Promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women
by Rumbidzai Dube
Achieving gender equality remains one of the biggest challenges in Zimbabwean society. The problem is rooted in society’s conceptions of the phenomenon of gender equality itself. Talk of gender equality has ignited terrible backlash, mainly because of a misconception that gender equality is a misguided notion that is eating away at ‘our culture’ AND ‘our religion’ in which women are simply trying to take up an ‘unnatural’ position in life. For some, gender equality is understood as the process through which women want men to do women’s chores and women are ‘overstepping their mark;’’ wanting to become like men. Others argue, erroneously of course, that concentrating on women’s rights has seen men’s issues being side-lined and that focusing on gender equality is placing men ‘under threat.’
Consequently, there is low and slow acceptance of the idea that gender equality is about recognising that men and women were born equal, they deserve equal chances and opportunities, and to be treated with the same dignity. There is still slow acceptance of women’s participation in politics and decision making. This is reinforced by the skewed publicity with which female politicians’ occasional blunders are profiled as compared to the ongoing and consistent blundering that male politicians commit on a daily basis. There is prevalent rejection of the independence of women’s thought process, financial status and existence, with such women often labelled as “loudmouths,” “difficult” and “bossy.”
What have we done well?
- We have a comprehensive gender policy that emphasises the need to achieve gender equality.
- We have a new Constitution that addresses gender imbalances especially those previously caused by the application of customary law in resolving personal law issues such as marriage, division of property, custody of children, divorce and inheritance.
- We have a good legislative framework with Acts such as the Domestic Violence Act, the Criminal Law Code and the Deceased Estates Act providing remedies regarding women’s challenges with violence, crime and inheritance, respectively.
- We have set up institutions that seek to enhance women’s safety and security in the community such as the Domestic Violence Council, the Victim Friendly Courts, the Adult Rape Clinic, the Victim Friendly Units at police stations all dealing with gender based violence.
- We have achieved gender parity in ensuring primary education.
- Our women are beginning to enter male dominated spaces in highly technical fields such as engineering, ICT’s, the defence forces and mining.
- Although our target in women’s representation in Parliament is 50/50, we have significantly increased this representation by introducing a quota through proportional representation. Although the quota is limited to only 2 terms of Parliament, it is hoped that the 10 years will give the women exposure to the political processes, increasing their chances of running for contested seats and winning. Also the use of the Zebra type of proportional representation in allocating seats to the Upper House of Parliament (Senate) has seen a significant increase in women’s representation, so much so that at this #CSW58, Zimbabwe was recognised as one of the few countries that has the highest number of female senators, an unprecedented 47.5%!
What have we not done?
- We have not carried nearly enough dialogue to shape an understanding of gender equality that builds support from communities and removes the antagonism that exists towards achieving gender equality;
- We have not domesticated international treaties that promote gender equality in their entirety;
- We have not allocated adequate funds to the gender machinery to allow it to function as effectively as is possible;
- We condemn but do not regulate traditional and religious practices that limit women’s public participation and perpetuate gender discrimination.
What more can we do?
We need to work on aligning our policies and laws to the new Constitution regarding provisions that call for:
- Gender parity in appointments to constitutional commissions. We have already failed doing this in the anti-corruption commission and the human rights commission;
- Ratification of all international instruments promoting gender equality;
- Domestication of all international instruments promoting gender equality; and
- Setting up of a gender commission;
- We need to allocate adequate funds in the national budget towards promoting gender equality.
- We need to promote women and girls’ increased venture into Science, Technology, Engineering and other technical fields.
- We also need to see an increased number of women managers who currently make up 21% of MD’s in the country as well as company secretaries who are only 17% female. This occupational category remains largely male-dominated although the women in that field have proved themselves equally capable.
- We need more women at the levels of Permanent Secretaries, Principal Directors, Directors, Deputy Directors, Ambassadors and Heads of Missions; currently they constitute only 28%. This business of claiming that “there are no women” to occupy these posts is highly disrespectful and utterly false.