Source: The Herald
The importance of gender equality and empowerment of women was not given full recognition before independence, but through sustained lobbying from empowerment advocates, women are now active participants in the mainstream economy.

Despite women being critical to economies of developing countries, they did not proportionally benefit from business opportunities as pre-independence policies inhibited them from starting their own enterprises. Even in early years of independence, some barriers, including stringent borrowing conditions, remained in place.

"As women, we were not allowed to open bank accounts without signatures of our fathers or husbands," businesswoman Dr Jane Mutasa said in an interview this week. Dr Mutasa is also the chairperson of the Indigenous Business Women's Organisation.

"So it was difficult to obtain credit to venture into business. Even to borrow money to finance the purchase of a house was not easy. Women were viewed as third class citizens. There was no equality and gender issues were not considered seriously."

Dr Mutasa, with business interests in telecommunications, agriculture and textiles said while conditions improved after independence, the local businesses environment remained a challenge because big foreign owned companies formed cartels to make it difficult for indigenous companies to penetrate markets. For instance, they were classified as Class B buyers when it comes to raw materials such as fabric.

It was a deliberate move to make their final products uncompetitive because they would be expensive. "We could not compete because of the price differences," said Dr Mutasa.

Dr Mutasa also recalls how women were marginalised when it comes to training programmes.

"This was not only the women's problem but black people. However even when little opportunities cropped up, the first preference was given to men," said Dr Mutasa. But the Government's education for all policy helped to empower the girl child.

Dr Mutasa said the Government should be applauded for addressing gender related discriminations by recognising the need for empowering women through creation of enabling environment to include them in the mainstream economic activities.

"We started forming groups, and this time it was not only women but also men. This was after the realisation that speaking as individuals would not make any difference.

"We worked with people like Mrs Florence Mashaire, Mr John Mapondera, Mr Chemist Siziba, the likes of Mr Ben Mucheche, Mr Rogder Boka and Mr Enoch Kamushinda.

"That is when organisations such as IBWO came into existence and the reason for forming IBWO was to ensure issues pertaining women were heard.

"This helped to eradicate policies that were hindering blacks to venture into business. This really worked because Government listened and appreciated our concerns. What was most important was to level the playing field so that we could compete on level playing field.

"On the women's side, Government responded by creating the Women's Affairs Ministry and our concerns were now deliberated at higher levels such as Cabinet meetings.

"This opened floodgates of opportunities for women. If you remember in the mid 90's we had women selling goods beyond the borders.

"The borrowing conditions were relaxed. The discriminations were completely eliminated and as a woman, we are so grateful.

"Women now own land and properties in their names and most of them are now self dependent. We have women running successful businesses some now competing with big companies. We also have women running big companies."

Dr Mutasa said while the momentum was encouraging when the new policies came into effect, this slowed at the turn of millennium due to illegal sanctions.

Going forward, Dr Mutasa said it was time for the Government to start developing models that would encourage the creation of new export oriented companies.

She said by adequately supporting women, this would help them to become self-sufficient and could help in addressing the few inequality issues that still remain in society.

"The reality is big companies are no longer creating jobs and the future of the country is on small businesses. Government should now put in place policies to establish the establishment of new companies by indigenous Zimbabwe, which are export oriented and this will go a long way in achieving of economic sovereignty.


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