President Emmerson Mnangagwa met several women’s organisations representatives in Harare this Friday morning under the topic: “Women’s Conversations on legislation with his Excellency the President of Zimbabwe”.

The President was accompanied by Vice President Kembo Mohadi, Finance Minister Cde Patrick Chinamasa who stood in for Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Cde Sithembiso Nyoni and other senior government officials.

 The meeting brought together over 40 women’s organisations from different backgrounds and spheres of operation.

 In their presentations, young girls highlighted lack of school fees leading to prostitution, poverty in young mothers, sexual harassment, high fees and accessibility of loans as challenges in tertiary institutions.

The students suggested a sexual harassment policy be put in place and to be functional in tertiary institutions.

In response, President Mnangagwa said early marriages are forbidden for both girls and boys under the age of 18, adding that he has since suggested the criminalisation of such acts through a bill.

Officials in the Ministry of Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs said the bill is not yet ready and the President directed that the bill be tabled in the first session of the next parliament.

Regarding forced marriages, the President said it is the duty of everyone to protect the girl child and uphold high morals in society.

The President noted that commercial sex work is unlawful, saying those who know of these acts should report to the police.

Regarding students loans, the President said stringent requirements to access the loans should be removed.

Turning to students’ sexual harassment at higher institutions, he said it is necessary for the Ministry of Justice to engage in dialogue with students and management so that government devises means of addressing the problem.

Female school children bemoaned lack of affordable sanitary wear and requested that they be accessed free of charge. A petition to this effect was handed over to the head of state by Tanyaradzwa Mutate from Zengeza One High School.

The second group of grievances to the President came from women from diverse backgrounds who complained of need for clean water in urban areas, high electricity charges, lack of medicines in government hospitals, an appealed for free maternal health services, and that cancer screening be followed by free cancer treatment.

A representative of cross-border women traders appealed for speedy immigration and customs clearance, provision of bathing services and refreshment services, resting facilities at the border and less road blocks on the route after border searches.

A woman from Manicaland Hotsprings spoke of poor mining practices from diamond mining firms in the area, lack of compensation from mining companies after relocation. She also called on government to give women mining claims.

Women with disabilities said they face stigma and discrimination and are left behind in development programmes and in decision making and they appealed for quotas for women with disabilities, including housing.

In his response to the water issue, President Mnangagwa said government has secured a loan from China to address the clean water issue in Harare, while for rural areas state-of-the-art borehole drilling machines have been acquired.

He also said government is working on increasing classrooms in affected areas throughout Zimbabwe.

President Mnangagwa said government is in the process of crafting a new diamond policy which directs that communities in the mining areas must benefit.

The President blamed the Environmental Management Agency for not monitoring how mining companies dispose of chemicals which are polluting water sources.

He said any company engaging in mining will be legally required to craft a social responsibility programme.

On Land, he said an audit is underway and multiple farm ownership will be exposed.

He said widows under the law should inherit the land when the husband passes on and no one should dispossess the widow.

President Mnangagwa explained the Command Agriculture Programme in detail, saying the government recently launched Command Livestock in Matabeleland Provinces.

On farmers grain payments, he said GMB is now doing it timeously, adding that this trend started with the launch of the Command Agriculture Programme which he spearhead starting in the 2016-2017 season.

On disabilities issues, the President says he has appointed Cde Joshua Malinga as Special Advisor on Disability issues in the Office of the President, revealing that Cde Malinga has presented a paper on disability issues which will be looked at soon.

On Zanu PF primaries, he admitted it was quite disappointing that only about 10 percent who won are women.

“There is need to find a formula to achieve a reasonable representation of women – the current formula is not working. However, there 60 seats reserved for women in parliament where they compete amongst themselves… this was agreed amongst political parties,” he said.

On violence, the President said:  “Whenever I see people who are gathered, like here, I preach unity, unity. I ask all political leaders to commit ourselves to peace, unity and love for each other…,” he said, adding that people must accept divergent views and let the best idea win.

Responding to the issue of cash shortages, the President spoke of the recent US$100 million soft loan from the UK, which he said will help to ease cash shortages. He also asked Minister Chinamasa to give further details on the issue of cash shortages, who amongst other interventions, said the best solution is to move towards a cashless society.

President Mnangagwa commended the organisers of the interactive dialogue with women organisations’, saying it is a first of its kind in Zimbabwe, adding that next time he will bring his entire cabinet so that they respond to various concerns.

The women paid tribute to the President for signing the AU charter on democratic elections and human rights which they said goes a long way in addressing women’s dreams and aspirations and for protecting women’s rights.