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Towards strengthened participation of women at various levels in the policy making arena

Women MP’s: “We now know the issues affecting women at the grassroots and are now bringing all these issues into Parliament.”

Rural Women: “As women in rural areas we now have confidence to dialogue with policy makers on issues affecting us, we realise that we too have the capacity to influence policy in Zimbabwe.”

The expressions shared by women MPs and women at grass root level sum up what is essentially the main achievement of the Women Leadership Programme over the years. The programme’s achievement in creating a platform for women legislators and women at grassroots level to dialogue on policy issues has resulted in critical advocacy on issues affecting women. Anchored by increased capacity (facilitated by the programme) of both groups of women to analyse bills, participate in the national budget process and engage in meaningful advocacy at various policy dialogue forums, the women MPs and rural women respectively have created a critical lobby mass for issues affecting women in Zimbabwe.

Having made milestone achievements including facilitating engagement of rural women farmers with Parliament and the Executive, the programme has influenced some of the commitments made in the National Budget particular in 2015, 2016 and 2017. These budgets have reflected the issues raised by the women farmers through dialogue with Parliament. These issues include the need to amend the stop order act, the need to revive the warehouse receipt system and well as the need to finance rural women farmers.

This programme has ensured that women at different levels can engage in meaningful policy dialogue, through capacity building of MPs as well as activities meant to increase the appreciation of policy issues by rural women. Over the years the relationship between the two groups of women has been further reinforced by the fact that women MPs have strengthened their representative, oversight and legislative role through their participation in parliament on issues affecting women in Zimbabwe. On the other hand women at grass root level are beginning to see their issues being brought up in parliament. The dialogue between rural women farmers and members of the Agriculture Portfolio Committee, for instance, resulted in issues raised by the rural women around the Stop Order Act and the Warehouse system being included in the 2016 budget as well as dialogues carried out on the 2017 budget.

Through increased training on budget processes and analysis, women legislators have gradually increased their participation in budget dialogues. They have done so through bringing in the gender perspective based on the lived realities of women at grassroots level and the general socio-economic environment. The engendered analysis drawn from their interactions with women at grass root level has assisted the women MPs to bring in a gender perspective during committee deliberations in Parliament resulting in a number of Committee Reports presented at the pre-budget seminar in November 2016 reflecting gender perspectives.

With women legislators having expressed the need for continuous dialogue on bills brought before Parliament, SAPST has over the years contributed to the increased capacity of women legislators to analyse bills leading to more meaningful participation in bill debates in Parliament. Training on bill analysis and further bill specific policy dialogue meetings were held and this resulted in an improvement in the quantity and quality of the participation of women legislators in the law making process. Apart from active participation in Parliament, women MPs have also strengthened their representative role in their constituencies by educating constituency members on bills before Parliament. This contributed to ensuring that members of the public especially women are informed about the bills, giving them a better chance of attending and making informed submissions during the public hearings.

In celebrating the achievements of the programme in building the capacity of women legislators and women at grass root level to engage meaningfully in policy making, the programme captured these successes through various media. The production of the newsletter ‘Empowered Voices’ captured the progress that both women legislators and women at grass root level are making in influencing policy. A DVD that captures the voices of the women has also been produced. Throughout the year the programme made use of social media to capture the dialogue taking place between women legislators and women at grass root level. The documentation of these dialogues has done well to increase the visibility of women Parliament and women at grass root level in the policy arena.

That said, the challenge for SAPST beyond the 10 years, is to ensure that the achievements made in SAPST’s first decade are used as a stepping stone to greater successes in the future.