|Women’s Day: Take up the gauntlet|
|Monday, 07 March 2011 22:01|
WOMEN are the architects of society, Harriet Beecher Stowe once said, as she celebrated the important role of women in our livelihoods.
While Stowe strongly believed that women were born structural engineers the world over, nothing should stop them from achieving their goals.
But sadly technology and many other disciplines have for ages been male-dominated , with relatively few women chief executives or entrepreneurs willing to explore the avenue.
While more and more women have received basic secondary, college and university education in Zimbabwe, most have been going for the softer "feminine" areas.
Even in the media, political and to some extent business reporting have been tagged "a male beat", leaving women to explore other areas like health, etc.
In certain sectors of the economy, the numbers of women have continued to grow and we have seen female pilots like Captain Emilia Njovana and Captain Chipo Matimba among others turning the tables and sitting in the cockpits of huge airplanes, while men attend to passengers.
We have seen bold women like Vice President Mai Joice T R Mujuru, Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe taking up leadership positions in the male-dominated field of politics.
The number of female parliamentarians has increased significantly in the past decade though not to the level women want. There are 29 female parliamentarians in Zimbabwe.
At the height of political tension between the three major political parties in Zimbabwe, women like Honourable Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga confidently sat on the negotiating table to craft the Global Political Agreement, which saw the formation of the Government of National Unity, and her voice was heard.
These are just some of the many plausible achievements by women in Zimbabwe. While the percentages of women in other areas continue to grow, the pace in some fields has been slow despite women constituting more than half the country's population.
Today is International Women's Day, a global day celebrating the economic, political and social achievements of women past, present and future.
In some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, International Women's Day is a national holiday.
The global theme for this year is, "Equal access to education, training and science and technology: Pathway to decent work for women".
Many women are of the view that not only the theme should be the focus of the celebrations, but many other issues that affect women on a daily basis. Issues that make them lose sleep every night pondering what the next day brings.
The issues include high maternity fees and facilities and services in both Government and private hospitals, maternity leave, fistula, domestic violence, sexual harassment, the right to all levels of education, forced marriages, access to clean drinking water and sanitation, economic empowerment and equal employment opportunities amongst many others.
In a statement, United Nations Population Fund Executive Director, Dr Babatunde Osotimehin said as the world approaches a population of seven billion, it's high time to unleash the full potential of half the world's population.
He says International Women's Day is the platform to declare women's faith in fundamental human rights, in the dignity and worth of the human person, and in the equal rights of men and women.
"When girls enjoy equal access to education, and women, men and young people can claim their right to sexual and reproductive health, we come closer to equality.
"When women and couples can plan their families, and balance work and family life as they desire, we expand equal opportunity.
"When a pregnant woman no longer fears losing her job, and maternity no longer continues to be a source of discrimination in employment, we advance equal rights between men and women," said Dr Osotimehin.
He believes that when girls are educated and healthy, and can avoid early marriage, unwanted pregnancy and HIV, they can contribute fully to society.
"UNFPA will continue to move forward guided by the belief that progress for women is progress for all.
"Today and every day, my colleagues and I in UNFPA will continue to champion reproductive health and reproductive rights.
"We renew our commitment to work with governments and civil society to achieve universal access to education and reproductive health by 2015.
"We join partners worldwide, including the newly established UN Women, to advance gender equality and dignity for all," he said.
Dr Osotimehin said he welcomes the move by the 64th General Assembly to merge the four gender entities of the United Nations into UN Women - the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women.
"I am grateful to member-states for having taken this major step forward for the world's women and girls.
"I thank Ambassador Tiina Intelmann of Estonia and Ambassador Ghazi Jomaa of Tunisia for their determination and skill in guiding the negotiations to this positive outcome.
"Today's action does more than consolidate United Nations offices; it consolidates United Nations strengths. UN Women will significantly boost UN efforts to promote gender equality, expand opportunity, and tackle discrimination around the globe.
"It is also an important step in our wider effort to strengthen UN system-wide coherence to meet the challenges of the 21st century," he added.
He disclosed that UN Women is recognition of a simple truth: equality for women and girls is not only a basic human right; it is a social and economic imperative.
"Where women are educated and empowered, economies are more productive and strong. Where women are fully represented, societies are more peaceful and stable.
"That is why I have made gender equality and the empowerment of women one of my top priorities - from working to end the scourge of violence against women, to appointing more women to senior positions, efforts to reduce maternal mortality rates," he emphasised.
He disclosed that the challenge is to make UN Women fully operational and pledged to continue outreach programmes with member states and civil society in seeking a dynamic Under-Secretary-General to lead UN Women.
"I commend the leadership and staff of DAW, INSTRAW, OSAGI and UNIFEM for their commitment to the cause of gender equality. I will count on their support as we enter a new era in the UN's work for women," he added.
Friends of Africa International (FAI) celebrates that all over the world, women are occupying key positions that have traditionally been excluded to them on the basis of gendered biases.
But they are quick to point out that despite many progresses the presence of women in such key positions is still unsatisfactory, as it remains an exception.
In fact, according to the IPU, women occupy only 19,2 percent of seats in national parliaments worldwide. from 150 elected Heads of State in the world, only seven are women.
In many cases, social structures - especially those referred to as cultural traditions - continue functioning as impediments for gender equality, as illustrated by the difficulties of girls and women in having full access to education, or to equally participate in the job market, says FAI.
"FAI focusing on the main topic of the 55th session of the CSW - access and participation of women and girls to education, training, science and technology, including for the promotion of women's equal access to full employment and decent work - wishes to address two key issues: firstly, the importance of gender awareness in school curricula; and secondly, the importance of recognising women as key drivers of social and economical development," says the organisation.
Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF), Humanitarian Affairs, Advocacy and Communications Advisor, Amaia Esparza says approximately two million women worldwide suffer from an obstetric fistula, one of the most serious consequences of obstructed labour.
Women with fistulas are often outcasts from their communities because of the smell associated with the leaking of urine or of faeces, and in some cases they are abandoned by their husbands.
"Surgery can help them to start a whole new life: just like a butterfly, many women who lived secluded lives begin a fresh start after their operation.
"But chances for women to have their fistula repaired are slim, as many hospitals or health clinics do not have the proper instruments or knowledge and skills to carry out the specialised procedure," she says.
She adds that among women who survive this ordeal, many emerge infirm.
Obstetric fistula is one of the most serious consequences of obstructed labour and occurs when the soft tissues of the pelvis are compressed by the baby's head.
The lack of blood flow causes the tissues to die, creating a hole between the private parts and bladder, the private parts and rectum, or both.
It results in urinary and/or faecal incontinence.
Women with fistula live in shame and are often rejected by their own families and communities.
An estimated two million women live with fistula worldwide, most of them in Africa.
This problem is largely hidden because it often affects young women who live in poor and remote areas, with very limited and/or no access to maternal health care.
She said on March 8 and 9, MSF will organise a workshop in Geneva to improve the management of fistulas. The meeting coincides with International Women's Day and will bring together actors involved in fistula treatment: surgeons, experts working for MSF and for other organisations.
Fistulas are largely preventable and have disappeared in developed countries where there is universal access to obstetric care.
She added that in their operations worldwide, MSF doctors have always been faced with women suffering from fistula.
In 2003, MSF organised its first fistula camps in Ivory Coast and Chad, then in subsequent years, in Sierra Leone, Somalia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Central African Republic or Mali. These ad hoc interventions are continuing today in DRC and CAR.
"MSF usually works in insecure or war-torn countries. That is why we chose to set-up short projects," explained Michiel Lekkerkerker, medical advisor for MSF in Amsterdam.
"Fistula camps, as we call them, are installed for two months next to existing hospitals. Before we set up the camp, the population is informed so that women with fistula come for consultation.
"Then we hire additional employees and we prepare between 40 and 80 beds, usually in tents.
"The surgeon stays about one month on site and operates on several women a day. This method has the advantage of flexibility and it is easier to find a specialised surgeon for a short period."
So, as we celebrate International Women's Day, let us reflect on all issues that affect women on a day-to-day basis. Let us also reflect on the gains made by women politically and in various sectors of the economy.