2024 proposed budget: How it impacts women empowerment

The budget’s impact on healthcare, passport fees and the introduced wealth tax raises questions about its efficacy and equitable distribution, especially for marginalised groups like women and vulnerable populations.

ZIMBABWE’S Finance minister, Mthuli Ncube, unveiled the 2024 national budget themed “Consolidating Economic Transformation” before Parliament on November 30, 2023. The presentation coincided with the rising momentum for gender responsive budgeting (GRB) and came about after Hivos held training sessions for directors of gender, wellness, inclusivity and finance from various government ministries.

In the spirit of GRB — which aims to shape spending and taxation to promote gender equality — citizens hoped that this budget would ease taxation and demonstrate economic growth. However, the budget has caused dismay, with some dubbing it “anti-people” due to the newly-introduced taxes.

Small positives

It is important to appreciate that the budget has a focus on social spending, infrastructural development and economic growth. Some of the specific positive aspects of the budget include increased funding for social services as evidenced by the significant resources allocated to health, education and social welfare programme.

However, the budget leaves a lot to be desired regarding promoting gender equality. The implications, as such and particularly to diverse groups of ordinary Zimbabweans, notably women, result in a damp squib for the promotion of women empowerment activities.

Healthcare allocation below recommendations

The 2024 budget allocated ZW$6,3 trillion (approximately US $1,09 billion — which is an approximation and may vary depending on the exchange rate at the time) to the Health and Child Care ministry, marking an approximate 16,6% increase from the 2023 budget allocation of ZWL$5,4 trillion.

This is appreciated, as it signals a commitment to enhancing healthcare services, responding to public outcry and women’s movements advocating for health prioritisation in budgeting. The focus on maternal and child health, along with addressing HIV/Aids, malaria and tuberculosis, also aims to improve health outcomes.

However, this proposed allocation remains well below the World Health Organisation (WHO) recommended 5% of the gross domestic product (GDP) and this raises concerns about adequacy. Also, issues of equitable resource distribution for health, especially for rural areas and vulnerable women, remains unresolved.

Passport fee hike affecting trading

Ordinary and emergency passport fees are set to increase from US$120 to US$150, and emergency passport fees will increase from US$200 to US$250. This hike negatively impacts women’s economic empowerment, particularly those engaged in cross-border trading — a significant income source for many Zimbabwean women.

High unemployment and limited formal job opportunities have driven women towards cross-border trade. It is estimated that over 70% of cross-border traders in the southern African region are women, with Zimbabwe ranking high among countries with significant female participation. The steep rise in passport fees may deter aspiring female traders due to unaffordability.

No consideration for vulnerable groups

Among the newly-introduced taxes, the proposed “wealth tax” starting in January 2024 has sparked serious concern. This tax imposes a 1% levy on residential property values above US$250 000, exempting individuals over 70 years old. Questions linger regarding administration and exemptions for orphans, widows, and vulnerable populations unable to afford this tax despite the exemption for older individuals.

The budget’s impact on healthcare, passport fees and the introduced wealth tax raises questions about its efficacy and equitable distribution, especially for marginalised groups like women and vulnerable populations.

Cutting out women from key economic activities

The 2024 Zimbabwe budget announced an increase in toll fees on certain roads, including the Harare-Beitbridge, Plumtree-Mutare and other designated routes. The new fees, which take effect on January 1, 2024, are intended to generate revenue for road maintenance and rehabilitation projects and this is vital as it leads to improved road safety, reduced travel time and lower vehicle maintenance costs.

However, this can lead to elevated prices for goods and services, ultimately impacting consumers, particularly women with low incomes. The decrease in disposable income affects women’s ability to afford necessities and engage in economic activities.

The inclusion of the US$300 COVID-19 and cushioning allowances into pensionable emoluments also raises concerns, particularly regarding the proposal to tax these already meagre allowances, for civil servants.

Given that most civil servants are women, this taxation policy disproportionately affects them. With the soaring cost of living, taxing these allowances further diminishes the already insufficient income of civil servants, thereby undermining their social welfare and economic well-being.

Diligent implementation can improve women’s participation

The anticipated economic growth of 5,2% is contingent upon several crucial factors. These include effective governance, curbing illicit financial activities, substantial investments in public services, measures to mitigate climate change, adoption of sustainable agricultural practices and maintaining fiscal prudence.

Additionally, the decision to solely peg the 2024 budget in Zimdollars poses potential economic and practical challenges, particularly the risk of inflation.

Zimbabwe has a history of high inflation eroding the purchasing power of the Zimdollar, making precise budget planning and execution complex.

Through our work with the Women empowerment group on projects in southern Africa, we maintain hope that the diligent implementation of the budget will pave the way for women and girls to fully participate in society and contribute meaningfully to economic growth, by improving their access to education, employment and financial resources.


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