Of Crying Babies & Women’s Participation – Equal Rights Aren’t Enough

By Serious Black

It was a brief moment in August House, however comic or oddly perceived, it was a moment of feminine strength. Honourable Member Misihairabwi-Mushonga took a stand, grandchild in hand to protest against an unfriendly environment towards women in the Parliament of Zimbabwe.

 

“Most of these women that you are beginning to see in this House are child bearing and there is nothing here in this Parliament that allows you to bring a baby, to be looked after and breast fed…” she lamented as she addressed the House.

To many it would be easy to dismiss this as a waste of the House’s time. Some may even say, “surely there ought to be bigger matters to discuss in the most constitutionally powerful house in the country?!” However what could be more important than an ongoing problem that not only affects speakers of the House but everyday Zimbabwean women who struggle under male constructed societal norms and systems? After worldwide and continental debate over the issue of public breastfeeding, Zimbabwean women in particular find themselves in a Catch-22. ‘The incident’ in Parliament highlighted the plight of Zimbabwean women, who are running a not so equal race as single mothers, working mothers, sisters, aunts and daughters who traditionally have societal responsibilities they have to (struggle to) maintain; all in pursuit of equal remuneration, respect, acknowledgement and economic survival. Yet, it was amidst scoffs and snorts to which the House had to be called to order.

According to the Zimbabwean Constitution, women have the right just as men to stand in Parliament and debate. However, the Standing Rules and Orders of Parliament do not allow anybody to take time out .i.e. pregnant or indisposed women. One may argue that the Constitution of Zimbabwe has come a long way towards validating equal participation in work places and legislative processes– an indisputable fact. However, it is one thing to provide an equal platform and another to facilitate equal participation and opportunities! If the stance that Hon. Misihairabwi-Mushonga took, that led to permission to keep her grandchild in August House is anything to go by – this facilitation is a prospect that should be considered and enforced across platforms and scenarios in Zimbabwe.

Just as the Honourable Speaker, a male member of society and the product of a Zimbabwean mother said in response,

“I think it is correct (to point out) that we do not have provisions or facilities to bring babies here…I am aware that the labour law does allow, I think extended long leave, maternity leave for parents especially mothers to go and take care of their children…we need to provide for such facilities in future. I thank you, I think you have made a point.”

This ‘point’ provides an opportune time to enforce equal rights towards participation through realistic facilitation across the country. Companies, venues, should take it upon themselves to create provisions for equal participation and function of women across Zimbabwe.

Yes, it was a baby in Parliament but also a moment of reality, one can hope that it will be adopted by society, after all it does take a village to raise a child.

“When you empower a woman, you empower a nation” – Afrikan Proverb

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