Address gender imbalances to foster development

By Farai Chirimumimba

Statistics from United Nation (UN) agencies such as UN Women and UNICEF shows that the world over, one in three women globally still suffer from gender-based violence in some form in their lifetime. Some 62 million girls annually are denied access to education, four out of every five children trafficked are girls, and women continue to suffer in terms of pay and representation in the workplace.

Although in the past 37 years, women’s participation in the workforce, in athletics, and in professional education has increased in Zimbabwe, gender stereotypes are just as strong today as they were three decades ago. This shows that the scales of the challenges ahead are vast.

Look closely and you will see the roots of gender-based violence all around you. For instance in sexist jokes that demean women, in the language that we use, in media messages that objectify women and glorify toxic masculinity, and in the rigid gender norms we impose on young children.

Women population constitutes more than half of Zimbabwe’s total population. They have every right to be treated equally with men in every sphere of life and society. As a society, we must ask ourselves why and- more importantly- what can we do?

It is of fundamental importance that gender perspective should be incorporated into all spheres of life in order to have a positive effect on the lives of women and girls but the decisive outcomes of these efforts need to be critically assessed. While the policies, approaches and strategies towards the empowerment of women are noble and well meaning, there is need to identify discord and gaps, with a view to taking note of ultimate impact these interventions have had on the lives of women in Zimbabwe.

The empowerment of women would result in overall development of Zimbabwe both at micro and macro level. Active participation of women in economic activities and decisions, would contribute towards overall economic development.

Zimbabwe is party to international and regional instruments for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls. These include the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Beijing Platform for Action (BPfA), the African Charter on the Rights of Women and the Southern African Development Community Protocol on Gender and Development. The Constitution of Zimbabwe has elaborate provisions on gender equality and women empowerment. The government has however been slow to put in place several pieces of legislation and policies to actualise these provisions, for instance, the National Gender Policy (NGP).

UN in Zimbabwe noted that the “country faces challenges of limited coordination of the national gender management system, inadequate implementation of the national gender policy, partial domestication of international and regional instruments, low participation of women in politics and decision making positions, limited access productive resources, and gender based violence. Women’s direct representation (not including proportional representatives) in the Lower and Upper House stands at 14 and 33 percent respectively lower than the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) and the SADC Gender and Development Protocol benchmark. The country should work hard to ensure increase in women’s political participation, leadership and representation in elected office”

More women in elected office will contribute to progress towards the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), specifically SDG 5: promote gender equality which is crucial to accelerating sustainable development. Ending all forms of discrimination against women and girls is not only a basic human right, but it also has a multiplier effect across all other development areas. Work being done by UNDP together with other partners has made gender equality successes. For instance, worldwide more girls are now in school compared to 15 years ago, and most regions have reached gender parity in primary education.

Going forward in addressing gender equality in challenges in Zimbabwe, government should priorities support of key governance institutions in policy and legislative formulation and implementation. Government should also to put in place laws and policies that not only add numbers but increase the participation of women in decision-making bodies and positions in both private and public sectors. Ensure that the percentage of the national budget allocated to women and girls’ programmes is increased and sustainable.

UN in Zimbabwe says that the Government should work towards ensuring total ratification, domestication, implementation, and evaluation of laws and policies that promote gender equality, human rights, and women and girls empowerment. Efforts should also be made to mainstream gender. International organization can come in providing expert capacity building training for ministries of women affairs, gender and community development and that of youth, indigenization and economic empowerment together with the small and medium enterprises and cooperative development among others. These ministries should be able to improve their internal and external communications and, most importantly, help civil society strengthen its ability to advocate to decision makers to promote citizen interests.

At the end, what is good enough is the creation of policies that are responsive to citizen concerns, take into account gender parity and provide comprehensive solution to gender problems. A clear instance of such participatory governance is the passing of the Domestic Violence Act in 2009 which is a law that combat violence against men and women. This historic legislation, which combines preventative measures against both genders and support for survivors and also adopts a broader vision of what constitutes violence, is a clear victory for Zimbabwe in fighting to protect women.