ALTHOUGH Zimbabwe has made significant strides in promoting gender equality, female farmers feel marginalised and that has consequently affected the nation’s food security.
BY JAIROS SAUNYAMA
Both rural and urban women farmers are bearing the brunt of gender disparities, as they are still facing problems of accessing land, inputs, as well as loans unlike their male counterparts.
Edna Rushesha (44), a farmer in Wedza resettlement area, says women are still regarded as unproductive.
“There is need to do away with patriarchal behaviour when it comes to farming. In the communal areas, there are more women farmers, meaning that we are the ones producing much at both household and commercial level. But when it comes to accessing inputs and land, the authorities have other thoughts. It is still difficult to convince the authorities that as women we are the backbone of the agriculture sector,” she said.
Rushesha said government’s delay in opening a women’s bank was negatively affecting farming, as they were failing to access loans from banks with some demanding collateral, which most women do not have in their names.
The Presidential Land Review Committee, set up in 2003 to examine the impact and implementation of the 2000 land reform programme, noted that women did not benefit equally with men.
According to a report by the Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network, the accelerated land reform programme did not correct gender imbalances in land ownership, as it focused on ability, not need, thereby, disadvantaging women.
Social commentator, Admire Mare, said recognition of women is being hindered by patriarchal cultural beliefs despite their potential in unlocking the agricultural value chain.
“Basically, it’s because women in traditional patriarchal societies are not custodians of land. Even the history of commercial agriculture shows that male white farmers received substantial support from the government of the day.
The situation continues in modern-day Zimbabwe, where women, despite their invaluable role in the agricultural sector value chain, are still marginalised,” he said.
“They often receive inputs as extension of their husbands rather than in their own right. This policy and planning blind-spot somehow is self-defeating because failure to empower women farmers leads to poor harvest and food insecurity. It’s high time the government put women farmers at the centre of communal and commercial agriculture in order to alleviate poverty and food insecurity.”
Mare said the reason women are marginalised has to do with institutionalised patriarchy and cultural prejudices.
In a research done by Fungai Mudzengere (National University of Science and Technology), titled: The Contribution of Women to Food Security and Livelihoods through Urban Agriculture in the City of Bulawayo, 70% of women in Nketa, Nkulumane and Umgwanini high-density suburbs were into urban farming.
“It was also found out in this research that 70% (42 out of 60) of the respondents in Nkulumane, Nketa and Umganwini were women who practice urban agriculture in these high-density areas. However, 30% of males, who practice urban agriculture, are usually hired on a part-time basis by the land ‘owners’ to till, and weed, and to harvest the crops,” the report said.
Zimbabwe Indigenous Women Farmers’ Association Trust director, Depinnah Nkomo, says there is need for women to control the distribution of inputs to ensure gender equality.
“We are very keen to see each and every woman farmer in Zimbabwe being empowered. A look into farms shows that there are more women than men though women are not being recognised. Women should be in control of distribution of inputs. Men, who are at the front, are corrupt. If you empower a woman, you have empowered a nation,” she said.
According to the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organisation (FAO), women are the custodians of food security in Africa with over two-thirds of women employed in the agricultural sector.
FAO country representative, David Phiri, says there is need to empower women farmers, as they are more efficient than their male counterparts, so that there is an improvement of food security in the country.
“FAO is committed to women’s participation in agriculture because of the important role they play in food security and nutrition. FAO has in place a gender equality policy, which provides a comprehensive framework for FAO programming. When women are empowered, the household food and nutrition security status improves. When women are provided with equal access to key resources and opportunities, they can become as efficient farmers as men,” he said.
“Moreover, available empirical evidence shows clearly that the income and resources that women generate have direct beneficial effects on the health and nutrition of their households and communities. Thus, empowering rural women brings major gains to society at large, because it can increase production, improve food security and nutrition, boost the economy and improve human capital of future generations, thereby, fostering long-term economic growth.”
Phiri said closing the gender gap in access to assets, resources, services and opportunities had been identified as one of the most effective approaches to combat rural poverty and promote agriculture and sustainable rural development.
Meanwhile, FAO has boosted women’s participation in agriculture through a number of initiatives like offering support to the Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development ministry to implement a number of projects.
Some of the projects include the empowerment of women through community gardens, and promotion of women’s access to finance through income savings and lending schemes. This is through an European Union-funded livestock project, which is being implemented in Nkayi and Lupane.
Women and Land in Zimbabwe national director, Thandiwe Chidavarume, said women in the rural areas should form lobby groups and approach relevant authorities to access land and inputs.
“We are mobilising women to form lobby groups under the banner Rural Women’s Assembly, a loose movement that is spearheading issues to do with land access, control and ownership. In these groups, the women approach their spouses, their local authorities, traditional leaders, district administrators and the Lands ministry demanding pieces of land either as groups or individually,” she said.
“Even with access rights only, women have always produced enough to feed their families and get surplus. In these times of economic hardships, most husbands migrated to other parts of the world, leaving the women with the responsibility of looking after the family. The women are managing to do that without any help or ownership of land, a demonstration that they have the ability to improve food security if they are empowered through security of tenure.”
Meanwhile, the 2013 adoption of the Constitution is viewed as a watershed moment for women in terms of giving and affording them equal opportunities and responsibilities between men and women.