Source: The Herald
The furious noise around the enactment of the Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Act seems to have quietened down and many institutions are going about the business of complying with the law or, at least, making the right noises and gestures.

What has not been made such a fuss about is: What is in this whole situation for women?

While - in the main - the men have been haggling over wording and time frames, women have quietly been going about their business and staking a claim for greater say in all empowerment programmes without running to banks for loans or seeking political crutches on which to stand their economic empowerment hopes.

From retail to sport, women have shaken the dust off their zambia cloths, shed their doeks and moved very close to the centre stage, and it will be interesting to see how they respond once the new law is fully implemented.

They have established themselves as heads of household, corporate leaders and political players - with noted success.

After all, women do make up more than half the population, so strictly speaking they should be getting a greater chunk of the shares, equities and whatever else formats the empowerment cake is going to be denominated in.

Within the Act, in the Indigenisation charter, there is a clause that says:

l This Charter shall be premised on the following fundamental principles:

(c)Equal opportunities for all, including gender sensitive ownership and participation in the economy by indigenous Zimbabweans . . .

Another section says;

(1)There shall be a Board to be known as the National Indigenisation and Economic Empowerment Board, consisting of the chief executive officer ex-officio and not less than eleven and not more than fifteen members appointed by the Minister after consultations with the President, of whom at least -

(a) One member shall be the Secretary of the Ministry for which the Minister is responsible; and

l The text of the Act, therefore, is gender-inclusive, and the basic guidelines have been fulfilled.

The implementation may be less so, if the sights and sounds are anything to go by.

There is no shortage of women in business in Zimbabwe.

The women business lobby group Proweb, headed by Florence Ziumbe has long indicated its desire to be a part of the greater economy of the country.

Proweb is a charitable trust launched in 2005 whose principal objective is "to harness the experience and skills of women professionals, women executives and business women for increased empowerment of women and the advancement of the national development agenda" - says there is no stopping the rise of women in business.

The organisation represents women from such diverse industries as construction, agriculture, fashion, law, media, information technology, retail, finance, transport and NGOs.

"Our Government has been and is hugely supportive of gender and women issues, having signed the Sadc protocol on Gender Equality.

"Never before has the Government rallied behind us (in this way), vigorously creating space for us to stand up and be counted among the economic giants of the country. So, ladies, it is no longer about us, it is up to us," says Mrs Ziumbe.

In other ways, just as meaningful, women have been handling home finances, community finances and in generating incomes and sustainable livelihoods.

According to the Food and Agricultural Organisation: Women, agriculture and rural development published in 1995, "Approximately 80 percent of women live in the communal areas where they constitute 61 percent of the farmers and provide 70 percent of the labour.

"Thus, the work of women farmers is essential for food security. Most women are unpaid family workers. Rural women work 16 to 18 hours a day, spending at least 49 percent of their time on agricultural activities and about 25 percent on domestic activities."

The report goes on to say: "While both men and women participate in most agricultural tasks, men predominate in land preparation, ploughing and pest control, while women are primarily engaged in watering, planting, fertilising, weeding, harvesting, and marketing.

"Women carry out the majority of firewood gathering and almost all the water fetching, food processing and preparation, cooking and domestic work"

In urban areas, a random survey of informal work will show that women dominate the street vegetable markets, which form the majority of business ventures in high density areas.

They also form the majority of passengers on transport across borders to South Africa, Botswana, Mozambique and Tanzania, which are the major sources of materials for resale.

Empowerment programmes for women have generally centred on small projects which have created employment and livelihoods.

Glanis Changachirere, director of the Institute for Young Women Development - which last year opened a training centre for young women in Bindura - believes empowerment should be all-encompassing.

"We are talking about women's rights and access to services and economic activity is one of those areas that women need access to. We promote women who have little or no access to education to get elementary business skills and once they have these, they should be able to pursue their dreams further, given an environment that allows them to grow.

Wendy Chiriri, a gender activist and councillor in Chitungwiza, says basic self empowerment activities like community gardens form a platform upon which economic activity can then be built.

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"It is difficult to talk about shares in corporates when mothers have no food on the table tonight. We need to increase urban food security as this is a major factor in women having to live in abusive environments as they are not sure where the next meal for themselves and their children will come from if they leave such environments," she said.

"It is a sad reality, but even as we address such issues, there is no stopping women seeking greater economic leverage. After all, they already are the majority," she said.

The script is set, all the ingredients are in place.

Increasingly, in business women are refusing to be recognised as fragile, supporting acts, and moving further and faster to centre stage.

This empowerment programme will test the seriousness of both women and government in their respective bids for women's empowerment.


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