HomeOpinion & AnalysisCovid-19: The urgent need to protect Zimbabwean women

Covid-19: The urgent need to protect Zimbabwean women

This policy brief explores the need for an action plan in Zimbabwe to actuate the Maputo Protocol and increase the women’s peace and security in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic.


It explains the rationale behind the Maputo Protocol, and examines the possibilities for its application in the context of the Covid-19 pandemic affecting Zimbabwe.

On January 30, 2020, the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared a novel coronavirus (Covid-19) a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.

On March 11, 2020, it was declared a pandemic and as of July 2, 2020, 14 million people were confirmed to have been infected by the virus globally.

Many countries have instituted shutdowns of schools, workplaces and other civil restrictions at this time to combat the spread of the virus.

Whilst these shutdowns were viewed necessary to control the spread of the pandemic, they have had major implications on women’s rights.

This briefing examines the impact of the pandemic on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), broadly women’s rights defenders and advocates working across multiple sectors such as human rights, research, humanitarian, governance, sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR), security and protection, economic development, law/justice and other fields.

The briefing considers the commitment of the government to guaranteeing women’s rights through the Maputo Protocol, and what action plans are in place to increase their peace and security in the context of the pandemic.

The Maputo Protocol covers a wide spectrum of women’s rights and incorporate provisions that relate to specific threats women encounter — including violence in the family, at work, in their communities and during times of armed conflict.

It calls for the elimination of all forms of gender based violence within the rights to life, integrity and security of the person (Article 4), with other provisions reinforcing state obligation to end gender-based violence and discrimination.

It contains progressive wording on sexual and reproductive rights (Article 14) the right to “a positive cultural context” (Article 17) and a “healthy and sustainable environment (Article 18).

As well as the right to the protection of the rules of international humanitarian law in armed conflict (Article 11), the Maputo Protocol includes the “right to a peaceful existence and the right to participate in the promotion and maintenance of peace”.

(Article 10) including diversion of military spending to social development, particularly for women (Article 10(3).

The Maputo Protocol stands out in that specifically calls for the elimination of female genital mutilation (Article 5) and address the pandemics through women’s experiences (Article 14).

Zimbabwe ratified the Maputo Protocol in April 2008.

The protocol is a comprehensive arrangement guaranteeing the rights of women on the African continent.

In its own constitution, Zimbabwe took a gender sensitive dimension which enhances women’s rights.

The constitution is the highest law in the land and section 3 provides that: “This constitution is the supreme law of Zimbabwe and if any other is inconsistent with this constitution that other law shall, to the extent of the inconsistency, be void”.

In terms section 327(2) of the constitution all international treaties, agreements and conventions ratified by Zimbabwe which bind Zimbabwe and other countries, including the African Charter and the Maputo Protocol shall “not form part of the law of Zimbabwe unless it has been incorporated into law by or under an Act of Parliament” through domestication.

This presents a dualist dilemma in that the Maputo protocol has been ratified but it cannot be binding until it has been domesticated through an Act of Parliament.

The government of Zimbabwe is yet to domesticate the Maputo Protocol to ensure its full realisation.

However, the constitution, in section 34 (Domestication of international instruments) also requires that all ratifications be domesticated: The state must ensure that all international conventions, treaties and agreements to which Zimbabwe is a party are incorporated into domestic law.

It should be noted that this section is prescriptive, hence the use of the word “must”.

This is explains why women in the country are not able to access the dividends of the UNSCR 1325 and the African Union Gender, Peace, and Security Programme (2015-2020).

Despite the fast-paced release of resolutions on WPS Agenda, (Resolutions 1820, 1888, 1889, 1960, 2105, 2122 up to the current 2242), National Action Plans (NAPs) on 1325 are very few in Africa.

The problem
The situation of rising violent politics in Zimbabwe, the impacts of climate change, and the global nature of health pandemics are noted to be increasingly and disproportionately affecting women.

Covid-19 has become increasingly and disproportionately burdensome to women.

Pandemics or emergencies tend to create an urgency, which sometimes turn tyrannical.

Responding to emergencies subsumes all other daily requirements.

The magnitude of the Covid-19 created this arbitrary urgency drawing country attention from softer issues such as women’s specific concerns. Recent decades have seen a number of serious epidemics:

l The Middle East respiratory syndrome (Mers) in Saudi Arabia and South Korea;

l The epidemics of H1N1 and H5N1 strains of influenza;

l  The Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (Sars);

l The mosquito-carried Zika virus in South and Central America; and

l Ebola in West and Central Africa.

These are among the big disease outbreaks that have forced the world into a narrow response that may ignore the social concomitants.

The current Covid-19 is no exception.

These outbreaks require particular attention to the need to address gender issues relating to the spread and control of infectious diseases.

Strategies The Women, Peace and Security (WPS) Agenda, the African Union and regional institutions have produced important policy frameworks.

These include the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (1981), the Maputo Protocol, the African Charter on the Rights of Women (2003), the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa (SDGEA, 2004), and the Southern African Development Community (Sadc) Protocol on Gender and Development (2008).

The Zimbabwe constitution also provides for the realisation of gender rights in the country in Chapter 2 (Section 17) and Chapter 4 (Section 80).

The heads of state declared 2015 as the Year of Women’s Empowerment and Development Towards Africa’s Agenda 2063, and 2016 as the Year of Human Rights with Particular Focus on the Rights of Women.

These instruments have not been effective in dismantling entrenched patriarchy.

This challenge has been compounded by the low participation in “politics and peace processes, limited awareness of UNSCR 1325 at the grassroots level, lack of a critical mass of women’s voices and experts in African peace and security, and a shortage of dialogue, collaboration, and strategic networking among women’s organisations”.

It is no wonder at the outbreak of the pandemic in Zimbabwe, the women’s concerns were easy to trade-off with short term need to win the war against Covid-19.

This is why a National Action Plan (NAP) is required. It gives the potential for the realisation of WPS and Covid-19 actions that women since it “outlines its national strategy to implement UN SCR 1325 and other instruments within the WPS Agenda”.

A National Action Plan should be founded on “clear, realistic and attainable objectives; including cross-government strategies in the drafting and implementation processes; developing a strong monitoring and evaluation framework in each NAP; and ensuring that budget lines are included” .

United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) provides a Draft Results Framework that gives examples of how activities feed into outputs, which then feed into outcomes and impacts.

The disease outbreaks have both physical and socially constructed gender dimensions.

The Covid-19 has resulted in the closure of schools, childcare facilities and businesses, travel restrictions, self-isolation, and quarantine in many states.
These actions affect women and men, girls and boys, differently.

Julia Smith notes that some diseases by their very nature affect the sexes differently.

In such cases, the care roles are fulfilled by women who take on the majority of the burden and the risk of providing health care in the home.

Governments should bear in mind these differences when designing response strategies, including in public messaging and reporting protocols.

The “gender analysis has been conspicuously absent from policy debates, documents, and processes” during Covid-19 in Zimbabwe.

The outbreak responses and policies are characterised by the ‘tyranny of the urgent’, which puts aside structural issues in favour of addressing immediate biomedical needs.

This brief reflects on the silences around gender and disease outbreaks by considering the Maputo Protocol, WPS and infectious disease outbreaks. The analysis draws on examples from the Covid-19 responses.

Zimbabwe should urgently “develop, implement, and report on National and Regional Action Plans on United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 to accelerate the Women, Peace and Security Agenda’’ because:

l  NAPs help to outline specific actions, initiatives and timelines needed to meet obligations contained in UN SCR 1325.

They make recommendations on the meaningful inclusion of women in peace and conflict-related decisions, preventing and addressing sexual violence, coordination with civil society, and mechanisms for monitoring and evaluation;

l National strategies can be supported by the presidential statements, making it easier to implement them;

l  Action plans are not rigid to implement as they are operationalised based on the specific contexts and needs.

Thus, they take different shapes and forms: they can be based on national or regional action plans, or focus on different thematic commitments, create specific localisation strategies, or highlight particular national policies;

l  Action plans can be integrated into existing national policy frameworks.

NAPs can also exist as stand-alone policies, while risking duplication and more resources may render them easier to monitor progress and challenges;

l NAPs show commitment to improving the situation of women in the context of Covid-19;

l Developing and adopting a NAP using a participatory, transparent process that involves the highest level of political leadership is a legitimating process.

l Research and Advocacy Unit’s policy brief is titled: The Maputo Protocol, Women Peace & Security (WPS), and the Covid-19 Pandemic: A National Action Plan.

Recent Posts

Stories you will enjoy

Recommended reading