Defending and Protecting Gender Equality and the Family Under a Decidedly Undecided Constitution in Zimbabwe
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Zimbabwe is party to virtually all international human rights instruments which oblige countries to inter alia, protect and promote the family and family life for the benefit of its members; guarantee women equality with men during marriage and at its dissolution; guarantee women equal rights and responsibilities with men in marriage and family relations; and guarantee equal rights and responsibilities between men and women regarding the entry into marriage, ownership, management and disposition of property within and without marriage. Since independence the state has sought to reform family laws with a view to granting women and children rights and protection, particularly against those traditional and customary practices which are perceived as unjustifiable. However, the approach to these issues has been uneven and sometimes inconsistent and muddled. On the other hand, social reaction, particularly from elders and traditionalists has often been sharp, aggressive and resistant. The objectives of this paper are to review, analyse and evaluate, within the framework of the country's obligations under international human rights treaties, Zimbabwe's legislative reforms which have been directed at achieving gender equality and the general protection of women and children within the family. Also evaluated are the social reactions to some of these changes which have struck at the core of traditional rights, norms and values. This paper tells the story of how Zimbabwe has grappled, even though sometimes inconsistently and incoherently, with the complex issues relating to the co-existence of not only a formal plural system of laws but also a plural and highly contested system of norms and values. Modern and Western inspired values on equality between men and women, on the rights of children have clashed with "traditional" and "customary" values on the same matters. The legislative reforms in the field of family law have thus resembled a Western dance to the sounds of traditional drums and music in what may be described as a dance trapped between the slippery slopes of modernity and quicksands of tradition and customary law.