By Mia MacDonald
Monday, 11 May 2009
“The legitimacy of a government derives from votes of the people and respect for human rights,” laureate Shirin Ebadi said on Monday as a prelude to the conference’s two morning plenary sessions. When these two factors are present, then a government and a society have democracy. Just because a government has been elected, Shirin continued, doesn’t mean it can violate or ignore human rights (civil, political, economic and social). That’s not democracy. “Democracy starts with us,” she declared, “but it has to take its historical process… democracy is like a flower. You have to take care of it.”
Over lunch (again, an abundance of food), civil society leaders from Zimbabwe spoke about “nuggets of hope” for a democracy like Shirin described. They’re now working in the context of a power-sharing agreement recently concluded between the party of long-time strong man president, Robert Mugabe, and Movement for Democratic Change leader and now prime minister, Morgan Tsvangerai. We pulled up our chairs to listen—more of us than could comfortably fit in a single circle around the table. The women were hopeful, but wary: the extreme political violence of the last several years has lessened. But so much capacity, that is women activists, had left Zimbabwe over the past several years of turmoil. Their ranks are somewhat thin. And yet there are opportunities: several women committed to deep democracy and women’s rights and equality are now Cabinet ministers; handful of others are deputies. The humanitarian crisis (lack of food, water, functioning schools and health centers) could be over in six months to a year. Donor funds are flowing to help restore basic services.
For women in Zimbabwe, those assembled agreed, if there ever was a time to be at the table, it’s now. There’s potential for gender budgeting on inflows and expenditures; for tracking how much development aid really reaches the grassroots; for a gender perspective on macroeconomics to rebuild a sustainable, equitable national economy; to encourage women and men, too, to return from the refuge they’d sought abroad; for more organizing to get greater numbers of women into parliament; and to hold a national women’s meeting—a decision the Zimbabwean women agreed upon. As we closed the discussion, we agreed that we’d gotten more than “nuggets”… more akin to the stalk of a plant. Yes, it has to be tended to, but it just may have a chance to survive.