Women express confusion and mixed feelings over the Draft Marriages Bill of 2019

By Busi Bhebhe

Women have shown some confusion over the contents of the Draft Marriages Bill of 2019 which harmonises marriage unions in Zimbabwe and for the first time ever, seeks to provide legal recognition of civil partnerships, what has been mainly called co-habitation in the past. 

Clause 40 of the bill states that while civil partnerships are not recognised as marriages, they are however equated to to what has in the past been refered to as common law unions. 

What brings confusion is that in the past common law unions have been recognised for the purposes of guardianship of children and maintenance, however this time this law seeks to have them recognised for purposes of property sharing upon dissolution.

Asked to explain parts of the bill and what it may mean for women, Thandekile Ngwenya, a lawyer and women’s rights advocate  expressed that she had not taken time to fully study the full bill but however said “the intention of the legislature was to actually protect women from men who get into relationships then want to pull out a marriage certificate for the woman he is cohabiting with, to walk away empty handed when their relationship sours.” she said

“Communities have always wanted cohabitation to be recognised only for purposes of property sharing upon termination of the relationship & that is what the Bill seeks to do.” said Ngwenya.

Commenting on social media platforms some women said this effectively nullified the sacredness of marriage as the Bill recognises unions that happen even between married parties.

“Hayi ah kutsho phela vele ukuba ngu Mrs akuselasithunzi, some women seduce amadoda abantu ngabomo labo bacine bewela, next thing that woman is claiming in court Hayi ah ngani nje sokungamasimba lokhu! Vele why protect a small house umuntu olichithamuzi?” (This effectively means being a “Mrs” carries no weight anymore. Some women seduce married men so they can later go to court to make claims. Why protect a small house when she is destroying a family” asked Raty Mokoena on one  Facebook post.

A Director of a women’s rights organisation who refused to be named  said the bill opened a lot more loopholes than solved intended problems. 

“If the law continues to push boundaries like this the moral fabric in our societies will suffer another knock. So many loopholes for abuse. Can we as women claim a victory here” she asked. 

Other activist leaders said while the bill seeks to protect women who have been caught unawares by being in long term  but unregistered relationships it also has a lot of loopholes which women’s groups will need to advocate on to be perfected.

Ngwenya went on to say “What I do not understand though is that they say , 'it can exist notwithstanding that one or both parties are legally married to someone else' This for me presents problems for a Civil Marriage which is a 1 man 1 woman union. So are they indirectly doing away with adultery damages?” she asked, refelecting how confusing the bill is for many even legal minds. 

It is hoped that countrywide public hearings will be held  on the bill in the near future, giving citizens an opportunity to share their concerns on it.