RELIGIOUS leaders who accept or tolerate unlawful cultural activities such as child marriage must stop doing so immediately since such practices have no place in Zimbabwe, President Mnangagwa said yesterday.
Speaking at State House when he launched a spotlight initiative high-level political compact on ending gender-based violence and harmful practices, the President said all religious and cultural practices must conform to the law, and everyone needed to actively support the compact.
The compact is a strategic initiative and commitment for an effective response towards elimination of gender-based violence, largely perpetrated against women and girls, and seeks to promote continued political commitment and engagement of leaders at the highest level in a comprehensive response.
European Union ambassador to Zimbabwe Mr Timo Olkkonen and UN resident coordinator Mrs Maria do Valle Ribeiro, whose organisations extended technical support to the initiative, were also present together with representatives of religious organisations, traditional leaders and civic organisations.
“The importance of the role being played by our religious and traditional leaders as custodians of our religious and traditional customs cannot be overemphasised. Our democratic system has given space for people to affiliate with cultural and religious groupings of their choice.
“However, repugnant practices such as child marriages, which undermine the rights of our children, have no place in our country and should stop forthwith. Similarly, all religious and cultural practices must remain within the confines of what is legal and constitutional,” said President Mnangagwa in his keynote address.
He added: “Zimbabwe is committed to see the realisation of the global aspiration demonstrated through the adoption of Sustainable Development Goals, specifically goal number five which focuses on gender equality and its associated targets on ending violence against women and girls. My Government is equally ensuring the mainstreaming of gender across the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.
“Today, we therefore recommit ourselves to this cause by making a declaration through the high-level political compact on ending gender-based violence and harmful practices,” said President Mnangagwa.
Government will work with all stakeholders to fulfil the vision and objective of the compact through putting in place legal and policy framework.
“The enactment, harmonisation, alignment and implementation of legislation, policies and programmes on gender equality, women’s rights, gender-based violence and harmful practices will be speeded up.
“The decentralisation of victim friendly courts as well as the resourcing of the Legal Aid Directorate remains a priority. This will enhance access to justice and the speedy resolution of cases so that justice is timely dispensed for victims and survivors of gender based violence.
“Concerted efforts will be focused towards capacitating victim friendly units and victim friendly courts,” said President Mnangagwa.
These commitments would help in actualising the provisions in the Constitution and the National Development Strategy 1.
“The fact that Zimbabwe is the first country to develop and operationalise a multi-sectoral compact dedicated towards addressing gender-based violence and harmful practices is a show of the political will of my administration to end this retrogressive vice,” he said.
It was disheartening to note that gender-based violence worsened during the various waves of Covid-19 pandemic.
“This saw a notable increase in the number of reported cases across the country. This prompted my Government to declare services related to mitigating the impact of gender-based violence as essential services,” said the President.
The Domestic Violence Act continues to play an integral role in protecting victims.
“Key institutions such as the Zimbabwe Gender Commission, National Peace and Reconciliation Commission, Anti-Domestic Violence Council and other structures promoting gender equality, will be supported, adequately resourced and operationalised to serve their purpose,” he said.
He thanked the EU and the UN and its agencies for complementing Government efforts towards addressing gender-based violence in the country.
“May I also acknowledge the work being undertaken by the First Lady and the Angel of Hope Foundation, aimed at addressing child marriages, social immorality, drug abuse and poverty which all contribute to increased incidences of gender-based violence,” he said.
Vice President Constantino Chiwenga, who was present at the meeting, said Zimbabwe was fortunate in having leaders that put the interest of the people at the forefront.
“We should aim for a gender-based violence free country. We note with concern gender-based violence has far reaching negative effects with the potential of reversing gains we had in developing our country. This day will mark a new dawn as we are reinvigorating our efforts in ending gender-based violence and harmful practices,” said VP Chiwenga.
The Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development was setting up one-stop centres within Government hospitals for survivors of violence and a national call centre with a toll free number.
Defence and War Veterans Minister Opah Muchinguri-Kashiri thanked the EU and UN for supporting Zimbabwe’s efforts to end gender-based violence.
Mr Olkkonen commended Zimbabwe for successful implementation of the programme which he said warranted it to get additional funding from the EU.
“Zimbabwe has fared well in comparison with other countries. We are happy that the initiative has moved forward, we are entering the second phase. In the EU funding there was trigger of additional funding to come on board depending on how successful the programme is.
“Zimbabwe has been successful in that regard so we are continuing in 2022. Today’s event is important in that it shows commitment at the highest level,” he said.
Mrs Ribeiro commended the Government for coming up with a robust legal framework aimed at eradicating gender-based violence.
The meeting was attended by Government ministers, church representatives and senior Government officials.