Zimbabwe has made significant strides in promoting gender equality and a raft of laws designed to promote equal opportunities between the sexes, but for the majority of women, gender equality is still a pipe dream.
During commemorations to mark 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence, women’s organisations bemoaned the failure to translate commitments made on paper into tangible experiences for women.
Over 30 years after independence, women said they had not yet fully enjoyed the gains of independence.
Maud Gweru, who runs successful car sales and sits on different boards in many organisations, said the stereotype still exists. “Each time I get into a room full of men, they try to intimidate me and even if I raise a good point, it is normal for them to gang up against me and try to shoot me down. I have learnt to live with it. Most males, no matter how educated they are, tend to think women’s roles are in the kitchen,” said Gweru.
Some women who spoke to NewsDay said they know about their rights, but it was more of theory than practice.
“It is true that we have rights, but the truth is we can not import government laws into our homes. One gets divorced and ends up like a destitute. My husband always reminds me that those women who make a lot of noise about their rights are unmarried and to some extent I find it to be true,” said Monica Phiri, a Harare woman. Most men have found it difficult to accept they have equal rights with women.
“Everywhere there must be a leader, even the way we are created shows that men should do muscular tasks. And even in universities, the entry points are different between males and females,” said Takura Mutumwa, a university student.
Statistics show women in Zimbabwe are marginalised in every facet of their lives.
The Presidential Land Review Committee set up in 2003 to examine the impact and implementation of the 2000 Land Reform Programme, noted women did not benefit equally as men.
Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN) reports that: “The accelerated Land Reform Programme did not correct gender imbalances in land ownership, it focused on the ability not need, thereby disadvantaging women.”
“Since 86% of women in the country live in the rural areas, where they depend on land for their livelihoods and families, women play a significant role in agriculture.”
Information from the Small Enterprises Development Corporation shows that women apply for loans in areas such as cross border trading, general trading, vending, poultry and market gardening.
Economist Floyd Kadete said areas women apply for loans were a result of how they were socialised.
“They were made to think that these are ‘feminine’ areas and they think that they can sustain the pressure. It’s a stereotype and most women never thought they are marginalising themselves,” said Kadete.
Kadete said: “Statistics show that most women are employed in the informal sector and labour segregation is also permeating in the informal sector.
Within the informal economy, women continue to face challenges as there is a growing trend in feminisation of certain jobs that do not pay as much as those undertaken by men.
“For instance, most women in the informal economy concentrate on buying vegetables, sweets and clothing, and on cross-border trading. Men are involved in what has been termed ‘small-to-medium enterprises’ such as carpentry, welding, tailoring, construction and sculpture, among others, which receive support from the Ministry of Small-to-Medium Enterprises as they are viewed as sustainable and profitable.”
Information from ZWRCN also shows that women have been sidelined in participation in politics and decision making as only 17% in the House of Assembly representatives are females and the country has only five female traditional chiefs.
Sociologist Pardon Taodzera blamed the patriarchal system in Zimbabwe for the continued marginalisation of women.
“The persistence of gender inequalities is prescribed by tradition, culture and religion. Culturally, a woman is expected to be dependent, submissive, well mannered, enduring, emotional, fearful, soft hearted, hard working and conservative while a man is expected to be the opposite.
“Customary practices which include pledging a young woman for marriage with a partner not of her choice, forcing a widow to marry her late husband’s brother and offering a young girl for compensation in disputes are still rooted in the country,” said Taodzera.
Though, a lot needs to be done to address gender-based imbalances, the government made significant strides by passing laws such as Sex Disqualification Act which allowed women to hold public office, equal pay legislation, Labour Relations Act which prohibited employers from discriminating against any employee besides his or gender, and other gender related laws.