Second-Class Citizens

Irate women's groups in Zimbabwe are calling for Constitutional reform after Zimbabwe's Supreme Court ruled in March that, according to customary law, women's rights to inheritance, ownership of property, and custody of children are inferior to men's. "The woman's status is ... basically the same as that of any junior male in the family," or a teenager, the court said in its judgment, which disinherited Venia Magaya, 52, of her father's estate in favor of her younger half-brother.

"Zimbabwe has chosen to regress into the dark ages as far as women's rights are concerned," Amy Shups Tsanga, a lecturer in law at the University of Zimbabwe, commented in Harare's opposition weekly Zimbabwe Independent.

Zimbabwe has a dual system of laws dating from its days as the British colony of Rhodesia, explains Mercedes Sayagues of Rome's Third World-oriented Inter Press Service. General (Western or modern) law applied originally to white settlers, and customary law, reflecting the values of patriarchal agrarian society, was codified by the colonial administration to govern blacks. Critics of the dual system argue that it perpetuates the colonial system of differentiation among people, Sayagues says. Indeed, the majority of black women in Zimbabwe who marry under customary law are affected y the ruling, but white women and those of mixed race are not.