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Discredited PVO Bill will reverse empowerment gains

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THE Private Voluntary Organisations (PVO) Amendment Bill is likely to reverse gains made in promoting gender justice, as it will clamp down on organisations that have been promoting women’s empowerment, human rights groups have said.

NATHAN GUMA

The Bill, which has already passed the second reading stage in Parliament without objections, is targeting a ban on civil society organisations (CSOs), which Zanu PF is accusing of plotting regime change.

Civil society organisations believe the Bill will plunder gains achieved in promoting women’s rights – milestones that have been reached with the help of non-governmental organisations (NGOs).

The PVO Bill proposes amendments that interfere with the operations of NGOs, with long-term consequences that may lead to CSOs closing or losing their funding, according to a report by governance network Accountability Lab titled: “The PVO Bill is a step backward for women,” says Alois Nyamazana, the organisation’s monitoring, evaluation and learning manager.

“NGOs have complemented the government in the provision of safe spaces for women and children, with support from external funders. NGO-government partnerships exist to provide adequate access to services including, legal, medical, and psycho-social support to survivors,” says the report.

Civil society has been collaborating with the government in initiatives such as the Victim Friendly Unit (VFU) of the Zimbabwe Republic Police, which has been pivotal in providing access to justice for survivors of abuse, especially children.

Other organisations that have successfully collaborated with the government are likely to lack funding if the Bill is passed into law, according to the report.

CSOs like Musasa Project, Zimbabwe Women Lawyers Association (ZWLA), and the Legal Resources Foundation, among others, have been partnering the government in fighting gender-based violence.

In addition, CSOs have been active in strengthening entrepreneurial skills among women by providing technical assistance in areas such as agriculture and business management, according to the report.

“NGOs also offer micro-finance facilities to women, and some organisations such as Self-Help Development Organisation, Plan International, and Jekesa Pfungwa/Vul’ Ingqondo, support women’s empowerment through initiatives such as internal saving and lending which promote women’s access to finance for their livelihood projects.

“Participants reported that the ability to earn an income has enhanced their capacity to influence domestic relationships, specifically negotiating with their husbands amicably, something they found difficult without the support of NGOs,” says the report.

The report also further says the PVO Bill is likely to thwart gains made in promoting access to reproductive and health services by women – which has mainly been spearheaded by NGOs. 

“Zimbabwe has brought the HIV epidemic under control through successful prevention strategies, including major advances made under the Global Plan on Elimination of Mother to Child Transmission of HIV. The HIV response has contributed to strengthening the national health system.

“Decentralised services, removal of barriers such as user fees, service integration, and strengthened community service delivery have helped fulfill the country’s commitments to eliminate Mother to Child Transmission of HIV, and also boost all aspects of maternal health,” says Nyamazana in the report. 

The maternal mortality ratio declined from 651 in 2015 to 525 in 2017 and then 462 in 2019 The proportion of women of reproductive age who have their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods has increased from 86% in 2016 to 89% in 2019, according to the 2019 Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (MICS).

During the same period, Zimbabwe benefited from the five-year US$25illion-Challenge Tuberculosis (TB) grant which came to an end in 2019 and, according to the 2022 National Budget statement, Zimbabwe is expected to receive US$482 059 110 from development partners.

“Critically, these funds are channelled through NGOs, and if the Bill is passed into law, without the financial resource, women’s access to adequate sexual and reproductive health services will decline.”

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