Loverage Nhamoyebonde Features Correspondent
Africa has been enmeshed in gender inequalities that have seriously eroded the status of women in all spheres of life, but as these are removed there are economic obstacles to be overcome for rural women in particular and now it is being found that disabled rural women have a whole series of almost hard to scale barriers.
Historically, gender disparity across Africa has been fuelled by lack of effective policies and this renders women second-class citizens as they were not able to participate in decision-making neither do they have access to economic activities.
The situation prompted African women to take the long and winding road to “women emancipation.”
As the road twists and bends, their problems multiplied but they endured until their voices were heard.
As the fight for equality rages on, another unexpected challenge surfaced in the form of imbalances between rural and urban women.
The realisation that rural women are being left behind pushed African women to come up with Rural Women Assembly (RWA) initiative in 2009 in the Limpopo province of South Africa to meet head-on the challenges facing rural women in the region.
Regional Chairperson of the Rural Women Assembly Oversight Committee, Marcia Andrews, while speaking during the launch of the programme at Nyava Growth Point in Bindura on the 30th of October this year said RWA is an initiative for the Sadc region.
“Rural Women Assembly is a common platform for rural women in the region because they face similar problems. It is our studied aim to bring rural women together and fight several challenges like poverty, violence against women and HIV/Aids,” she said.
Since its creation in 2009 in South Africa, RWA has spread to 7 countries in Africa: Zimbabwe, Lesotho, Zambia, Mozambique, Swaziland, Malawi and Botswana.
“Rural women have a heavy burden and they have very limited access to land and therefore livelihoods. It is under this milieu that we created a platform where women can be capacitated in agriculture and empowered to be successful in the face of many challenges caused by climate change,” said Andrews.
Andrews said rural women are the producers and urban women are the consumers. They constitute the largest percentage of farm labourers and they are indisputably the pillars of food security in the African continent.
African women’s contribution to food production (70-80 percent of food) is still not fully appreciated and supported, hence making their effort irrelevant.
As such, RWA as a concept was later adopted from South Africa and implemented in Zimbabwe so as to open a way for the rural women to join women emancipation drive.
Minister of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Cde Oppah Muchinguri, while officially launching Rural Women Assembly on October 30 this year at Nyava growth point in Bindura district urged rural women to take advantage of the land reform programme to uplift their lives.
“Let us take the opportunities presented to us through the land reform programme and stop being just peasants but aim to produce surpluses and ensure food security in Africa.
“We know that rural women are working tirelessly to produce food for their families but their efforts must be fully supported for them to produce food for their communities, and their countries,” said Minister Muchinguri.
“In Zimbabwe we support agriculture and this has been evidenced by the successful land redistribution exercise that benefited several women who are doing exceptionally well.
“I encourage women farmers to create local markets for their produce and fully harness local solutions to boost agricultural production. You must prioritise local inputs as they are cheap and easily available,” said Minister Muchinguri.
According to Rural Women’s Assembly and the People’s Dialogue, access to land, water and seeds is essential to the poor across the world not only to grow food and keep livestock for survival, but also to generate surplus food to exchange, trade and earn some income from sales.
The document singled out loss of access to resources as a threat to the livelihoods of all poor people in rural areas and its specific impact on women.
As the emancipation of rural women to participate at the same level with their urban counterparts was gaining momentum, women with disabilities felt that they were being left out.
A resident of Bindura who uses crutches spoke on condition of anonymity and cited irregularities on programmes meant to promote rural women as they do not cater for the special needs of women with disabilities.
“The disabled are being left behind as there are no policies and programmes that address the special needs of the physically challenged.
“Several people with disabilities in rural areas do not have access to social gatherings as their relatives do not permit them to do so due to stigma and discrimination that is still rampant.
“The physically challenged are being kept indoors and viewed as incompetent and unable to do anything.
“The situation is worsened by the fact that people associate disability with witchcraft,” said a physically challenged woman who also spoke on condition of anonymity.
Her sentiments were confirmed by the poor turnout of rural women with disabilities during the launch of Rural Women Assembly.
She added that lack of suitable infrastructure and stigma in rural areas are the major challenges facing women with disabilities as freedom of movement is a dream that will never come to pass.
Several government departments and non-governmental organisations vowed to continue fighting for the emancipation of rural women but women living with disabilities feel that they are being unfairly treated.
Women and Land in Zimbabwe National Co-ordinator who is also a member of the Rural Women Assembly steering committee in Zimbabwe, Mrs Thandiwe Chidavarume said it is her organisation’s obligation to empower all women regardless of their condition or status.
“Our main objective is to empower women in Zimbabwe including those with disabilities. We are denouncing discrimination at all levels and promote the full participation of women with disabilities in the agricultural sector through mechanisation to meet their special needs,” said Mrs Chidavarume.
Mrs Chidavarume said 20 percent of women in Zimbabwe have benefited from the land reform programme.
She however, said only a fraction of women with disabilities have access to land and other means of production.
Women and Land in Zimbabwe is working with women in Zimbabwe to equip them with land use training, marketing, networking, lobbying and advocacy and furnish them with necessary skills to fight the effects of climate change.
Action Aid Head of Programmes and Policy, Mr Philemon Jazi urged women to form community groups that are inclusive of all women.
“Women must not discriminate against each other and form co-operatives that accommodate the physically challenged, widows, divorcees and the elderly.
“They must harness different individual talents and lobby for funding so as to realise their full potential,” said Mr Jazi.
Action Aid is a non-governmental organisation currently working in several rural areas across Zimbabwe to promote community development through funding projects.
The failure of rural women with disabilities to participate in developmental activities came barely a few months after heads of state and government attended UN General Assembly Sixty-eighth session in New York on 23 September this year and resolved to work together for disability-inclusive development and the commitment of the international community to the advancement of the rights of all persons with disabilities.
They reaffirm the need for the realisation of the Millennium Development Goals and other internationally agreed development goals for persons with disabilities towards 2015 and beyond, and recognise persons with disabilities as agents and beneficiaries of development, acknowledging the value of their contribution to the general well-being, progress and diversity of society.
Going forward, there is need to apply the spoken word and the contents of the document to real life situations.