By ZIMCODD Information

The Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) is in solidarity with the many women and organised women groups in Zimbabwe in commemorating the International Women’s Day.

Nevertheless, as women in other spheres are celebrating social, economic, cultural and political achievements, Zimbabwean women bemoan the economic, social, political and environmental challenges that have spelt psychological, physical and socioeconomic trauma on them compared to their male counterparts.

The worsening economic and humanitarian crisis in Zimbabwe has seen women being victims of sex work, trafficking and sexual assaults which require specific protection and recourse. This is exacerbated by the societal ascribed gender roles that require women to fend for their families through paid and unpaid care work. According to the United Nations Development Programme Gender Inequality Index of 2018, Zimbabwe ranks 126 out of 162 countries.

This reflects the serious disparities between men and women in the country with men being at the top of the social, economic and political ladder. Gender disparities still exist in Zimbabwe with new forms of discrimination on the basis of women’s age, religion, health status, marital status, education, disability and socioeconomic status, among other grounds. These intersecting forms of discrimination must be taken into account when developing measures and responses to combat discrimination against women. Despite the aforementioned challenges, the International Women’s Day provides an opportunity for women to individually and collectively reflect and confront the challenges that limit their full emancipation.

As we commemorate the International Women’s Day, it is important to take note of the following;

Gender balance is not a women’s issue, it’s an economic issue

. Gender and social norms disempower women relegating them to second class citizens not fit to control or acquire assets or assume influential positions of power on their own regardless of constitutional provisions on women having full and equal dignity of the person with men including equal opportunities in political, economic and social activities as provided for in Section 80 (1).

• Male dominance in politics is a barrier to advancing women’s social and economic rights. All decision-making positions are dominated by men. Out of the 350 National Assembly and Senate Members, only 122 are women who constitute 35% and this is largely due to a proportional representation quota. The systematic exclusion of women in positions of political and economic power perpetuates gender inequalities in Zimbabwe. By assuming positions of power, there is a high likelihood that women will emancipate themselves from poverty, discrimination, deprivation and reclaim their economic liberties- the enhanced capabilities discourse must be championed in Zimbabwe.

• Zimstats 2017 PICES Report reveals shocking statistics that more females (61.7%) than males (38.3%) are economically inactive with students and homemakers constituting a large number of economically inactive females.

• In its report, “Time to Care” Report, Oxfam highlighted that the combined wealth of the world’s 22 richest men is more than the wealth of all the women in Africa. This shocking revelation serves as a wakeup call on the urgent need to amend the flawed and sexist economic system in Africa and Zimbabwe in particular.

• It is regrettable that the discourse surrounding national economic advancement is often detached from the contribution made by women through the provision of unpaid care work and in the informal economy. According to Oxfam, women and girls put in 12.5 billion hours of unpaid care work each and every day, a contribution to the global economy of at least $10.8 trillion a year, more than three times the size of the global tech industry.

• Massive power cuts and acute water shortages in Zimbabwe has increased the burden of women who are forced to carry unremunerated care tasks including looking for alternative sources of power and water. In this regard, women contribute more to the wellbeing and functionality of the society compensating for poor public service delivery.

• The socioeconomic woes characterised by high unemployment, poverty and starvation are the major drivers of outward migration from Zimbabwe. Nevertheless, it is worrisome that, of the 683 673 people who migrated out of Zimbabwe in 2017, women constituted 74.3% compared to the 70.5% of males1 , a clear indication of the vulnerability of women to the economic crisis in Zimbabwe and abuse in the destination countries in the face of xenophobic attacks in South Africa, for instance. The case of Zimbabwean women who were trafficked to Kuwait for cheap labour and as sex workers in 2017 is just but one of the incidences in which women suffer more from the macroeconomic challenges facing the country.

• The unsustainable debt continues diverting resources meant for public service delivery in Zimbabwe. In the 2020 national budget, the government allocated ZWL$4,9 billion towards loan repayment which is more than double resources allocated to the Ministry of Public Service, Labour and Social Welfare of ZWL$2.4 billion. Equally the funds allocated for the loan repayment constitute 74% of the health budget. In the absence of the huge debt burden, the ZWL$4.9 billion would transform the social services sector. It is time to consider redirection of debt repayments by development partners through a watertight framework to directly benefit the majority of the citizens of Zimbabwewomen.

• Women play a critical role in Zimbabwe’s agricultural and food production. According to the National Gender Profile of Agriculture in Zimbabwe, rural women constitute seventy (70%) percent of household and family labour in rural communities. Nevertheless, instead of getting full recognition, rural women are often viewed as playing a “helping hand” role rather than as critical contributors to the national economy.

Recommendations

. The narrative that women have inadequacies, are powerless, are supporters of their male counterparts in the economy must shift. Women are citizens first, they are able drivers of this economy and must be provided with opportunities that are transformative such as life long education, healthcare and access to finance to build their informal businesses into strong entrepreneurship ventures.

• There is need for the government to deliberately invest in enhanced capabilities of women to be able to respond to vulnerabilities in the fast-changing world due to technology, climate change and global interconnectedness.

• Women are not only concerned about gender responsive budgeting where they are thrown crumbs under the table, they must be involved in the whole economic governance system, they must be consulted to determine the governance of their natural resources, the debt contraction processes and the redistribution of the national wealth as a whole.

• Implementation of Section 56 (2) on the equal treatment of women and men on the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres is long overdue. Women must be sitting and participating at the table where decisions are made. Anything less is a disregard of the letter and spirit of the Constitution.

• The government of Zimbabwe must create a safe environment for women to participate equally in political processes, a conducive and resistance free environment where women can participate without fear of intimidation and fear of societal gender stereotypes