A Situational Analysis on the Status of Women’s and Children’s Rights in Zimbabwe

Type Report
Title A Situational Analysis on the Status of Women’s and Children’s Rights in Zimbabwe
Publication (Day/Month/Year) 2012
Publisher unisef
URL http://www2.unicef.org/education/files/SitAn_2010-FINAL_FINAL_01-02-2011.pdf
Through its focus on the social sectors in the 1980s, post-independence Zimbabwe made major gains in upholding children and women's rights and reducing disparities. The 1990s saw an era of structural adjustment programmes with associated austerity measures. The problems caused by these changes in policy and budget allocations were compounded by the onset of the HIV epidemic. Finally, in the past decade, the dramatic economic contraction and political problems have resulted in further deterioration in the status of women and children.
The focus of this document is the period from 2005 through 2010 and is intended to serve as an assessment of the status of women and children's rights. The document will also inform the priorities of the new UNICEF country programme to be developed for the period 2012 to 2015 within the framework of the Zimbabwe United Nations Development Assistance Framework (ZUNDAF). Much of the data are derived from the Multiple Indicator Monitoring Survey (MIMS) conducted by Zimstats (formerly Central Statistics Office) with the support of UNICEF in 2009. In the absence of a final national development framework, the analysis has taken as a reference point the Short Term Emergency Recovery Programme (STERP), the Government Works Programme and the draft Medium- Term Plan (MTP).
The analysis has been completed during a critical period of transition in the country. The Global Political Agreement was signed by the three political parties in September 2008. The Inclusive Government, inaugurated in February 2009, managed to control the massive hyper-inflation, stabilize the economy and restore some of the basic social services, all within 18 months. In addition, the major cholera and measles epidemics that affected the country in 2008-2009, and 2009-2010, highlight so dramatically the deterioration on and underlying vulnerability of the systems and infrastructure of all the social sectors, have also largely been brought under control. Food security is also steadily improving and the proportion of the population dependent on food aid decreasing. Due to a combination of mortality and real change in incidence as a consequence of behavioural change, HIV prevalence is declining. However, the maturity and magnitude of the HIV epidemic, the massive rate of orphaning that has occurred as a consequence, and the inter-related high household poverty levels have exacerbated vulnerabilities and are leading to stark disparities across a range of indicators. Simultaneously, there is a risk that a cycle of violence may develop that runs the full spectrum from rampant corporal punishment through to sexual abuse, gender-based violence and politically-motivated violence.
Overall, the period from 2005 to 2010 has seen a further deterioration in the critical social sectors. In fact, during 2008 and 2009, many social sectors had all but collapsed. The education system, once arguably the best on the continent, has begun to falter badly. Although enrolment rates have remained high, examination pass rates and other indicators of quality are plummeting. In the absence of significant central government financing, a complex system of fees, levies and 'incentives' has evolved that further disadvantages the poorest. A full 50 per cent of students no longer continue their schooling beyond grade seven. The students from the poorest quintiles make the transition even less frequently. In the absence of opportunities for vocational training, formal employment or to be integrated back into the educational system, this group of children and young people remains highly vulnerable. Teachers’ salaries do not represent a living wage and combined with the absence of learning and teaching materials and declining standards have led to a crisis of standards and motivation in the teaching profession.
The once strong primary health care system has also faltered badly. The maternal mortality ratio has more than doubled since 1990, the baseline year for the Millennium Development Goals and under five mortality has increased by more than 20 per cent. User fees are limiting access to basic health services, particularly for curative interventions such as emergency obstetric care, and for women in rural areas or in the poorest quintiles. Newborn disorders have been recognized as the major cause of under five mortality and are intrinsically linked to maternal health. The major gains made in ensuring access for HIV positive adults to anti- retroviral therapy have not yet been replicated for children, particularly within the first two years of life. While severe acute malnutrition remains stable at a prevalence of less than 3 per cent, chronic under- nutrition or stunting, a reflection of poor caring practices, poor sanitation and poor dietary diversity, now affects more than one-third of children. More than 40 per cent of rural Zimbabweans now practice open defecation as their only form of sanitation and the link between poor sanitation and stunting is attracting increasing research interest. Finally, the health system continues to face historical challenges of paying and motivating its workforce in a sustainable manner and newer challenges such as the increasing proportion of the population that belong to religious groups that do not automatically adopt recommended health interventions.
Underpinning all of these areas, the protective environment for women and children is cracking. Government social protection mechanisms that functioned well previously, such as the Social Development Fund and child supplementary feeding programmes, have fallen away. The social welfare and justice for children sectors are also limited by a loss of human and administrative capacity. As the coping strategies of families and communities have become increasingly taxed, children have become more and more vulnerable to violence, exploitation and abuse in schools, communities, across borders and within their own homes with little recourse to justice services. The legislative and policy framework for children's protection requires revision in line with emerging priorities, for example, on children's criminal age of responsibility. International treaties such as the Convention on the Rights of the Child are not yet domesticated and thus largely unable to be enforced in legal decision-making.
And yet despite these very serious challenges, there is much room for optimism. First, the Inclusive Government of Zimbabwe is placing a high priority on stimulating economic growth with equity and recognizes the central role of the social sectors in the rebuilding of the country. The transition period is providing an opportunity for making important policy decisions and pro-poor advances, such as removing or reducing financial barriers to accessing health, water and other social services and improving access to others by revitalising programmes that ensure access for the most vulnerable, such as the Basic Education Assistance Module (BEAM). Government is also initiating pre-trial diversion programmes for minors, child-friendly courts and expanding programmes targeting survivors of abuse. Importantly it is also making significant commitments from its own limited resources. Every effort must be made to support the successful implementation of such policy reform during this transitional period. As domestic revenues improve, the social sectors should continue to be prioritised. Finally, as new programmes are developed, such as national cash transfer schemes for labour constrained households, robust operational research is needed to ensure effective targeting, links to social sector outcomes and ultimately reductions in poverty.
Second, despite the lack of external resources flowing directly to government and the massive loss of capacity, the basic human and physical infrastructure still exists to some extent in most sectors. In addition, transitional financing mechanisms in education, health, water and social protection are providing innovative ways to support the revitalisation of these sectors. The international donor community should continue to support mechanisms, such as the Education Transition Fund, which are providing a critical bridge between humanitarian activities and the rebuilding of national capacity in critical sectors.
Third, the people of Zimbabwe are both highly literate and also remember well what it was like to have good services; they will continue to demand their entitlements from the State. Programmes that increase awareness among women, children and young people of their entitlements and also stimulate and support positive behaviours at individual and community level should be expanded. These include early and exclusive breastfeeding, hand-washing with soap, reduction of high risk sexual encounters and the strong involvement of communities in governance, accountability and maintenance of social services.
Finally, and most importantly, the Inclusive Government, through the constitutional reform process, the establishment of commissions including a Human Rights Commission, is clearly making good faith efforts to improve governance and allow a conducive environment for rebuilding the nation; most notably, by involving children themselves in the constitution-making process. The United Nations, civil society organisations and international donor community must support all of these efforts. Ultimately it is the success or failure of these efforts that will determine the future for the women and children of Zimbabwe.

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