The Sunday Mail
Wendy Nyakurerwa Her Point of View —
Rest is a necessity, it allows for growth. Unfortunately, the world waits for no man, or woman. And so during the hiatus of this column, it’s been a roller coaster on the gender landscape. A recap of the major highlights will do.
Santa Claus’ Christmas present for women came as early as January this year with Ms Emelda Mhuriro approaching the Constitutional Court to challenge Sections 18(1) and (3) of the Labour Act.
The sections only allow women who have worked for at least one year in an organisation to enjoy fully-paid maternity leave on no more than three occasions with the same employer. At law therefore, the employer is not obliged to fully pay the affected woman during her maternity leave in the event that she falls pregnant for a fourth time.
She would have become a burden, so to speak. Ms Mhuriro’s argument was that the said sections of the Labour Act were discriminatory and in violation of the Constitution, which gives unlimited rights to maternity leave for female employees (Section 65:7). She became an instant heroine amongst women, with some even rushing to conceive baby number four.
And then came the anti-climax last month, after a good nine months that were pregnant with expectation. It was a false pregnancy! Ms Mhuriro simply announced that she was withdrawing the challenge from the ConCourt. Apparently, she had learnt that the ongoing process of realigning the laws with the Constitution would address her concerns.
Never mind the fact that that process has been going on for three years now. Female hearts sank. Working women have had their fingers crossed, hoping that the “on-going and advanced tripartite negotiations between Government, employers and labour” will result in a Labour Amendment Bill more favourable to them.
Hopefully it will be tabled before Parliament soon. Otherwise someone out there might still need to take one for the ladies. Before then, suspended Prosecutor-General Mr Johannes Tomana had forced the nation into an uneasy consciousness with regards to laws governing statutory rape, the age of consent and child marriages.
Mr Tomana received brickbats for his statements on young girls marrying, but after the emotions calmed, the nation realised that the PG was simply pointing out the discord in the country’s legal age of consent, which is 16.
Section 22(1) of the Marriage Act which provided that a girl who had attained the age of 16 could get married; while the new Constitution outlaws marriage of girls below 18. The grey area created by the subsequent amendment to the Marriage Act and the age of consent is subject for another day.
Clearly we are yet to attain harmony on that very important issue.
Enter the highly-publicised High Court judges’ recent interviews. About a fortnight ago, the Judicial Service Commission conducted interviews to fill eight vacancies on the High Court bench. Section 184 of the Constitution says appointments to the judiciary must reflect broadly the diversity and gender composition of Zimbabwe.
Yet there were 15 women on the initial list of 51 aspirants. Only six female candidates ended up participating in the interviews after the bulk dropped out for various reasons. Female lawyers should come forward and defend themselves for that paltry feat.
Anyway, amongst the women who participated was pregnant Ms Choice Damiso. Now Ms Damiso is not just an expectant mom, she is also a senior lawyer and an academic with the University of Zimbabwe; a highly competent one at that. She has worked for the Parliament of Zimbabwe and is currently with the United Nations.
This is the reason why she found herself in that hot seat, eloquently fielding questions from the Chief Justice Godfrey Chidyausiku-led panel. One wouldn’t be off the mark to assume that interview questions would revolve around her record in the field of law, her professional experience and issues related to integrity.
But the JSC’s Commissioner Priscilla Madzonga took it to a whole new level. She took Advocate Damiso to task over her pregnancy and questioned how she would conduct her duties as a new mother if was appointed to the bench.
Comm Madzonga, a fellow woman, insisted that the pregnancy “may place you in a difficult condition” and that the “timing might be wrong”. The paradox of women disagreeing on this very natural occurrence is unsettling.
But the diplomatic Adv Damiso kept her eyes on the ball and defended her turf, reminding Comm Madzonga that pregnancy was not a chronic condition that hampered women from pursuing careers. Nature has it that women fall pregnant, which is a blessing to humanity and not a professional catastrophe. Pregnancy must never be a basis for discrimination.
Sadly, Ms Damiso is not the only working woman who finds herself in this predicament. If anything, she has the advantage of legal training to protect herself, unlike many other vulnerable women.
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