Towards gender parity…women empowerment in Zimbabwe

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ALTHOUGH women in Zimbabwe constitute 52 percent of the population, they were largely marginalised by successive colonial governments in the areas of education, health, human rights, economic empowerment and decision-making processes.
Women, however, have always played an important role in Zimbabwean society, and an equally important role in the liberation struggle and the struggle for the reclamation of their motherland.
In recognition of these anomalies, the Government of Zimbabwe undertook to ameliorate women’s position in society.
According to a statement made by the Ambassador and Permanent Representative to the United Nations on the advancement of women: “It was imperative that the enhancement and advancement of the status of women be considered as one of the key priority development goals of an independent Zimbabwe.
As a result, the advancement of women since independence has been a key priority goal of the Government and significant progress in gender equality and the empowerment of women have since been made.”
To demonstrate its commitment to the advancement of women, the Government signed and ratified a number of regional and international conventions, treaties, declarations and protocols on gender equality and the improvement of women.
Included were the Convention on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights; the Convention on Civil and Political Rights; the Universal Declaration of Human Rights; the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW); the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; the 1997 SADC Declaration on Gender and Development with its addendum on the Prevention and the Eradication of Violence against Women and Children; the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development as well as the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women.
These were followed up by domesticating women’s requirements, especially those of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), through the enactment of several pieces of domestic legislation designed to promote gender equality and the empowerment of women.
Other legislations adopted include the Legal Age of Majority Act of 1982; the Labour Relations Act of 1985; the Matrimonial Causes Act of 1985; the Sexual Discrimination Removal Act; the Sexual Offences Act of 2001; the Domestic Violence Act of 2007; the National Gender Policy of 2004 and the National Gender Policy Implementation Strategy and Work Plan for 2008-2012.
The National Gender Policy provides guidelines and the institutional framework to engender all sectoral policies, programmes, projects and activities at all levels of the society and economy.
In 1995, the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development was created to oversee co-ordination of all gender programmes and to facilitate gender mainstreaming in all sector ministries.
Furthermore, Zimbabwe’s women can inherit wealth and ascend to traditional chieftaincies without gender hindrances.
Also, considerable progress was made in implementing the provisions of the stand-alone SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.
It became one of the pioneers in the region in terms of enhancing women’s participation in the governance and political institutions of society such as Parliament and the judiciary.
The Government addressed the wide gaps in gender representation in governance and political institutions of the country as part of this effort, and continued to promote proportional representation for women in Parliament as a way of politically empowering women.
Political parties in Zimbabwe adopted a quota system which witnessed an increase in women’s representation in politics, even though it was still below the 30 percent quota set by the AU and the 50 percent gender parity set in the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development.
Though domestic violence — a social ill that wreaks immeasurable socio-economic costs in Zimbabwean society — is still an issue, great strides have been made by Government to eliminate violence against women through the legislation of the Domestic Violence Act in 2007.
However, pervasive inequalities still exist and Government has acknowledged that more still needs to be done to achieve the set targets.
The Government also instituted a number of affirmative action programmes meant to empower women economically.
In July 2012, the Government launched the Broad-Based Women’s Economic Empowerment Framework (BBWEE), a medium-term development plan whose main objective was gender equality and the empowerment of women in all sectors of the national economy.
Outlined in the Women’s Economic Empowerment Framework were key strategies on how to fully integrate women in the complete value chain of the economic sectors of the country in line with the Indigenisation and Empowerment Act as well as other regional and international gender mainstreaming instruments such as the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development as well as the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW).
The Government of Zimbabwe has strong political will to ensure the successful implementation of the framework at all levels and in all parts of the country.
The Government also introduced the Gender Responsive Economic Policy Management Initiative (GEPMI) whose goal was to equip local policy makers, economists, budget officers and other development practitioners with the expertise and ability to mainstream gender aspects into economic development policy formulations.
Zimbabwe was among the first five African states to introduce the initiative, confident in overcoming gender imbalances in the national economic development.
Since independence, under the helm of President Robert Mugabe, the Government regarded education as a critical and essential empowerment tool for women.
Great strides were made to ensure that women, especially girls, received the education that they deserve.
The education enabled women to develop the necessary skills that are vital for the management and success of their business enterprises.
Notwithstanding, a National Women’s Council Bill to clearly co-ordinate and harmonise a framework to advance women issues with all stakeholders in the country was being put in place a by the Government.
Today, under the commitment and assurance of the President of the Second Republic, Emmerson Dambudzo Mnangagwa, the Government of Zimbabwe remains committed to working with stakeholders who share the Government’s goal of empowering the women of Zimbabwe.
However, notwithstanding these positive steps made towards advancing the status of women in Zimbabwe, it has been acknowledged that multiple hurdles still remain.
These included lack of access to credit facilities, especially for rural women entrepreneurs.
The majority of women entrepreneurs often struggle to access funds from local financial institutions due to lack of collateral.
Some women farmers contend that lack of Government financing and training deters their business growth.
Access to credit would enable women entrepreneurs to finance and diversify their entrepreneurial activities and thus contribute to the country’s economic growth, development and general sustainable advancement.
President Mnangagwa has taken up the mantle and assured the women of Zimbabwe of his determination to make all efforts to resolve the challenges still facing women’s emancipation and empowerment.
As co-liberators of the country from the brutal clutches of colonialism, women deserve no less than parity with their menfolk in all spheres of life.
Dr Michelina Andreucci is a Zimbabwean-Italian researcher, industrial design consultant, lecturer and specialist hospitality interior decorator. She is a published author in her field. For comments e-mail: linamanucci@gmail.com

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