JUST a few days ago I was privileged to be part of a conversation with various brothers and sisters on poverty being a sexist phenomenon.
I totally loved the insights coming from that space and as usual thought that it would be a wonderful start in combating poverty. A quick scan around the many vendors that have become a sore sight on the streets of Harare will show that women are the majority now and have been since time immemorial.
They do what they can to put food on the table, but what is needed is more than food on the table. It is about keeping women less busy and facilitating for a processes of ensuring that they have power, access to and control of the means of production.
Women ought to be the major game changers when it comes to contributing to the national economy and its growth.
I remember growing up and seeing all the women selling small wares. I am sure it helped meet basic daily needs, but for some slightly below that.
What I did observe is that they were almost always busy and looking exhausted. If you have ever witnessed someone running a chicken project you would have observed that it is hectic. There is quite a lot of work that happens there and yet the gains can be questioned.
The same goes for tobacco and cotton planting — loads of work and yet the corrupt buyers leave women stranded. If these women survive the buyers, they will still suffer the backlash of being productive from their spouses who will reap from what they did not sow.
Women’s realities are, therefore, filled with so much activity and very little wealth to show for it. A saying goes, if hard work was a sure way of creating wealth, African women would be the wealthiest. Women in Africa work and work, but do not necessarily benefit financially from their labour which is mostly care work and is, therefore, unpaid. It is not even considered work in the first place.
Another way of looking at it is how Zimbabwean history has not been so kind to women. The country inherited a British system of governance that marginalised women to the domestic sphere and if they worked, they were mostly in the informal sector and this is where the majority of women remain today.
A place of work with very little gains to show for their efforts. A place where they are abused harassed and intimidated by the various forces of law.
They lose their “goods” sometimes and yet they continue to toil and hope for a better future. Meanwhile, their male counterparts are rocking the more hardcore means of living earning a major stake of the economic pie and doing their best to create wealth through honest and dishonest means, and at the expense of these very women.
Historically, women cook for the miners and never actually own the mines. There should come a time when women actually own huge mining companies exploiting minerals like diamonds and not merely donning flash wedding rings.
Yes, history has created an imbalance that needs to be urgently and desperately resolved.
There is this great idea of establishing a women’s bank — brilliant and bravo! I hear the bank will have an amount of about
$5 million that will be channelled towards women’s economic empowerment.
Okay now that is something else — a single male can access the same amount for his business, not return it and have a whole bank close, but hey, that is nothing I suppose.
We, women, have to scrounge around for some money that will not even help us attain the vision of economic emancipation and wealth creation.
Zimbabwe has to come to a point of realisation that it has a good Constitution that does well advocating for gender equality and equity.
This means that both men and women have to be treated as equal citizens whose right to create wealth has the same value. This means that both men and women must be supported and assisted to work towards eradicating poverty in their lives.
Women need the support of a politically willing government that will channel their energies and resources towards ensuring that they live on more than a dollar a day.
I have a sister who does a million-dollar round table project for her and some of her friends. They have managed to enhance their economic lives by more than double. I know a sister who has a farm that she runs meticulously well rearing pigs, chickens and has a sharp business acumen. The point here is to say that women do have what it takes to enhance their own economic lives.
A strong support system will help women ensure that their economic lives are sustainable.
Sometimes it is not about just keeping the women busy so we think that they are creating wealth, it is about actually making sure that their burden of work is lessened and in the process they make the necessary income to develop lives.
A story was shared of one of the development partners building a green house in some area and now the women there produce vegetables for the export market, but all they have to do is switch on the power and the whole system runs itself.
This leaves them with enough time to do other work that is dear to them while at the same time making a sustainable livelihood. Women’s lives are more than labour for the household — as the global world looks at developing the sustainable goals for development, Zimbabwe ought to rethink the way it treats its women and the issue of economic development plus sustainability.
Coming together to refuse our women being unable to create wealth is a start. Having them where the money is and accessing credit lines where need be or just supporting them to start their businesses is a great way to begin.
Women do not have to be the face of poverty — everyone can help them become empowered enough to contribute to the domestic development of the economy.
Until and unless this nation realises the potential and resilience of its women as critical sources of solutions of the current economic challenges, then ZimAsset will remain a document while women in this country are reduced to vendors who flee the authorities day and night.
We can choose to enhance Zimbabwean women’s realities by doing whatever we deem critical to catapult them to economic power houses. No fear nor favour, let’s do this!
l Grace Chirenje is a citizen of the world and writes in her personal capacity. She would be excited to hear from you. You can contact her on email@example.com, follow her on Twitter @graceruvimbo or like her Facebook page Grace Ruvimbo Chirenje.