Gender forum Ruth Butaumocho
“There comes a time when the risk to remain tight in the bud is more painful than the risk it takes to blossom.” The above quote from a French-born novelist Anais Nin sums up the agitation and vacillation among thousands of Zimbabwean women across the political divide who feel left out in the
economic empowerment matrix.
Despite the fact that 51 percent of the population is made up of women their claim to economic fame has been very minimal, although there are proper structures, to ensure their ascendancy and economic empowerment. Women continue to trail men in the formal labour force, participation in both politics and economy, access to credit, income levels, ownership and inheritance as well as in entrepreneurship.
Save for a few names that have really made it to the top, like Lynn Mukonoweshuro, Mara Hativagone, Divine Ndhlukula, Jane Mutasa, Sue Peters and Ruth Labode, the majority of women continue to face gender-based barriers to successfully participate in the economy. These include lack of line experience to go for opportunities in male dominated sectors like mining and the “old boy network at the top” scenario, where men are eager to create opportunities and synergies for other men, rather than women.
Even the existing gender stereotypes-mentality, which regards women as backbenchers in business rather than pacesetters, remains one of the biggest gender barriers that have seen women failing to make meaningful participation in the economy.
As a result, women have to contend with running small businesses like retail clothing shops, flea markets and other run — of the mill enterprises, which contribute a small percentage to the fiscus, and does little to change their economic situation. The situation is even more pathetic for women who are formally employed in different sectors of the economy. They are often rewarded with line managerial positions and condemned to the shop floor work and other less challenging administrative posts, despite having good qualifications. A case in point is the tourism sector, which employs more women than men all over the world, and yet only a handful of them make it to the top. While women contribute immensely to the sector in the form of their labour and cosmetic value there remains a yawning gap in terms of their access to and control over proceeds from the sector.
You will need to scratch your head hard to come up with names of 10 women in Zimbabwe who have big hunting quotas, own several lodges, boat cruising companies or better still have got a large stake in any hotel.
I tried it, and ended up with just five names. Ironically women represent 51 percent of the country’s population! This sad scenario, which is not only in Zimbabwe, but also across the world, gives you an idea how gender barriers irrespective of race, colour or creed continue to hamper economic advancement of women.
A study commissioned by the World Bank on the Economic Empowerment of Women in the Tourism Sector last year, showed that general employment patterns still reflect traditional gender roles with very few women employed in the wildlife, adventure safaris and transport sectors that support tourism.
Part of the executive summary of the report reads, “Regarding entrepreneurship, the study reveals that, very few women own large tourism enterprises such as hotels, luxury lodges or wildlife concessions for hunting and eco-tourism.
“Women dominate the SME sector for tourism instead, participating in less lucrative supply chains including crafts, interior decors, small lodges and restaurants and marketing. These supply chains remain small, operate in isolation from the global value chains and have limited potential for growth,” read part of the report. While the World Bank only focused on tourism and wildlife alone their findings best serve as a template that can be applied in any sector of the economy, where women continue to lag behind their counterparts in business. The bigger picture is that gender inequality in economic empowerment continues to play havoc on all nations across Africa despite the wealth of experience, expertise and the resources that the continent has.
Consequently, Africa’s economic growth has remained static or fluctuating because women are not involved, notwithstanding, the meaningful contribution they would make if they were taking part in the economy. Their involvement would mean that families would have access to better facilities, food and amenities than they are currently getting and naturally that benefit would cascade to communities, generally improving the wellbeing of a nation.
Several studies that have been carried out across the globe since industrialisation began suggest that putting earnings in women’s hands is the intelligent thing to do to speed up development and in the process overcoming poverty.
A study conducted by International Labour Organisation carried in South Africa last year showed that an increase in women’s income was accompanied by more money being spent in improving the well-being of the family and the community at large.
Women usually reinvest a much higher portion of their energy in their families and communities than men. This probably explains why countries with gender equality tend to have lower poverty rates. Former World Bank president Robert Zoellick, couldn’t have said it better when he called on nations to actively involve women if they were to record high economic gains in their economies.
“Women consistently trail men in labour force participation, access to credit, entrepreneurship, inheritance and ownership rights and in the income they generate, and this is neither fair nor smart economics.”