Women’s economic empowerment a fallacy?

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Women's Affairs, Gender and community development Dr Perpetua Gumbo (right), UN women country representative Delphine Serumaga (center) and RBZ deputy governor Charity Dhliwayo (left)  follow proceedings during United Nations women business case for investing in women to build strong economy in Zimbabwe breakfast meeting in Harare-. (Picture by Memory Mangombe)

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, Gender and community development Dr Perpetua Gumbo (right), UN women country representative Delphine Serumaga (center) and RBZ deputy governor Charity Dhliwayo (left) follow proceedings during United Nations women business case for investing in women to build strong economy in Zimbabwe breakfast meeting in Harare-. (Picture by Memory Mangombe)

Victoria Ruzvidzo Focus —
“Investing in women’s economic empowerment sets a direct path towards gender equality, poverty eradication and inclusive economic growth. Women make enormous contributions to economies, whether in businesses, on farms, as entrepreneurs or employees, or by doing unpaid work at home.”

The above quote from the United Nations aptly sums up the issues around women’s participation in the economy. It was part of the UN sWomen’s message at a meeting I attended last week.

The gender discourse, increasingly taking centre stage in this country particularly as regards women’s increased participation in the economy, is surely bound to transform the economic complexion of this country if outcomes of this meeting and many others are adhered to the letter.

It is certainly not news that the economy is poorer without the participation of the majority of its citizenry who happen to be women.

Over the years, many a meeting have been held as the country catches on to the global trend of promoting gender equality, which is usually interpreted to mean women’s socio-economic empowerment.

Indeed it is now common knowledge that the development process and any efforts to end poverty cannot achieve must of women are kept at the periphery of programmes and processes meant to grow the economies and turn the world into a better place for the entire human race.

The symposium held in Harare last week was organized by UN Women Zimbabwe, the United nation’s Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women, and the Confederation of Zimbabwe Industries whose theme was “Making a Business Case for investing In Women to Build A strong Economy In Zimbabwe. It was seized with how women’s participation in the economy needed to graduate from mere rhetoric and wishful thinking to actual practical application and inclusion.

While it was generally agreed that although some progress had been made , it was still too little to make an impact on the economy. Women have been largely confined to menial jobs and low-end businesses that have not made a significant impact on the Gross Domestic Product.

A number of issues and constraints were highlighted at the symposium but what was different this time was the emphasis on paving the way forward instead of expending too much energy and debate on the constraints.

Confederation of Zimbabwe industries president Mr Busisa Moyo said the economy was hungry and quite anxious to emerge from the woods to an era of prosperity. An environment where enterprise could flourish.

He said high levels of prosperity could only be reached through Industrialisation of the economy. CPI had identified about 18 value chains looking at the whole economic spectrum. Progress in this regard could only be achieved if we Women were actively involved.

Ministry of Gender, women’s affairs and community development permanent secretary Dr Perpertua Gumbo weighed in saying Government was committed to women’s empowerment and was a signatory to several regional and international gender statutes that sought to mainstream gender and empower women.

“ It is important for the business sector to invest in women so as to build a strong Economy in Zimbabwe. The motive of this meeting is also in line with the Ten Point Plan number 7 which encourages the promotion of Public Private Partnership (PPP) for economic growth of our nation.

Ladies and Gentlemen in order for our country to develop the private and public sectors need to create synergies and linkages.

Empowering women to participate fully in economic activities is essential in building stronger economies, and improving the quality of life for women, men, families and communities as a whole. As Government through my Ministry, many initiatives are being implemented to ensure the empowerment of women. “

Participants at the symposium who included business executives, the media, non-governmental organisations and other stakeholders strongly felt that time for cheap talk was gone and now was the time t get the economy going and progressive would be achieved if women were given their due recognition.

Government has come up with a Women’s development Fund from which women, particularly at grassroots level, access funds for business start-ups and expansion. But Government could do it alone.

“I urge key players in the privates sector to walk the talk with Government in increasing the meaningful participation of women in business for purposes of Zimbabwe’s economic development and our women’s economic empowerment,” she added.

However statistics released by a Senior Economic Consultant Dr Jesimen Chipika showed that work was just starting in the women’s empowerment journey.

She said women were actually increasing being distanced from wealth creation opportunities with their male counterparts. Of the economically active urban women, only 46,6 percent were still unemployed with at least 72 percent living in poverty.

“In fact this perceived women’s economic empowerment is a fallacy,” she quipped. She recommended a gender-responsive research to bring out the true picture so that suitable corrective measures could be implemented.

Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe deputy Governor Dr Charity Dhliwayo said women had access to a mere one percent of the world’s riches.

Financial exclusion was a major challenge that the central bank sought to address by encouraging banks to set up women’s desk. Eight of these were already in place.

We want women and all those disadvantaged groups to have opportunities to access appropriate financial services so that they can participate meaningfully in the economy. Asset registries were being established at banks so that women would use whatever assets they have to access funding.

The central bank had also committed a gender Disaggregated Data project through New Faces New Voices, a Graca Machel Trust arm which seeks to empower women in the financial sector.

Lloyns Zimbabwe managing Director Tracy Mutaviri said it was important to set the agenda in a more co-ordinated and collective manner to ensure women are empowered. Ms Saruma said her organization was keen to see women rise the corporate and business ladder.

The symposium identified opportunities in the CZI value chain and in national economic programmes, among others as avenues through which women could participate more actively in the economy. The big take away was that there is still more that needs to be done to ensure a more effective and sustainable women empowerment process.

UN Women posits — What’s the issue?
Women also remain disproportionately affected by poverty, discrimination and exploitation. Gender discrimination means that women often end up in insecure, low –wage jobs, and constitute a small minority of those in senior positions.

It curtails access to economic assets such as land and loans. It limits participation in shaping economic and social policies. And, because women perform the bulk of household work, they often have little time left to pursue economic opportunities.

UN Solutions 
Many international commitments support women’s economic empowerment, including the Beijing Platform for Action, the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women And a series of International Labour Organisation (ILO) conventions on gender equality.

UN Women supports women’s economic empowerment in line with these, and with the growing body of evidence that shows that gender equality significantly contributes to advancing economies and sustainable development.

Working with a variety of partners, our programmes promote women’s ability to secure decent jo0bs, accumulate assets, and influence institutions and public policies determining growth and development. One critical area of focus involves advocacy to measure women’s unpaid care work, and to take actions so women and men can more readily combine it with paid employment.

In all our economic empowerment programmes, UN Women reaches out to women most in need, often by engaging with grass-roots and civil society organisations. Particularly marginalised groups include rural women, domestic workers, some migrants and low-skilled women. Our aim are higher incomes, better access to and control over resources, and greater security, including protection form violence.

FACTS AND FIGURES-ECONOMIC EMPOWERMENT

Benefits of economic empowerment:
If men and women played an i9dentical role in labour markets, as much as USD 28 trillion, or 26%, could be added to the global GDP by 2015. An analysis of Fortune 500 companies found that those with the greatest representation of women in management positions delivered a total return to shareholders that was 34% higher than for companies with the lowest representation.

Women in the world of work:

In the majority of countries, women’s wages represent between 70 and 90% of men’s , with even lower ratios in some Asian and Latin American countries.

• As of 2011, 50.5% of the world’s working men were in vulnerable employment, often unprotected by labour legislation ,compared to 48.2% for men .Women were far more likely than men to be vulnerable employment in North Africa (55 versus 32%),the Middle East(42 versus 27%) and sub-Saharan Africa (nearly 85 versus 70 per cent).

• Women bear disproportion responsibility for unpaid work. Women devote 1 t0 3 hours more a day to housework than men;2 to 10 times the amount of time a day to care (for children, elderly, and the sick) and 1 to 4 hours less a day to market activities.

In God I Trust.

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