*By Bishow Parajuli
This year’s International Women’s Day has been celebrated globally under the theme, “Women in the Changing World of Work: Planet 50-50 by 2030”.
Over the years, women‘s participation in the labour market has increased. However, most women are confined to low income and insecure type of jobs.
An estimated 47.9% of working women are in the informal sector or precarious condition, which limits their access to social protection. Only 23% women are represented in Parliament and the number is much lower in representation as chief executive officers.
Furthermore, unpaid work remains a particular burden for rural women, where they bear the brunt of physically taxing daily chores.
These challenges limit women’s meaningful participation in social, economic and political initiatives.
To overcome challenges and work towards achieving gender equality, women empowerment has been placed at the centre of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. This agenda is a global plan agreed by leaders of all countries including Zimbabwe to meet the challenges we face.
Sustainable Development Goal 5 calls specifically for gender equality and the empowerment of all women and girls, and this is central to the achievement of all the 17 SDGs.
Anchored on international human rights, we know gender equality doesn’t only improve the lives of individual women, girls, and their families, but also makes smart economic sense, strengthens democracy, and enables long-term sustainable development.
Women with even a few years of education tend to have fewer and healthier children, better economic opportunities, and to be more likely to ensure that their own children go to school. Empirical studies show that mother’s education is more important to child survival than are household income or wealth.
As such, the first and foremost is to ensure women and girls have access to education, skills development programmes and equitable access to resources.
Second, removing structural barriers is key; these would demand to do away with discriminatory laws and institutions, and gender stereotypes and practices – which prevent women from fulfilling their economic, social and political rights. For example, making sure that women farmer have equal access to agricultural resources boosts women’s incomes and status, and has a positive impact on a country’s agricultural sectors.
Third, ensure getting more women into political office and ensuring that women have a voice in the decisions which affect their lives – in households and communities, in government and other sectors.
Fourth, end violence against women and girls including child marriages; ensure access to health care, and the ability to make their own sexual and reproductive health choices. Access to sexual and reproductive health services enables women to plan their families and expand their opportunities, and it also helps prevent maternal and child mortality.
Fifth, to ensure women have access to timely and adequate humanitarian support in times of crisis such as drought and flooding.
In line with the aforementioned proposals, Zimbabwe has made some strides on women empowerment and gender equality. The country has taken measures that increased representation of women in parliament from 18% in the previous parliament to 35% in the current one (higher than the global average of 23%).
Gender parity in primary education has been achieved. Zimbabwe has legislated laws and strategies to protect women from violence, end child marriages and prevent human trafficking as it mostly affects women.
The United Nations has been supporting Zimbabwe through gender mainstreaming in all development and humanitarian programme support, and through developing a standalone Gender equality priority area. In this regard, the United Nations has provided support to national efforts which include:
First, national advocacy outlawing child marriages and the development of the National Action Plan on Ending Child marriages to ensure girls stay in school and take charge of their own economic empowerment.
Second, social mobilization of male and female traditional leaders, boys and girls to address negative cultural norms that perpetuate violence against women and girls.
Third, mainstreaming of gender into the national financial inclusion strategy, this presently has supported some women. In accordance with this strategy, eight banks have established women’s banks. In addition, strengthening women’s capacity to access loans, manage businesses and to improve crop production and storage.
Fourth, ensuring measures are taken to strengthen the capacity of women parliamentarians and women representation in parliament and other governance structures.
Fifth, in addressing the effects of climate change such as recurrent droughts and flooding, the United Nations has been at the forefront ensuring all response plans and relief efforts are responsive to the dignity and needs of women and girls.
Going forward, gender equality may in theory be mainstreamed in laws, policies, programmes and institutions, but the test of commitment ultimately rests on the resources made available and how effectively they are used.
The United Nations in Zimbabwe remains committed to support the achievement of gender equality as fulfilling the basic human rights for Zimbabwean women and girls and as a strategic investment for sustainable development, inclusive growth and shared prosperity.
Bishow Parajuli is UN Resident Coordinator and UNDP Resident Representative in Zimbabwe