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Tokenism women empowerment

Local News
While females remain the largest demographic in Zimbabwe, their treatment by the State has remained or in some situations worsened more than a decade ago.

NEXT Friday is International Women’s Day. It is a day to reflect on women rights, empowerment and even security.

Events during the preceding 12 months show that the Harare regime has perfected the art of political correctness, but substantially things are getting worse.

While females remain the largest demographic in Zimbabwe, their treatment by the State has remained or in some situations worsened more than a decade ago.

It is deliberate that I choose 2014 as the base year to monitor women development.

This is simply because 2014 marked the first year since the adoption of the new Zimbabwe constitution that had been gazetted in May 2013.

The new Constitution has an expansive bill of rights. It provides for basic rights as well as second generation rights such as socio-economic and environmental rights.

On paper, the Constitution is fine and dandy, but it still needs the political will of those in power to make it come to life.

This part goes beyond political rhetoric and needs action, which unfortunately is lacking in large doses among the political leaders across the political divide.

There are three distinct sections of the Constitution that call for gender equality in public offices, that is cabinet, councils, Parliament and commissions.

However, 11 years after the adoption of the new Constitution nothing has changed much.

Even after Constitutional Amendment No 2 that created a youth quota for Parliament, youth quota for women in local authorities, women political representation has regressed.

The number of elected women representatives in parliament dropped after the 2023 general elections.

This was not by perchance but deliberate decisions by men sitting at the top tables.

Yes, State media coverage of women has quantitatively increased, thanks to the 24-hour coverage and permanent slot for the First Lady in State media.

It remains a mystery that soon after the introduction of women’s quota in local authorities, the plight of women has increased.

Zimbabwe faces the triple gender challenge of shortages of potable water, sufficient and consistent supply of energy and underfunded public health system. 

Women bear the brunt of fetching for firewood or looking for alternative energy sources when there is no electricity.

They also have to travel long distances looking for water in the absence of consistent water supplies, particularly in urban centres.

It is not a secret that women are carrying the brunt of two emerging public epidemics of cholera and polio.

These disasters are clear examples of men as represented by President Emmerson Mnangagwa and others in influential positions as mayors or town clerks who are failing to put resources to areas that matter.

The distribution of four-wheel drive vehicles to chiefs on Thursday is one stark example of such profligacy in the face of potable water shortages.

It is an open secret that most urban local authorities are struggling to do proper solid waste management — refuse collection, sorting it out and recycling what can be recycled. Dirty environments are a heaven for diseases.

It is important at this juncture to further state that councils have broken down effluent systems.

A lot of sewerage is flowing where it should not be and large quantities are being pumped into river systems untreated and this is manifesting as e-coli or cholera in many water sources.

It cannot be over-emphasised that women are carrying the burden of these pandemics. Women, generally, are the caregivers in patriarchal societies like Zimbabwe.

They have to stretch themselves to take the ill children or husband to hospital or for home treatment, search for clean water and find energy to heat water or for cooking and a host of other domestic chores.

Last month, government embarked on the demolitions of homes in communal areas, State or council land that were illegally built.

Hundreds of families were left homeless as they saw their lifetime savings reduced to rubble.

It goes without saying that women and children suffered the most during the evictions.

A video of a woman in Chipinge throwing herself under a vehicle wishing death rather than losing her allocated piece of land to the well-connected went viral.

It is not clear, but the general view is that men benefitted more than women in the land reform exercise post 2000.

Mnangagwa appointed the Tendai Uchena commission to do a land audit on who benefitted what. The report is till embargoed, amid leaks that some senior people have multiple farms.

It is not very complicated to redress the issues of women empowerment. At an electoral level, if leaders are serious about 50/50 representation, then adopting a 100% proportional representation in our electoral system based on the zebra-crossing as in election of senators will in one stroke change the issue.

Coming to the other structured gender issues such as water, energy, public health and public education, these need funding from the fiscus and local authorities.

It needs competent and efficient bureaucracy to implement these policies, not those hired through nepotism and political allegiance as has become pervasive on the job market in Zimbabwe.

Functional public health centres, public creches, sufficient and consistent water and energy supplies will free women’s time for studying or working or personal development.

The local and national leaders should be clear on projects that increase gender equality and women empowerment.

As it stands, Zimbabwe and the Mnangagwa regime have said all the right political rhetoric on women empowerment and made the tokenism appointments.

What is needed, however, is the funding of such the aforementioned things that help empower women, that help free more time for women and ultimately create a near equal community.

As we move to commemorate the International Women’s Day, the call is clear — let us stop and take stock of what we have achieved in the last decade and why? What can be practically done now to change the lives of women besides the political rhetoric?

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