civic space


  • Women’s bodies are the battleground for civil liberties

    By Teldah Mawarire and Sara Brandt

    Around the world, civic spaces are shrinking. In many countries, activists are under threat as governments increasingly use the law and violence as tools of oppression, according to a new report. For women human rights defenders, this means their bodies have become the battleground on which the fight for civil liberties is being waged.

    Read on:Mail and Guardian: Bhekisisa



  • WOMEN’S RIGHTS: ‘Violence against women is a global crisis that needs urgent attention’

    Lina AbiRafeh

    CIVICUS speaks about civil society’s role in the fight against gender-based violence with Lina AbiRafeh, a feminist activist, women’s rights expert and Senior Advisor for Global Women’s Rights at the Arab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University, where she served as Executive Director for seven years.

    How big a problem is violence against women(VAW)at the global level? 

    VAW is a muchbigger global problem than we tend to imagine:statistics showone in everythree women and girls will experience violence in their lifetime. The fact so many women and girls are denied the right tolivefreely without facing restrictions and danger makes this a global crisis that needs urgent attention. I personally do not know a woman who has not been affected by some form of this insidious violence. Women have the right to feel free and safe in their own bodies, at home, in the streets and in any public spaces, but unfortunately that is notand has never been – theirreality.

    VAWis a human rights violation thatis embedded in our culture andwomenare often silenced when they try to speakup.Women-led organisationsand women’s rights groups and movementsmust be supported because they are the voice of these women and girls who are silenced. They are the voice ofallwomen and girls.

    Having worked to endVAW around the worldfor 25 years, I knowthis is a very hard problem to crack. VAW stems from a global context of gender inequality where women and girls are viewed as less than men, as second-class citizens. There is lack of awarenessin our societies and lack of political willamong our leaders.Existing laws don’t enable women to access justice, security, services, orsupport.Nothing works the way itshouldto put an end to this violence.

    Women and girls remain unequal across every aspect of their lives – politics, economy, health, education and the law. Women and girls are the majority of the world’s poor.They are the majority of those who are illiterate. But they are a minority, an exception, and treated like an anomaly in every aspect of leadership and decision-making. Wage gaps are wide, and women are too often relegatedto the informal sector. And they continue to bear the burden of unpaid care. In too many countries, womenface discriminatory laws that refuse to recognisethem as equals with men.

    How much progress has been achievedso far?

    Women and girlsaround the worldstill do not have the opportunity to participate fully inevery aspect ofsocial, economic and political life, despite their right to do so.Wehave made progress, butnot enough.

    Although advances have been made in trying to reduceVAW, cases continue, and are often perpetrated with impunity.

    In many countries, women are being stripped of theirsexual and reproductive rights, compromising their health and denying theirright to decide about their own bodies and lives. In addition,the problem of girl-child marriagecontinues, and increased as a result of COVID-19, with12 million girlsunder 18 being married offevery year.Forthis and other forms ofVAW, rhetoric doesn’t match reality. There is more talk than action.

    Women-led organisationsmustbe involved in policydecisions and be given full leadership.There is a lot of talk about localisation,but this seems to just be a buzzwordas most women’s rights and feminist organisations aremarginalised andunderfunded.This only sets them up for failure because it limits the scope of their work, keeping the support they offer out of reach for the majority of women and girls. We need to fund these organisations fully, andnot with thetypicalshort-term quick-fix project funding but with long-term, unrestricted, open-ended funding thatcan allow them to function and flourish. Local groupsshoulddictate the agenda, not the donors who are holding the strings.

    What work do you do to contribute topositive change? 

    I am committed to building a better world for women. I am a global women’s rights activist, author and speaker with decades of experience worldwide. 

    I worked for over 20 years as a humanitarian aid worker in contexts such as Afghanistan, the Central African Republic, Haiti and Papua New Guinea.I now work independently, advising organisations and companies to enhance their engagement with women’s rights and gender equality. I also serve as the Senior Advisor for Global Women’s Rights at theArab Institute for Women at the Lebanese American University, where I was Executive Director until 2022.I am also the founder ofYalla, Feminists!, an online space and open platform dedicated to amplifying women’s voices worldwide.

    I was honoured to be able to share my passion and experience in ending VAW on global stages including aTEDx talk, a Women DeliverPowerTalk and akeynote address for Swedish International Development Agency annual meeting, among others.

    I’ve written two books:Gender and International Aid in Afghanistan andFreedom on the Frontlines. My next book outlines 50 years of Arab feminism and will be published in early 2023. I will keep using my voice in whatever ways I can to fight for women’s rights and remedy inequalities. That’s why I speak andpublish everywhere I can and I serve on the board of numerous global women’s rights organisations.

    What good practicesshould be implemented to prevent VAW?

    We need to start believing survivors so that perpetrators can be brought to justice.When women see the law is on their side, more willbe encouragedto speakup. Wealsoneed to make sure that survivorshave access to the full range of services and support, and security systems handle their cases with care.

    There is also a need to reform education so that more people are taught aboutVAW, consent, human rights and women’s rights – from a very young age.Education canbring us a step closer to defeating thisscourge. We need men to step up to support women and speak up against perpetrators.And yes, we need data, but not at the expense of action. Anyway, data will always underestimate the reality. And what we know is that no country is immune. This affects women and girls everywhere, in every culture and context and community.

    Get in touch with Lina AbiRafeh through herwebsite or herMedium blog, and follow@LinaAbiRafeh on Twitter.


  • Worldwide attack on rights: over three billion people living in countries where civic freedoms are violated

    French | Spanish

    • Global impact laid bare by the CIVICUS Monitor, a new online research tool that rates civic space around the world and documents violations of rights
    • Governments shutting down civic space and shutting up dissenting voices

    Johannesburg, 24 October 2016 –More than three billion people live in countries where the rights to protest, organize and speak out are currently being violated according to the CIVICUS Monitor, the first-ever online tool to track and compare civic freedoms on a global scale.

    The new tool, launched in beta today by the global civil society alliance CIVICUS, rates countries based on how well they uphold the three fundamental rights that enable people to act collectively and make change: freedom of association, freedom of peaceful assembly, and freedom of expression.


  • Worrying legislation to restrict Nigerian civil society sector underway

    CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance and the Nigeria Network of NGOs (NNNGO) are deeply concerned about impending legislation to restrict freedom of association in Nigeria.

    Nigeria’s National Assembly is currently considering a bill to provide for “the establishment of the Non-Governmental Organisations Regulatory Commission for the Supervision, Coordination and Monitoring of Non-Governmental Organisations, Civil Society Organisations etc. in Nigeria and for related matters.” First introduced in July 2016, the bill has since passed through the second reading in the House of Representatives. The bill has now been referred to the Committee on CSOs and Development Partners for further legislative input.

    “The bill is in conflict with Nigeria’s Constitutional and international law obligations,” says Oyebisi Oluseyi, Executive Director of NNNGO. “We must instead strengthen civic space in Nigeria, as our sector’s role in finding solutions to the enormous challenges facing our nation cannot be overemphasized”.


  • ZAMBIA: ‘Electoral practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region’

    McDonald ChipenziCIVICUS speaks to McDonald Chipenzi, Executive Director of the Governance, Elections, Advocacy, Research Services (GEARS) Initiative and Chair of the NGO Council in Zambia, about the state of civic space ahead of the crucial general election being held on 12 August 2021.

    What is the state of civic space and media freedoms ahead of the elections?

    The civic and media space in Zambia remains fragile and has been shrinking due to legal restrictions. This has now been compounded by the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic and newly crafted rules and guidelines that have heightened restrictions on citizens’ freedom of movement and freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression. This has led to ineffective citizens’ participation in national affairs.

    COVID-19 rules and guidelines have compounded the already delicate and restricted state of the civic, media and political space in Zambia. These restrictions are the result of the selective application of archaic legislation such as the Public Order Act of 1955 and newly enacted laws such as the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Act of 2021, which is aimed at intercepting, monitoring and interfering with citizens’ conversations, correspondence and communications, even without a court order or warrant. This new law, viewed as aimed at shrinking virtual civic space, has instilled fear in citizens, deterring them from effectively engaging online. As a result, many have opted to remain silent or opted out of online platforms such as WhatsApp and Facebook.

    The media space also remains intimidated, harassed and cowed as a result of restrictive laws and the actions of ruling elites. The closure of Prime TV, a private television station, in March 2021, sent a chilling wave through the media community. Most of them now fear hosting critical voices and opposition leaders. They fear losing government advertising and other business opportunities. Those associated with the powers that be also distance themselves from those media houses giving platforms to critical voices.

    What are the main concerns of civil society in the lead up to the elections?

    Civil society’s main concern is the security of all stakeholders, as the police are not committed to providing security to all. The police have been reluctant to deal with the violence perpetuated by ruling party elites and have even been instrumental in it. The fear is that on election day, when some parties feel that they are losing in some polling stations, they may engage in disruptive activities to push for a re-vote, which may give them advantages. Another concern is the possibility of a shutdown of internet, mobile services and social media, especially after the vote, to try to black out results.

    A third concern is the COVID-19 pandemic, which was seen to have the potential to be spread by political parties had they held rallies. According to the Ministry of Health and the Electoral Commission of Zambia (ECZ), rallies were seen as potential superspreading events for COVID-19, and therefore they recommended a ban. This mostly affected the opposition while ruling party officials were busy campaigning in the name of launching and inspecting developmental projects.

    Note that ECZ constituted a task force on COVID-19 to develop guidelines that was dominated by government institutions. Out of 14 institutions represented, nine were in government with only three spaces for the media, and two for civil society organisations in gender and water and sanitation. To prevent violence and keep violence under control if it happens, civil society is engaging with the police, encouraging them to be more professional and ethical, and with political parties to provide leadership to their cadres. 

    Regarding the possibility of a media and internet shutdown, civil society organisations have sent petitions to the President of the Republic to refrain from shutting down the internet or social media during and after the elections. For the purpose of this election, the GEARS Initiative developed what it termed as the “Ing’ombe Ilede strategy” to allow for the collection of election results in an event of an internet shutdown. A common place has been designated for constituency and provincial coordinators involved in the election to share their documents without needing to meet with each other. This strategy is borrowed from the old trade tactics at a place called Ing’ombe Ilede in the Gwembe Valley of Southern Province in Zambia. We feel this strategy will help navigate the possible internet shutdown, which the government has already signalled.

    How is polarisation increasing ahead of the election, and what are the election’s likely impacts on social and political division?

    The election has polarised the country as politicians from the ruling party are now using regionalism and tribalism to win votes from their perceived strongholds. The impact of this will be deep divisions after elections, especially if the ruling party now wins the elections as it will marginalise those they feel did not support them during the elections. Already, the groups or regions perceived as strongholds for the biggest opposition party have been marginalised and discriminated against in terms of development and economic opportunities, including political positions in government.

    Employment and trading opportunities are also a preserve of those perceived to support the ruling party. Markets and bus stations are all in hands of ruling party supporters and not the councils. This has shrunk the civic space for many citizens who survive through trading in markets and bus stations as it has led to them adopting what they have termed the ‘watermelon strategy’, symbolic of a watermelon fruit which is green on the outside (the colour of the ruling party) and red on the inside (the colour of the opposition) in order to survive at these markets, bus stops, stations and taxi ranks. This situation may be escalated should the ruling party retain power.

    What is the state of the economy and how will this influence the choices of voters?

    The state of the Zambian economy is not pleasing but biting to many ordinary people. The local currency, the kwacha, has continued to depreciate against major convertible currencies. The cost of living has quadrupled and the cost of essential commodities is skyrocketing. The poor are barely managing to live while the ruling political elites are sleeping on top of money due to excessive corruption and abuse of state resources in the absence of controls and accountability. The poor eat in order to live rather than live in order to eat. This will have effect in the peri-urban areas of major cities like Lusaka and the Copperbelt towns.

    The rural population, on the other hand, may not be as badly affected by the state of the economy as most of them had harvested good crops during the past rainy seasons and further benefited from a scheme involving social cash transfers targeted at older and vulnerable people, which has now been converted into a campaign tool. In addition, rural voters tend to be conservative and vote for the traditional political parties preferred by their forefathers.

    Zambia has been known as a bastion of democracy in the region. What impact will this election have on democracy both in Zambia and the region?

    This election is key to the unfolding of a unique trend in the region on how elections can and will be handled. If it is handled very poorly and it results in chaos, it has potential to influence the region in a negative way, as the leaders of most Southern African Development Community (SADC) countries tend to copy from each other. This being one of the few elections held in the region during the COVID-19 pandemic after Malawi’s landmark election, Zambia has an opportunity to show the region that it remains the bastion of democracy in SADC.

    However, the practices seen so far do not indicate good lessons for the region. For instance, the cancellation of rallies and other campaign activities, mainly targeted against the opposition while the ruling party and public officials continue to run their campaigns, is a very bad lesson for democracy, fair competition and credible elections. The selective application of the electoral code of conduct by the electoral manager is also a very bad example for the region. Therefore, the region will have to cherry-pick the good lessons from the bad ones. However, most electoral institutions and political leaders are more inclined to cherry-pick the bad lessons and leave the good ones aside, since bad electoral practices benefit incumbents.

    What can regional and global civil society groups do to support Zambian civil society during this period of elections and after?

    Regional and global civil society have a larger role to play to ensure that peace prevails in Zambia and targeted intimidation and harassment of the civil society movement does not occur after elections. There is a need to keep a watchful eye over the post-election events, especially regarding manoeuvres to shrink civic space. With the election a few days away, on 9 August the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting, Amos Malupenga, issued a statement warning citizens that the government might shut down the internet ahead of the election, a direct threat to the enjoyment of citizens’ online freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression during and after the elections.

    The army and other defence forces besides the police have been deployed on the streets around the country on pretext of quelling any possible political and electoral violence, which can potentially be abused and undermine physical civic space. Therefore, physical and online civic and political space will constantly be under threat from the establishment during and after the elections, as it has been before.

    Civil society and critical media outlets are potential targets of post-election intimidation and harassment, hence the need for global and regional civil society to support civil society in Zambia with strategies to counter the reprisals that may be imposed on them by the state machinery after the elections. If the current government wins, its categorisation, marginalisation and discrimination of civil society organisations according to their real or perceived party affiliation will get worse after the elections.

    There will be need for solidarity strategies and legal funds to help those who may be incriminated and litigated against using archaic laws. There is need to continue challenging the existence of the Cyber Security and Cyber Crimes Law, the Public Order Act and the NGO Act. To this end, regional and global civil society needs to support, defend, promote and protect the civic and media space in Zambia before, during and after the elections.

    Civic space in Zambia is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.

    Get in touch with GEARS through its Facebook page and follow @GearsZambia on Twitter.


  • Zambia: State of Emergency signifies worrying signs for civic space

    The declaration of State of Public Threatened Emergency in Zambia is a glaring indication of plans by the government to increase restrictions on civic space in an effort to consolidate the regime of President Edgar C Lungu, global civil society alliance CIVICUS and the Zambian Council for Social Development (ZCSD) noted today.


  • ZIMBABWE: ‘We need CSOs to continue working and defending people’s rights’

    Ernest NyimaiCIVICUS speaks about a proposed NGO bill and the threat it represents for Zimbabwean civil society with Ernest Nyimai, the Acting Executive Director of Zimbabwe’s National Association of Non-Governmental Organisations (NANGO).

    NANGO is the umbrella body of civil society organisations (CSOs) operating in Zimbabwe, mandated by its membership to coordinate CSO activities, represent the sector and strengthen its voice.

    How do you think the proposed NGO bill would affect civic space in Zimbabwe?

    In our view as the umbrella body of CSOs operating in Zimbabwe, the proposed Private Voluntary Organization (PVO) Amendment Bill presents the danger of further shrinking civic space should it sail through in its current form. The bill will put at further risk the fundamental freedoms that civil society is supposed to have to be able to do its work to improve people’s lives. This is due to quite significant proposed amendments that in our view are repressive. 

    Currently, more than 60 per cent of NANGO members are legally registered as trusts, and some are registered under Common Law Universitas. If this bill is passed as it is, they will be automatically deregistered and required to apply for re-registration under the new proposed PVO guidelines.

    The PVO Amendment Bill proposes to criminalise CSOs that support, oppose or finance a political party or candidate. The clause does not clearly specify what supporting or opposing a political party or candidates entails. If a CSO opposes a party’s policy or governance practice, does this amount to opposing a political party? If a CSO gives legal support in an election challenge, does this amount to supporting a political party or candidate? This provision can be abused, especially against CSOs that work on democracy, governance and human rights issues. This provision is contrary to the right to the freedom of association provided for in section 58 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe. The imposition of harsh penalties such as imprisonment for violation of this provision without any justification or regard to civil remedies or administrative fines is grossly arbitrary.

    Another reason the PVO bill can affect civic space is that it is phrased in a way that would make room for selective application during its administration. If an organisation is deemed to be operating outside its mandate, its board can be immediately suspended and an interim one can be appointed to act in its stead while a final decision is made. But procedures are not clear, so there is room for the responsible minister, the Minister of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, to arbitrarily suspend an organisation’s board due to personal interests. This kind of interference in the operation of CSOs would limit their independence and autonomy. 

    The PVO bill was prompted as a way to ensure compliance with Recommendation 8 of the Financial Action Task Force (FATF), which requires governments to review the adequacy of laws and regulations that govern non-profit organisations so that these organisations cannot be abused for money laundering and financing of terrorism. But in my view, the government deployed an omnibus approach to pursue many other interests besides the fulfilment of FATF Recommendation 8 requirements.

    The bill in fact violates the FATF’s balanced approach, which stipulates the need to maintain an enabling operating environment to fulfil FATF requirements. The government has not concluded a risk assessment indicating which CSOs are at risk of being used for money laundering and financing terrorism. This is the ideal procedure as required by FATF to ensure the application of the risk-based approach to mitigating vulnerabilities to money laundering and financing of terrorism.

    How would the PVO Bill, if implemented, affect NANGO’s work?

    NANGO is registered under the existing PVO Act. But if the amendment bill goes into effect, many of our members will be automatically deregistered, which will have immediate repercussions on NANGO, whose greatest strength is precisely our membership. Besides, there are various clauses that impose sanctions and restrictions in terms of programming areas and NANGO is of no exception to this potential criminalisation of CSO work.

    The new legislation will also weaken our eligibility for funding due to increased government interference in the operations of CSOs. The donor agencies we work with require recipient organisations to be independent and autonomous for the purposes of grant compliance. But the implementation of the new proposed PVO Amendment bill will potentially affect our independence and limit our autonomy. Development partners and donors may decide to stop funding CSOs in Zimbabwe if they view it as becoming too risky.

    As CSOs we exist to protect the rights and dignity of people. If the new bill forces many CSOs to stop operating, the vulnerability of communities they serve and human rights abuses will likely increase. We need CSOs to continue working and defending people’s rights in an enabling operating environment. CSOs promote and protect human rights, but through the increased surveillance of CSO operations by security agencies, many activists, human rights defenders and civil society members will be abducted and tortured, and the security threat will increase.

    How is civil society responding to this threat?

    We have used a multifaceted approach, taking advantage of the various strengths we have as a large and diverse group of organisations. In the initial stages, we tried to push back against the PVO bill in many ways, including through litigation to expose the ways in which it would violate constitutional provisions. We also assessed the bill against the core humanitarian standards that we adhere to as CSOs.

    Unfortunately, the bill has nonetheless progressed, so we are currently conducting scenario planning in which the law might be passed. Most of our efforts are focused on engaging, having a dialogue and negotiating with government officials for revision of repressive clauses of the bill. The bill is currently being debated in parliament following its second reading, so we are also advocating with parliamentarians to get them to really understand how this bill is going to affect the work of CSOs and those they work with.

    We are also engaging with the body that administers the PVO Act, the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare, which played a key role in drafting the bill. We are trying to engage it in discussing the potential political, social and economic impacts of the bill. CSOs are a significant contributor of foreign currency in Zimbabwe: close to one billion dollars per year are coming in the form of official development assistance that is channelled towards various programmes implemented by CSOs. CSOs employ around 18,000 people. If they shut down or their activities are limited, barriers to overcoming unemployment will rise. Our desire and hope is to have an enabling instrument guaranteeing the space for civil society to continue its good work.

    How can the international community help Zimbabwean civil society?

    Zimbabwe is a member of various regional and continental organisations, which we have used to our advantage. We have engaged with regional and continental pressure groups, and especially the FATF, and they have shared their technical expertise on advocacy and lobbying, while also leveraging their convening power to help us engage with our government.

    The international community should continue to assist us as mediators, especially in light of the hostility and limited confidence and trust between civil society and the government. It is very important that they highlight how the bill will affect the general role of CSOs in Zimbabwe. There is also politicisation of CSO work due to misinterpretation of the general role of CSOs in the national development discourse. For example, civil society has the key responsibility of holding the government accountable and advocating for people’s rights, and this bill threatens our ability to fulfil it. We need regional, continental and global organisations to help us advocate with the Zimbabwean government to ensure an enabling operating environment for civil society in line with the ‘whole of society’ approach that the government subscribes to.

    Civic space in Zimbabwe is rated ‘repressed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with NANGO through itswebsite orFacebook page, or by emailing, and follow@ErnestNyimai and@nangozimbabwe on Twitter.


  • ZIMBABWE: ‘Young women should be at the centre of discussion of the issues affecting them’

    Margaret MutsamviCIVICUS speaks about the upcoming International Women’s Day and Zimbabwean civil society’s role in eliminating gender inequality with Margaret Mutsamvi, Director of the Economic Justice for Women Project (EJWP).

    Established in 2017 with the purpose of helping narrow the gender inequality gap, EJWP is a civil society organisation (CSO) that works with young women to realise their right to sustainable economic independence. It promotes women’s socio-economic independence and full participation in economic governance and public resource management. It provides knowledge, skills and support to young women in local communities so they can self-organise and advocate for their socio-economic rights at all levels.

    Has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted disproportionately on women and girls in Zimbabwe?

    The pandemic definitely had a disproportionate impact on women and girls, first of all, because of Zimbabwe’s capitalist-centred response to containing the virus. Lockdown regulations entirely shut down the informal sector, in which 65 per cent of the Zimbabwean population is employed, restricting all movement except for formally registered employees who could present letters on their company letterheads, and of course frontline workers.

    It should be noted that more than 67 per cent of the people working in the informal sector are women, so shutting down their income source pushed most of them into abject poverty, with no alternative livelihoods provided for.

    Second, the prolonged lockdowns that followed found most survivors of gender-based violence (GBV) and those at risk of it locked up with the perpetrators of violence. As a result, GBV levels rose to a record-breaking 2,000 cases in the first month of the first lockdown, as reported by Msasa Project. Rape cases also increased under lockdown.

    Third, the prolonged shutdown of schools, which lasted longer than eight months, created a productive gap among young women and induced extreme poverty. Possibly to escape this, many were forced into early marriages and teen pregnancies.

    Fourth, the shift to online tools for learning purposes, along with a lack of smart devices, data poverty, and the unavailability of internet connections, left a huge proportion of students out of education, particularly in rural areas. Research carried out by the Women's Academy for Leadership and Political Excellence indicates that only 35 per cent of students had access to online learning. When those left out of school were girls, too often they ended up in forced marriages or pregnant.

    Additionally, lockdowns in Zimbabwe resulted in shrinking civic space. People were unable to exercise their right to protest in the face of deteriorating socio-economic rights, so women were not able to do much despite the fact that they were worst hit by this regression.

    Notably, it was under lockdown that the Constitution of Zimbabwe Amendment (No. 2) Bill was passed. The bill would allow the president to appoint judges to the Constitutional, Supreme and High Courts without legislative approval. He would also be able to choose his two vice presidents without an election and be able to delay the retirement of the chief justice by five years. CSOs organised the #ResistDictatorshipConstitution rally. Two young women, Namatai Kwekweza and Vimbai Zimudzi, were arrested during a peaceful protest.

    Civic space has continued to shrink. As recently as January 2022, an initiative – the Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill – was submitted that will criminalise the work of CSOs. The bill ostensibly seeks to comply with international standards intended to ensure that CSOs are not misused by terrorist organisations, but this is being used as an excuse to clamp down on Zimbabwean civil society.

    What has civil society done to support women and girls in this context?

    CSOs were up and running providing services to people who reported cases of infection, putting out online campaigns, mobilising solidarity, providing information materials for COVID-19 awareness and prevention, providing sanitisers and masks at vegetable markets to ensure the informal sector could remain open and taking to the courts to challenge some unconstitutional government decisions. For instance, demolitions in the informal sector were challenged by the Chitungwiza Residence Trust and some activists held protests even though they knew they would get arrested.

    As for ourselves, for a while, we were able to assist nearby communities in Chitungwiza, Epworth and Hopley, primarily by raising awareness about COVID-19 and handing out masks and sanitisers. We were also able to monitor key developments in communities throughout lockdowns through our community champions.

    Movement was not easy, particularly, because the work done by CSOs is not considered an essential service. Since we had some projects running that were initially intended to be implemented through face-to-face activities, we had to shift online, with online engagement, online campaigning and online activities. We are now starting to do online advocacy campaigns through theatre. We have a series called ‘Zviriko’ that streams every Tuesday on our Facebook Page.

    What are the main challenges for women's rights in Zimbabwe, and how is civil society addressing them?

    The main women’s rights issues are socio-economic rights. It is appalling just how normalised the lack of adequate social services delivery for women is. This increases the burden of unpaid care work. As a privatisation agenda is implemented, limited access to basic health and basic and affordable education has decreased further. Decent work is a distant aspiration given the levels of abuse and rights violations that take place in the informal sector.

    Additionally, there is an ongoing battle between the state and the Zimbabwean Constitution. The politics at play is unable to provide 50 per cent of female representation in political positions. There is no political will to facilitate the implementation of constitutional provisions as far as gender equality is concerned.

    CSOs have consistently responded to this by providing services to survivors of varying forms of abuse, providing legal recourse, and creating awareness of these rights to build citizen agency.

    There have also been lots of online campaigns, petitions and engagement around stopping the PVO bill that will deprive female citizens of much-needed socio-economic support once the work of CSOs is directly under state control.

    The women’s movement continues to advocate for the full implementation of our new constitution and parity in political representation. Among other strategies, they are holding online campaigns and actively supporting aspiring female candidates to public office.

    The International Women’s Day theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How are you organising around it in the communities you work with?

    Due to our focus on social and economic rights, #BreakTheBias speaks directly to our mandate, which is building women's power to defeat the socio-economic inequalities that continue to sideline women, particularly young women. We do this in many different ways.

    First, through research and documentation. We believe that information is power, so producing knowledge is our first step towards evidence-based programming and advocacy.

    For instance, we are currently conducting research about the nexus between illicit financial flows and tax justice in the extractive sector and young women in Zimbabwe. We have produced an assessment report to position young women in the 2022 national budget and the recently pronounced monetary policy statement, and we have published a policy brief advocating for gender-responsive policies for pandemic recovery.

    We have also produced documentaries about the experiences of young women in mining communities and the socio-economic barriers faced by young women due to climate change.

    Second, we strengthen the capacities of young women through training. We are currently providing training on fiscal literacy in Harare’s informal peri-urban communities, aimed at strengthening these women’s voices and agency in economic governance in Zimbabwe. In partnership with Transparency International Zimbabwe, we are also working to build women’s knowledge on gender and corruption. EJWP is also working on capacity building for young women on socio-economic rights and transformative feminist leadership.

    Third, we feed our research into advocacy initiatives. We have ongoing advocacy with a series of stakeholders, particularly the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development, parliamentarians, the Gender Commission and other government agencies involved in gender issues.

    Finally, we bring change to communities by encouraging people to address issues from the ground up. We have four Community Action Hubs so far and continue to build towards breaking gender bias by empowering young women. Our hope is that one day young women can be at the centre of key conversations regarding national resource collection, distribution and use. We also envision young women taking leadership positions at all levels, enabling them to add authoritative voices towards redressing the issues that are key to them.

    Civic space in Zimbabweis rated ‘repressed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
    Get in touch with the Economic Justice for Women Project through itswebsite orFacebook page and follow@EJWZim on Twitter.