EDITORIAL COMMENT: Customary marriage laws must be amended urgently

Marriage

Government has since Independence in 1980 come up with a number of pieces of legislation meant to ensure women enjoy the same rights as their male counterparts. The women today are paid the same salaries with their male counterparts for doing the same job unlike in the past when women were paid less.

Today women who before independence were treated as minors can sign contracts even without the consent of their husbands which was not the case in the past. Many women are now proud owners of land allocated to them by Government under the land reform programme which before independence was taboo as the land was only allocated to men.

It is therefore not an exaggeration to state that a lot of ground has been covered in the Government’s quest to emancipate women though more needs to be done. The landmark ruling by the High Court last week confirmed that we still have laws that continue to impoverish women which need the legislature to address.

Following the ruling by Justice Alfas Chitakunye, women in unregistered customary marriage will now be awarded part of the property accumulated during the existence of such a union.

Justice Chitakunye’s ruling followed a case brought before him by a Harare woman Ms Melody Kurebgaseka. Ms Kurebgaseka approached the court seeking relief after she was denied part of the property when her unregistered customary union of 14 years to Mr Tinei Mautsa collapsed. Justice Chitakunye held the law governing such a union as unjust and awarded Ms Kurebgaseka part of the property.

The judge called for an amendment of the law to protect the interests of women who stand to be left destitute after such marriages are dissolved. Justice Chitakunye said where parties met all the customary law marriage rites, a recognition of their marriage albeit unregistered as a marriage for purposes of distribution of assets acquired during the union, would go a long way in eliminating discrimination against women on the basis of the type of marriage contracted.

We cannot agree more with Justice Chitakunye as it is a fact that during the existence of such unions women contribute to the accumulation of property and as such should get their share in the event of such unions collapsing.

It is our fervent hope that the legislators are seized with the shortcomings of our laws governing such unions which were exposed by this landmark ruling.

In order for the legislature to further protect the rights of women, the laws governing such unions should be amended to ensure that women are not disadvantaged as what had happened to Ms Kurebgaseka.

We expect women legislators to be on the forefront in pushing for the amendment of these laws that work against women though it should be the responsibility of every MP regardless of gender to fight for justice.