Taking stock of gender issues in 2013

Two intertwined gender symbolsRuth Butaumocho Gender Forum
WITH only a few days to go before the year comes to an end, different societies, communities and individuals across Zimbabwe and elsewhere have started taking stock of their achievements during the course of the year. In the same vein, they are also assessing the challenges they came across, huddles they could not overcome and pitfalls that came their way while trying to forge ahead.

In the area of gender, a lot of achievements and success stories were recorded, where both men and women were put on the map not only in Zimbabwe, but across the region.

The year started on a good note when millions of men and women across the political divide voted in favour of the draft constitution, which was to become the new Constitution of Zimbabwe. They passionately participated and spoke with one voice on issues they wanted addressed and, true to their concerns, their contributions were clearly articulated in the new Constitution.

The new Constitution ushered in a new dispensation when it comes to gender equality, because it acknowledges societal, political and economic gender disparities that need to be addressed. It has since been described by gender activists as the best document that speaks on gender issues, clearly demonstrating political will at the highest level.

There is no doubt that the Constitution’s buy-in on gender issues will definitely transform the gender discourse and take it to a higher level. Rather than sit and mourn about social discrepancies that have relegated women to the periphery, women now need to take a proactive approach and aggressively advocate appropriate actions regarding their access to land , quota allocations in all spheres of the economy, without bating an eyelid.

The same assertions are stated in the Government’s blueprint, Zim-Asset, where women are regarded as important partners in economic development and that they should be accorded an opportunity to be involved at all levels.

The Government has made it clear that the country is more than ready to promote gendered leadership, where men and women of valour, virtue and integrity will be given an opportunity to take up leadership positions. For me, these are all opportunities that women need to take with haste, group themselves in important clusters and set the ball rolling.

Men were not left out when a group that advocates for the well being of men, particularly the boy child, Varume Svinurai, was expanded to cover all provinces in Zimbabwe. Varume Svinurai, which started in 2010, now has a membership of more than 5 000 men who want the plight of men and the boy child addressed. Their main concern is to reinforce God-given gender roles of men as heads of families, breadwinners and generally caretakers for families and the nation at large. In their constitution, they bemoan being emasculated and not being given the role to care for the family unit, a disadvantage they would want addressed.

However, it was disheartening to note that the International Day of Men that was commemorated and celebrated across the globe on November 19, passed largely unnoticed in the country. This was despite the fact that the event was commemorated for the first time in Zimbabwe last year. While many people may not have been aware, November 19 is a day when men highlight forms of discrimination they experience; celebrate their achievements and contributions to the community, family, marriage and child care.

The recognition and commemoration of the International Day of Men in the country last year, is a clear indication that the nation believes that there are a lot more honourable men than the few misguided individuals seeking to tarnish men’s contribution to society.

I believe that all honourable men should be supported in their endeavours and the countless sacrifices they make for their families, friends, workmates and society and yet they do not demand anything in return.

On the other hand, the year also presented several challenges towards gender equality. One of the major setbacks towards women’s increased participation in politics was the reduction of female Members of Parliament in both the lower and upper houses. Although female representation in the Senate stands at 48 percent — even after the inclusion of quota system — the figure indicates half-hearted efforts to increase women’s participation in politics. The inclusion of only three female Cabinet ministers in Government did not make the situation any better. This raises a number of questions: Are Zimbabwean women not competitive enough to take up Cabinet position? Don’t our people have faith in women as leaders or is Zimbabwe not yet ready to embrace gendered leadership as is the case in other nations?
Maybe our people need to take the cue from other countries and embrace women leadership at the highest level.

Women leaders have proved to be reliable, competent and not easily corrupted. One of the global economic powerhouses, Brazil, is headed by a woman, Dilma Rousseff, and Chile a week ago went into elections and elected yet another powerful woman, Michelle Bachelet. Examples closer to home are Malawi and Liberia which both have female presidents. Yes, some of these countries are currently experiencing problems, but this has nothing to with one’s sex.

This year, gender-based violence worsened, taking different dimensions, including the rape of both men and women across all ages.
Despite the existence of laws that criminalise gender-based violence , it appears that the social vice continues to rear its ugly head across the nation, with five cases of physical violence, rape of both sexes being reported everyday.

Sadly, a number of people are keen on justifying violent acts, giving a series of euphemisms veiled as excuses, instead of condemning violence in the strongest terms.

It a time when the country should be counting the gains that have been achieved in eradicating the social vice, the gender-based violence now manifests in different forms and has actually become one of the major vices that Government is battling to control.

What society needs to understand is that the consequence of widespread violence extend beyond the immediate injury or economic loss. There are often severe and lasting health outcomes such as sexually transmitted diseases, complications like kidney failure emanating from the abuse and the social and psychological damage inflicted on the victims.

Because of the magnitude of gender-based violence, particularly domestic violence should therefore encourage all Zimbabweans to fight against it to rid the nation of it for our cause and that of future generations.
As we enter a new year, lets fight for gender equality for the good of the nation.

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