DURING the Liberation War that birthed Zimbabwe’s independence, both men and women partook in the war against the Rhodesian regime.
The two main forces, ZANLA and ZIPRA, had women wings made up of females of different ages.
Women also joined their male counterparts at training camps in Mozambique, Tanzania and Zambia.
Studies indicate that at some point during the liberation struggle, there were nearly 10 000 ZANLA female combatants.
Most of these female fighters were teenage girls and unmarried women.
Joining the struggle, for these women, was an opportunity to contribute and serve in the building of a nation.
Joining the war also afforded them an opportunity to experience some form of personal autonomy, away from the control of family and society.
Following the attainment of independence, a new era dawned in which women were given equal opportunities in the formal employment sector.
Legislation and policies were put in place to allow women to be gainfully employed.
As a result, women sought employment in both formal and non-formal organisations.
Research indicates that in 2000, women constituted nearly half of the country’s workforce.
Efforts have continued to be made by Zimbabwe to improve working conditions of women and urging them to enter fields that were usually male-dominated.
One of the sectors that has been opened up for women is the security sector, with many joining the army, police force and prisons.
Women have also made strides in mining, agriculture, media and medical fields.
Young Female Entrepreneurs (YFE) founder Linda Muzanenhamo commended Government and relevant stakeholders for promoting the participation of women in the public sphere.
“Gone are the days when women were confined to private spaces; opportunities have been availed for women to play a leading role in building the economy,” she said.
“Women should take advantage of the path taken by Government to rebuild the economy and ensure they are not left behind but, instead, they play a part once again in making history just as they did during the liberation struggle.”
Government has put in place legislation and policies to ensure women fully benefit from empowerment and employment creation.
According to the Constitution of Zimbabwe, Chapter 14: “The State and all institutions and agencies of Government at every level must endeavor to facilitate and take measures to empower, through appropriate, transparent, fair and just affirmative action, all marginalised persons, groups and communities in Zimbabwe.
“At all times the State and all institutions and agencies of government at every level must ensure that appropriate and adequate measures are undertaken to create employment for all Zimbabweans, especially women and youths.”
This provision speaks directly to the need to ensure that women are given fair and equal opportunities for them to be economically empowered.
The desire for Government to have women in the workplace has been evidenced by the enactment of laws such as the Labour Act that speaks to discrimination against women in the workplace and seeks to promote gender equality.
There are aspects highlighted through the Labour Relations Act that speak directly on the issue of gender equality.
Section 5 of the Act speaks against gender discrimination when it comes to the issues of accessing employment in a comprehensive manner.
Muzanenhamo said the provision by the Labour Act prohibits discrimination on the basis of sex.
“However we find that this provision does not prohibit the prospective employer from asking female candidates questions pertaining to their sexuality, such as when they intend to bear children or more children if they already have others,” she said.
“We find that, with some prospective employers, this issue is bunched within the medical reports and this section of the Act does not give recourse on the subtle ways in which prospective employers can discriminate on the basis of gender as men rarely get asked about children and future pregnancy plans.”
Muzanenhamo highlighted how the Labour Act has dealt with the issue of sexual harassment and maternity leave, issues that have benefitted women.
“The Act has ensured the workplace is a safe place for women as steps on how to deal with issues of sexual harassment at work are highlighted,” she said.
Another Act, which speaks on gender equality in the workplace, is the Public Service Act which governs the operations of Government-run institutions.
According to Section 18 of the Act, there should be no ‘discrimination on the basis of gender when either appointing or promoting employees in the Public Service.