Few women controlling trade, economies

Virginia Muwanigwa Gender Protocol 
This is the fifth in a series of articles analysing regional progress on gender equality and women’s empowerment. The Sadc Gender Protocol sought to ensure equal participation among women and men in productive resources and employment by 2015. To this end, Sadc member states committed to ensure equal participation, of women and men, in policy formulation and implementation of economic policies. They also pledged to ensure gender sensitive and responsive budgeting at the micro and macro levels, including tracking, monitoring and evaluation.

One year before 2014, women’s representation in decision-making within the economic sphere across the Sadc region rose to 26 percent, up from 18 percent in 2009, according to the Sadc Gender Protocol 2014 Barometer.

The Barometer is produced as part of the Sadc Gender Protocol Alliance, a regional initiative that mobilised key actors in the 15 Sadc states, initially to lobby for the adoption of the Protocol but afterwards, to press for implementation by 2015.

The regional barometer notes that there are still only two female finance ministers in the region, there are only three women trade and industry miners and only three female central bank governors. And these are in Botswana, Lesotho and South Africa.

Despite consensus that women are the majority players in agriculture and the informal economy, the barometer notes that regional and national performance still do not account for their contribution. Although the numbers of women earning their keep in mining is steadily rising, this is yet to be recognised if national statistics and narratives are an indicator. Only three countries, Namibia, South Africa and Zimbabwe have integrated gender equality and women’s empowerment in their economic policies, according to the barometer.

One of the reasons cited for women’s unequal participation in economic activities is their multiple roles in unpaid reproductive work at household and community level. This work, which mainly comprises of the care and sanitary work that is ascribed to women in society, competes with the women’s ability and capacity to effectively participate in the mainstream productive economy.

The informal economy has largely been a domain for women but recent indications are that increasing numbers of the region’s men are entering this enclave. This is largely to the collapse of formal employment sector and the ensuing loss of jobs, leading them to the mainly subsistence but not adequately recognised self-employment.

Although the informal economy has cushioned the majority employable adults in Sadc, it is noted that laws to make the sector thrive are still largely ‘superficial’ and infrastructure and resources do not make the industry competitive in trade.

Only six out of the 15 Sadc countries have aligned their gender action plans to the Sadc Gender Protocol. These are Democratic Republic of Congo, Lesotho, Namibia, Seychelles, Swaziland and Zambia. While Zimbabwe has begun the process of costing action plans, this is yet to take form. A challenge in the region has also been seen to be the adoption of progressive policies, which are however, not fully implemented.

On economic empowerment signatories said they would adopt policies and enact laws which ensure equal access, benefit and opportunities for women and men in trade and entrepreneurship, taking into account the contribution of women in the formal and informal sectors. This would be complemented by review of the member states’ national trade and entrepreneurship policies, to make them gender responsive.

By 2015, and with regard to the affirmative action provisions in the section on constitutional and legal affairs, countries would introduce measures to ensure that women benefit equally from economic opportunities, including those created through public procurement processes.

The Barometer notes that trade policies in southern Africa still do not take into account gender dynamics while only a few procurement policies recognize that women should also be considered. Trade missions across the region are largely male-dominated.

Access to property and resources is one measure of integration into the economy and States Parties recognised this when they pledged to, by 2015, review all policies and laws that determine access to, control of, and benefit from, productive resources by women in order to: end all discrimination against women and girls with regard to water; rights and property such as land and tenure thereof; ensure that women have equal access and rights to credit, capital, mortgages, security and training as men; and ensure that women and men have access to modern, appropriate and affordable technology and support services.

While some of the Sadc countries should be commended for having constitutionally recognised women’s right to equal participation in the economy, this largely remains on paper. These countries include Zimbabwe which in principle, guarantees access to social, economic and political opportunities for women and men.

The Constitution also adopts affirmative action to redress past imbalances, confers equal property rights upon women including rights to land.

The constitutions may protect women’s economic rights, but male domination is still the norm with the private sphere where violence or its threat results in women not demanding their rights to property and resources within marriage and upon dissolution.

The Barometer reports that land ownership by women for example, averages 11 percent in Seychelles and 25 percent for DRC and Tanzania. The same publication notes that while women benefited from the land reform programme in South Africa and Zimbabwe, this is minimal.

Article 19 on equal access to employment and benefits, committed Sadc governments to, by 2015, review, amend and enact laws and policies that ensure women and men have equal access to wage employment in all sectors of the economy. In a region where employment is no longer guaranteed let alone, the payment of wages due to poor economies, it remains to be seen to what extent this provision has been met, in an industry which is shrinking and competition is stiffer as the jobs are fewer.

The seriousness of de-industrialisation can be seen in that the 34th Sadc Summit held in Victoria Falls, Zimbabwe in August 2014 deferred the approval of the revised Regional Indicative Strategic Development Plan (RISDP) as it felt that the implementation of the pillar on industrial development and market integration was skewed in favour of trade issues, with little progress made on the industrialisation component.

All Sadc countries guarantee maternity leave but only 40 percent recognise paternity leave. This is despite committing to provide protection and benefits for women and men during maternity and paternity leave.

Maternity protection and rights were also advanced by the Protocol in that countries would enact and enforce legislative measures prohibiting the dismissal or denial of recruitment on the grounds of pregnancy or maternity leave. This sought to mitigate against the patriarchal set up where women are treated as peripheral rather than centre stage to the economic dispensation.

While progress has been made in integrating gender in the economy within member states, much more still needs to be done to ensure that there is equality of access and opportunity for women and men.

Virginia Muwanigwa is a gender activist and Chairperson of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) which is the focal point to the Sadc Gender Protocol Alliance. She is also the Director of the Humanitarian Information Facilitation Centre (HIFC). Contact, [email protected]

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