A lot of mainstream discussion about progress in women’s rights these days focuses on new policy and strategic developments such as the gender provisions of Zimbabwe’s new constitution, the Domestic Violence Act and the proposed Gender Commission, among other legal instruments.
But women’s organising goes back a long way. Along with the establishment of robust women’s groups such as the Women’s Action Group (WAG), the Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Networks (ZWRCN) and Zimbabwe Women Lawyers (ZWLA), the 1980s and 1990s also heralded unprecedented challenges, and gains, for Zimbabwe’s women.
Here are 15 pieces of legislation that had a significant impact on Zimbabwean lives at this time, many of which still affect Zimbabwean women’s lives today.
1. Minimum wages stipulated (1980)
These were minimum wages for various unskilled occupations, which included many female workers. Seasonal workers (tobacco, tea and cotton pickers) were categorised as ‘permanent workers’ for purposes of pension benefits.
2. Equal Pay Regulations (1980)
This provided for equal pay for equal work, and also provided for half an hour’s time before and after lunch for breastfeeding.
3. Customary Law and Primary Courts Act (1980)
This piece of legislation established and empowered community courts to administer maintenance laws. It also provided for maintenance claims for women in unregistered customary marriages.
4. Legal Age of Majority Act (1982)
This conferred full legal capacity on every Zimbabwean aged 18 years and above. It also gave daughters the capacity to inherit their fathers’ estates. It also authorised women (including widows) to qualify as guardians of minors and to administer deceased estates.
5. Labour Relations Act (1984)
This provided for 3 months’ maternity leave with some reduction in salary. The Act outlawed discrimination against any employee on grounds of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, or sex, in respect of wages, promotion, recruitment, training and retrenchment.
6. Matrimonial Causes Act No 33 (1985)
This provided for equitable distribution of matrimonial assets upon divorce. It also removed the ‘fault principle’ (that is, when one partner is said to be at fault in the breakdown of the relationship) as grounds for divorce.
7. Public Service Pensions (Amendment) Regulations (1985)
With this development, women could now contribute to medical aid schemes in their own right. Female contributors in public service could also now contribute to their pension at the same rate (7.5%) of pensionable enrolments as men.
8. Taxation Regulations (1988)
These regulations meant that spouses were now taxed separately. Husbands could claim tax exemptions on children.
9. Deceased Person’s Family Maintenance (Amendment) Act (1987)
This meant that a surviving spouse – in the case of death – and children had a right to continue occupying the matrimonial house, use the household goods and effects they were using before the deceased’s death, use and enjoy crops and animals belonging to the matrimonial estate. Property grabbing by relatives of the deceased therefore became illegal.
10. Maintenance (Amendments) Act (date unspecified)
This required the non-custodian parent to contribute regularly to the maintenance of minor children in the custody of the other parent. As such, an appeal against the maintenance order no longer resulted in suspension of the order.
The courts were empowered to attach terminal benefits (eg. pension) accruing to the person who was ordered to pay maintenance if he/ she subsequently left employment. A woman could now file maintenance claims from the court nearest to her, with the man legally obliged to travel to that court.
A woman could also claim maintenance from an ex-spouse any time after divorce if there was need for it, and a woman in an unregistered customary marriage was entitled to maintenance from the man after dissolution of the union.
11. Infanticide Act (1991)
The crime of infanticide replaced the murder charge out of consideration of a mother’s post-natal depression, rejection by boyfriend/ husband, parents and/or relatives.
12. Deeds Registry Amendment Act (1991)
Women could now register immovable property in their own name (applied to urban and rural commercial land where title deeds were obtainable).
13. White Paper on Marriage Inheritance (1993)
This sought to replace the African Marriages Act with legislation equally applicable to all Zimbabweans. As such, it sought to give the surviving spouse, and children, equal rights to inheritance as opposed to one heir.
14. Constitutional Amendment Act (1996)
This outlawed gender as a basis for discrimination, and put male and female spouses of Zimbabwean citizens on a similar basis in terms of right of entry into Zimbabwe, based on the marital relationship.
15. Administration of Estates Amendment Act (1997)
This Act provided for the rights of the surviving spouse/s, in an intestate estate, over the matrimonial home, and also for them to receive a share in the deceased spouses intestate estate. An intestate estate is one in which the deceased’s estate is not effectively disposed of by the deceased’s will.
This article is compiled from information sought from:
Tichagwa, W. 1998. Beyond Inequalities: Women in Zimbabwe. ZWRCN & SARDC. Harare. (pp. 37-38)