Gender commission to help equity in higher education

Zimbabwe is to set up a gender commission that aims to ensure equity in all spheres of society – including higher education.

The constitutional commission would be the first of its kind in Zimbabwe’s history, and was stipulated in the country’s new constitution adopted last March. But some of the law’s aspects were deferred until after the 31 July elections, which were won by long-time ruler President Robert Mugabe and his Zanu-PF party.

The declaration by Women’s Affairs, Gender and Community Development Minister Oppah Muchinguri to establish a gender commission came as Higher and Tertiary Education, Science and Technology Development Minister Dr Olivia Muchena criticised the low proportion of women selected to study on scholarships in foreign countries, including under Mugabe’s scholarship programme.

To underline the seriousness of 50-50 gender representation following the adoption of the new constitution, 160 House of Assembly seats were reserved for women in the July polls, while in the senate 39 of 80 members were also women.

At a press conference Muchinguri said Zimbabwe had a literacy rate of over 95% – the highest in Africa – which made it easier to implement 50-50 gender representation. “The nation must rise to the occasion now. There can be no development without women’s participation.

“Now we are educated and have attained more than 95 percent literacy so there cannot be any excuse whatsoever. We have the pre-requisite educational background and I'm calling those in authority to take heed of the dictates of the constitution,” she said.

Section 17 of Zimbabwe’s constitution says the state must promote full gender balance in society and full participation of women in all spheres on the basis of equality with men.

Last week Muchena, the higher education minister, criticised the selection of only eight female students as part of a group of 38 who will study in Algeria in various fields.

In what is expected to be his last term in office, Mugabe promised to improve higher education access and quality during his five-year term.

During the election campaign, he had boasted that Zimbabwe has the most degreed state employees in Africa, adding that when he took over the reins in 1980, at independence from Britain and ending white minority rule, only one person in the public service had a degree.

“All the women who work in my office have a degree,” said Mugabe ahead of polls that were widely believed to be rigged.