THE past several years have witnessed a concentrated, progressive and determined action in various societies in the world regarding women in development agendas. 

To ensure this is achieved, the UN has made a number of resolutions to empower women.

One cannot talk about the empowerment of women without mentioning the importance of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) Five which focuses on aspects that ensure women are protected and empowered.

SDG Five focuses on pursuing the main goal of real and sustained gender equality in all aspects of women’s and girls’ lives which include: “Ending  gender disparities, eliminating violence against women and girls’ lives, eliminating  early and forced marriage and securing  equal participation and opportunities  for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political life.”

The importance of women in different societies has also been elevated by setting aside a day to celebrate them.

The theme for International Women’s Day this year is: ‘Gender Equality Today for a Sustainable Tomorrow’.

Each year, different countries come together to celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, and many even go further to dedicate the whole month to celebrating  women.

It is sad to note that in spite of all efforts to celebrate women and their endeavors, women make up the majority of the world’s poor and are disproportionately dependent on scarce natural resources.

For rural women, the burden is too much as they have to keep up with fulfilling roles of contributors of the economy while on the other hand patriarchy limits them to participating in leadership and key decision-making processes.

Most societies are male-dominated and men continue to hold power in all important institutions of society, local communities and the family setup.

Men, particularly at the rural level, have control and authority over women’s lives and livelihood, rights as well as privileges.

The Patriot caught up with Alford Mfiri, director of Mfiri Ecological and Land Use Community Trust (MELUCT), an organisation based in rural Shurugwi, focusing on women’s land rights, peace building, capacity building and environmental management.

He said his organisation is doing everything possible to ensure empowerment of rural women.

“We initiate and help women manage various projects in order for them to sustain their livelihoods and ensure community development,” he said.

“We are also in partnership with various stakeholders to ensure that women enjoy land rights equal to men.” 

There are, however, various problems, said Mfiri, that women in rural areas face and these, sadly, hinder the progress being made to promote empowerment.

Some of the problems that Mfiri highlighted include women being evicted by in-laws after the death of a husband due to oppressive cultural practices, such as kugarwa nhaka.

To some extent, some in-laws and relatives, said Mfiri, grab property after the death of their male relative, leaving the widow and her children impoverished.

The problems rural women face might seem trivial but they obstruct and limit women from participating in leadership and key decision-making processes.

Rural women carry out the bulk of development projects through agricultural work. However, agriculture is one of the sectors that has been hit the hardest by the effects of climate change.

Despite their workload and huge numbers in communities, decision-making power in their communities and families is very limited, meaning they cannot make decisions on various critical issues that involve agriculture and climate change.

In her speech to commemorate International Women’s Day, UN Women executive director Sima Bahous spoke about Women’s Day and complemented the resilience of women.

“On International Women’s Day, we celebrate the power and potential of women and girls,” she said. 

“We recognise their courage, resilience and leadership.

We mark the ways in which we are making progress towards a more gender-equal world. 

At the same time, we see how that progress is being undermined by multiple, interlocking and compounding generational crises.”

Bahous also stressed how women come up with solutions despite the threat of climate change.

Bahous further said: “The accelerating crises of climate change and environmental degradation are disproportionately undermining the rights and well-being of women and girls. 

They are multiplying insecurity at all levels, from individual and household to national. 

Rising temperatures, extended droughts, violent storms and floods are resulting in loss of livelihoods, they are depleting resources and fueling migration and displacement.

Climate change is a threat multiplier. 

But women, and especially young women, are solution multipliers.”

While most rural women in Zimbabwe ensure food security through agriculture, they do not get a fair share of assets, resources and services needed to earn a decent living nor to adapt to climate change.

It is sad to note that the majority of them have less access than men to land, finances, agricultural inputs, training and technologies to help them manage climate related-shocks.

To curb the crisis, Government has made strides to ensure rural women have access to loans through the Zimbabwe Women’s Microfinance Bank (ZWMB).

Most rural women who are taking small-scale entrepreneurship and agriculture are not only doing that to provide for their families, but are making a contribution towards socio-economic development of the nation.

There are a number of developmental projects that women in rural areas are taking part in.

These include farming, weaving and domestic livestock rearing, among others.

To ensure women empowerment, there is need for consistent provision of equal opportunities, promoting girl-child education, ensuring training and skills development for women as well as coming up with strict policies against gender based violence.

“We have today the opportunity to put women and girls at the centre of our planning and action and to integrate gender perspectives into global and national laws and policies,” said Bahous. 

“We have the opportunity to benefit from the leadership of women and girls.

We need indigenous women’s intergenerational knowledge, practices and skills.”

The International Women’s Day and month of March mark the celebration of women’s social, economic, cultural and political development across the globe.

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