to reiterate the commitment and support of the UN Country Team in Zimbabwe to national efforts to promote and protect the human rights and fundamental freedoms of women and girls.