By Daniel Chigundu
ZIMBABWE for the first time since independence in 1980 has a First-lady who is also an elected legislator, Auxillia Mnangagwa representing Chirumanzu-Zibagwe Constituency in the National Assembly.
Mnangagwa’s first-lady role comes at a time when women are facing a lot of challenges which they are trying to address using Parliament but have been let down by delays from the executive and other arms of government.
The current topical issue is that of access to sanitary pads whose prices shot-up a few weeks ago owing to various challenges being faced by the manufacturing companies in the sector.
One of the only two companies in Zimbabwe that manufacture sanitary pads Onsdale (Farai Sanitary Pads) is on the verge of closure owing to unavailability of foreign currency to import raw materials from China and South Africa, even though the sector is on the RBZ foreign currency priority list.
Sanitary pads are an important part of the women’s reproductive health requirements and it is also believed that owing to lack of access to sanitary pads, girls in rural areas miss about 60 school days per year.
Last year it took extensive lobbying by a few legislators to ensure raw materials used in manufacturing sanitary pads are allowed to enter the country duty-free, but other economic forces both local and international have made this gesture to be non-effective.
According to Refreshing Sanitary Pads (Happy Sky sanitary pads) general manager Collen Sakala, while they enjoy duty free importation of raw materials, the “escalating of US Dollar rates locally is also affecting our prices we are not getting enough foreign currency from the Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe, therefore, we are forced to go to black market.
“On our part, we increased the prices by 10 percent and we believe this issue can only be solved by increased allocation of US Dollars to the manufacturing companies or remove the local currency (Bond notes) and leave the other currencies,” he said.
Bulawayo Proportional Representation member Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga is already preparing to introduce a motion in the National Assembly on the alternative and perceived cheaper methods the menstrual cups this week.
However, the onus will be on Mnangagwa as the mother-figure for the country to use her closeness to President Emmerson Mnangagwa to compel the government to make considerable undertakings on the issue of sanitary pads.
In an interview, a female freelance journalist who refused to be named said while she expects nothing from the First lady, she, however, should not be a silent benchwarmer.
“I don’t think as the first lady she has any direct impact on changing anything for me, considering recent events.
“I would just say she should work on improving her constituency and stop being a silent female benchwarmer but add to the female voices that actually make sense in Parliament,” she said.
According to Honourable Misihairabwi-Mushonga, it is not a good idea to mix first lady roles with state functions.
“I don’t know, am not sure we want to use her First lady status to interfere with normal state functions, which is what got us here in the first place, mixing of roles,” she said.
Besides the sanitary pads issue, Mnangagwa will have to also stand tall to ensure the health sector is adequately funded from the national budget to help effectively respond to such diseases as HIV/Aids, TB and cancer as they have a direct bearing on women.
Despite having attained independence in 1980, women in rural areas still have to walk long distances to the nearest clinic; there is lack of clean and safe water and lack of universal access to clean energy.
Child marriages are still rampant across the country owing to delays in the realignment of relevant laws and despite the fact that ConCourt ruled them out.
Mnangagwa has the burden to also fumigate the First-lady role that had been tainted by Grace Mugabe if she is going to win the hearts of Zimbabweans.
One of the ways of doing so is through advocating for the provision of social services in the country and avoiding confrontational politics.