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Event speakers call for more women in decision-making

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A UMNS photo by Victor Babbage

Abigail Damasane greets Swedish Ambassador Sten Rylander at the annual Dag Hammarskj÷ld Commemorative event.
Oct. 23, 2006

By Andra Stevens*

MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS) — The equality of men and women is vital to having a just and developed society, according to Zimbabwe's deputy minister of Women's Affairs, Gender and Community Development.

Abigail Damasane urged more participation of women in decision-making in her opening address during the Oct. 9-13 commemoration of the life and work of Dag Hammarskj÷ld. The event, co-hosted by the Swedish Embassy and United Methodist-related Africa University, was attended by students, diplomats and the university community.

Damasane challenged listeners to advocate for stronger participation of women in decision-making positions and processes. She also urged her audience to emulate Dag Hammarskj÷ld, who was United Nations secretary-general from 1953 to 1961. An ambassador of peace and good will throughout his life, Hammarskj÷ld died in a plane crash near Ndola, Zambia, in 1961. At the time, he was trying to defuse a crisis that threatened peace in the newly independent nation of Zaire (now the Democratic Republic of Congo).

"The equality of men and women remains the only precursor to a sustainable, just and developed society," Damasane said.

She focused her remarks on international legal measures that have been adopted to secure women's right to vote, protect non-combatant women in armed conflict, provide for more equitable access to education and health, and increase the sharing of power and resources. She applauded the appointment of women to decision-making positions in countries such as Zimbabwe, South Africa, Liberia and Mozambique.

"We need to continue the process relentlessly to ensure our elevation is for posterity," she said.

The security of women remains at the mercy of structural defects in society, she noted. As a result of patriarchy, women are still subject to negative cultural practices, such as early and forced marriages, wife inheritance and female genital mutilation. "Even in the confines of their homes, women are still subject to violence and abuse," and laws are needed that would protect the rights of women, Damasane said.

A Zimbabwean response to these concerns is the Domestic Violence Bill, which is in its second reading in Parliament. It is an important step through which Zimbabwean women would be protected by law, Damasane said. She urged Africa University's students to lobby for the bill. "I have no doubt that it (the bill) will be passed into law in the very near future and every woman on this land will be protected against various forms of abuse."

Serving as a resource

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Rukudzo Murapa
In his welcoming remarks, Africa University's vice chancellor, Professor Rukudzo Murapa, emphasized the school's desire to serve as a focal point for expertise in issues of gender, peace and development.

The Dag Hammarskj÷ld Commemorative Week 2006, he said, raised public awareness of these issues and provided the opportunity for serious reflection on current efforts to build sustainable peace and development in Africa. Seminar presentations over the course of the week focused on peace-building efforts in Darfur, northern Sudan, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

The Swedish ambassador to Zimbabwe, Sten Rylander reaffirmed his commitment to working with the government of Zimbabwe, amid recent claims in the independent media that he has "given up" on Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe.

Rylander said that as the representative of the Swedish government in Zimbabwe, he is prepared to "work with the president of this country" in building bridges between Zimbabwe and the European Union.

Transforming societies

Rylander described the Swedish policy of non-participation in military alliances and noted that his government has placed a high priority on the preservation of peace.

"Peace is more than just the absence of war," he said. "It is about transforming our societies and uniting our global community to work together for a more peaceful, just and sustainable world."

In his remarks, Rylander also highlighted Sweden's longstanding commitment to and support for efforts to empower women. Issues pertaining to the marginalization of women are given high priority in his government's policy-making processes, he said.

"Sweden recognizes that women's equality is the cornerstone for sustainable peace and justice," he said.

The Swedish Embassy in Zimbabwe co-hosted the Dag Hammarskj÷ld Commemorative activities. The university's Institute of Peace, Leadership and Governance helped organize the observance, which featured seminars, cultural performances and presentations from senior government officials, diplomats, academics and heads of organizations.

*Stevens is director of information and public affairs at Africa University.

News media contact: Linda Green, (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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Resources

Dag Hammarskj÷ld Biography

Africa University News & Calendar

IPLG (Institute of Peace, Leadership, and Governance)

Sweden in Zimbabwe has a long history