Although Zimbabwe has signed various regional and international conventions on gender and many policies to reduce gender inequality have been enacted, the implementation of those commitments remains sluggish.
If the government is serious about gender commitments under the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women and the SADC Gender Protocol, among others, then a resolution to set annual targets to create a society that offers equal opportunities for all would be a good step forward. Recent studies on the current gender scenario are rather gloomy.
A 2007 gender scoping study revealed that gender inequality is embedded in the patriarchal, social, religious and cultural sphere of Zimbabwean life. Women are expected to be subordinate to men. When they marry they lose their identity and assume that of their husbands. They are culturally constrained to take leadership positions in politics, in the community or in churches. Culturally when a father dies, his property is bequeathed to the eldest son and not to his daughters or wife.
The study also cites human rights and gender-based violence as one of the critical barriers to the achievement of women’s rights and gender equality. One in every three women are in some form of abusive but intimate relationship. One in every four women have suffered some form of domestic violence.
The Zimbabwe Young Adults Survey of 2002 revealed that one in five women between the ages of 15 and 19 in rural and urban settings reported having been forced to have sexual intercourse by a man. A 2003 study on domestic violence revealed that domestic violence accounts for over 60% of murder cases at the Harare magistrate’s courts.
The study also highlights that women have become increasingly marginalized from mainstream economic activities, despite the fact that they constitute 52 percent of the population following the economic crisis experienced in the past decade.
The implementation of gender equality laws and policies has been hampered by inadequate funding and half-hearted commitment by those in power.
The Bill of Right’s silence on gender discrimination in the private sector, inconsistency in the legal age of majority between males and females and the dichotomy between statutory family and inheritance laws on one hand and customary laws on the other all pose a threat to women’s rights and empowerment.
Women in Zimbabwe have had limited control over their sexual and reproductive rights owing to cultural, religious, economic and patriarchal constraints. As a result, women are more exposed to HIV infection than men.
A 2004 survey on young adults revealed that women between the ages of 14 to 24 are three to six times more likely to be infected with HIV than their male counterparts.
Both religion and culture emphasize the dominance of men over women and socialize women into their subordinate roles.
51% of female respondents in the 1999 Zimbabwe Demographic and Health Survey felt that it was acceptable for a husband to beat up his wife if she burns food, argues with her husband, goes out without telling him, neglects children or refuses him sexual relations.
Women with disabilities are subjected to sexual, physical and verbal abuse and the majority suffers in silence because they are unable to report the abuse. A study by the Association of People with Disability has shown that there are more men living with disability who are employed than women - despite there being more women with disabilities than men. These are some of the challenges which gave rise to the Zimbabwe National Gender policy. Its specific goals are to:
i) eliminate all negative practices that impede equality and equity of sexes
ii) mainstream gender in all aspects of development and
iii) ensure empowerment of women and men in Zimbabwe.
But how far has the policy been implemented given that many obstacles women have to overcome remain largely in place?
A social activist once suggested that if gender equality is to be achieved then Zimbabweans must stop paying lobola, stop going to church, throw away traditional leaders and dislodge those who are privileged.
But are these options viable when gender discrimination begins as soon as a girl child is born and before any lobola can be talked about? There are churches that have women in leadership positions and men are giving them due reverence in those churches. Would throwing away traditional leaders be of any effect if the education and socialization systems remain in place? These are some of the questions that should characterize national reflections when rethinking gender in Zimbabwe as the year 2012 begins.
Acquiring education, securing employment or exploiting entrepreneurial ventures are some of the ways in which women can transcend gender limitations. How about amending the National indigenization Act to stipulate that 50 percent of shares and decision making positions of all Zimbabwean based companies should be owned by women with a penalty tax for non-compliance?
It will not harm for Zimbabwe to take a leaf out of South Africa’s book where the month of August is dedicated to celebrating the economic political and social achievements of women. Why not set aside time to review our progress on gender equality and equity ?
By the way those who are struggling to run Air Zimbabwe should know that the CEO of SA Airways is Siza Mzimela, and Cheryl Carolus is SAA Chairperson - both them women! Notwithstanding other existing gender gaps, South Africa celebrates women in business, in cuisine, in ecotourism, in music, empowering others, and on playing fields.