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A Zimbabwean perspective on women and climate change

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Tuesday, March 16th, 2010 by Moreblessing Mbire

This year, women around the world celebrate the International Women’s Day under the theme, ‘equal rights, equal opportunities: progress for all’. Women across the globe commemorate this day to reflect on their struggle for equality, justice, peace and development. It is against this backdrop that this writer decided to write on climate change, an issue whose gender dimensions and effect on everyday life need to be emphasised. As acknowledged by the 2007 Human Development report climate change threatens to erode human freedoms and limit choice.  The report further emphasizes that gender inequality intersects with climate risks and vulnerabilities.

Climate change is a scientifically proven phenomenon that includes “any change in the climate, whether due to its natural variability or as a result of human activity”  . It often manifests in extreme weather conditions that include prolonged droughts, water shortages, soil erosion, erratic rainfall, severe cyclones, hurricanes and floods. While the issue of climate change has been discussed in various forums throughout the world, grass root communities particularly rural women have little knowledge on the subject and how it affects their day to day lives. Women have lower sources of income and fewer opportunities than men thus their capacities and knowledge to deal with shift in climate conditions differ from those of men.

Climate change as a development subject matter is critical to African populations as 70% of the population are small holder farmers and rely on agriculture for livelihoods. The majority of these people are women who contribute immensely to food security levels.  In the Zimbabwean context, where the economy is agro based and has the largest group of people in farming activities as women (86%), climate change is critical and requires thorough articulation for the understanding of women.

Women in rural areas are highly dependent on local natural resources for their livelihood. They are the primary producers of staple food and other cash crops for sustenance of families. Their disadvantaged position in society however, increases their vulnerability in times of distress for instance during drought and floods.  Women’s limited access to resources such as land, water and finance, make them highly vulnerable to climate change impacts. It is therefore crucial that such important aspects of development like change in climatic conditions and adaptation measures are well communicated for their understanding. There is need to ensure that the ordinary Zimbabwean woman understands the differences in weather patterns, how it affects agriculture activities and also coping mechanisms.

Effects of climate change are therefore not gender neutral. The gender differences between men and women imply that their vulnerabilities differ and since women are already in a disadvantaged position, effects of climate change threaten to further increase the inequality.

While highlighting the vulnerability of poor women to climate change, it should also be pointed out that women have an important role to play to mitigate and adapt to climate change. Women particularly at grass root level have acquired skills (e.g. in water management, forest management) through experience that can be tapped into in dealing with climate change effects.

The government therefore needs to consider taking a gender approach in design and implementation of policies on how to adapt and mitigate climate change as this is crucial to effectively address the needs of both men and women as they relate to the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular, Goal 1, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, Goal 3 to promote gender equality and Goal 7 to ensure environmental sustainability.  Women’s equal participation in climate change negotiation processes will ensure that their needs, perspectives and expertise are equally taken into account.

Land rights for women

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Monday, February 22nd, 2010 by Moreblessing Mbire

Rural women in Zimbabwe contribute immensely to the economic development of the country through agrarian development both at subsistence and commercial levels.  Women make up the largest proportion of farm laborers and their role in utilizing land through crop production, livestock care for the sustenance of families can not be undervalued.

The recently held National Constitutional Conference on Women’s Access and Control of Land and other Natural resources was a crucial event as the majority of rural women in Zimbabwe (86%) depend on land for their livelihoods. Women from different parts of the country converged in Harare to review the current status and challenges faced by women in land ownership, access and control in Zimbabwe. The Conference agreed that Section 23 of the current Constitution needs to be repealed as it permits discriminatory customary laws that limit women’s ownership, access to and control of land.  It was also agreed that The Rural Land Act and the Agricultural Land Settlement Act must be amended to provide clear, non-discriminatory criteria for the allocation of resettlement land.

It is disappointing to note that women continue to have limited access to and control over land, a key productive resource for women’s empowerment. Despite their contribution to food security for the nation, women own fewer productive assets than their male counterparts.  As noted by the Ministry of Lands and Rural Resettlement during the conference, the majority of women with access to land do so through marriage. In communal areas, women do not own land in their own right but through their husbands. As a result of this limited ownership of land, women derive fewer benefits from proceeds of their labor and have no decision-making power in the household. In most instances, cheques for farm produce sales that are in the name of male landholders have been spent without the spouse’s involvement.

Patriarchy plays a huge role in undermining women’s rights to land and other natural resources. Men dominate land redistribution structures like land commission and committees and tend to allocate land to fellow men during land distribution exercises. There is need to revisit the key procedures in land allocation to ensure non discrimination of women.

If Zimbabwe is to meet the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), in particular, Goal 1, to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger, women’s rights to land should be prioritized. As an agro based economy, there is need to ensure equity between women and men in the allocation of productive resources. Government’s commitment should go beyond simply putting policies but monitoring how women’s ownership and control of land and other natural resources is taking place on the ground.

Constitution Making Process: An Opportunity to Engage

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Wednesday, June 24th, 2009 by Moreblessing Mbire

Momentum in the Constitution Making Process in Zimbabwe is building up. Last week, the Ministry of Women Affairs Gender and Community Development organised a Women’s Consultative Conference which was attended by women from various professional disciplines. The Conference sought to de-mystify the Constitutional Making Process and raise awareness on the steps the process will follow.

I found Honourable D. Mwonzora’s presentation during the Conference very useful to me. It answered a lot of questions I had about the Constitution Making Process. He explained how the process was going to flow right up to the time a referendum is tabled. Of significance is the Select Committee’s (comprises Members of parliament from ZANU PF and the two MDC formations) efforts to ensure a people driven process through Provincial Consultative Meetings through out the country. While the Provincial Consultative Meetings are a noble idea in ensuring that the process is people driven, the general public are not aware of the importance of participation and therefore may not involve themselves. Women are part of this group of people that I fear may be left out in the engagement of stakeholders in different provinces of the country. The Provincial Consultative Meetings are scheduled for 24 – 27 June 2009 and that leaves little time for awareness raising and for women in particular to organise themselves and select their representatives.

One other aspect that may not be clear to many people is the fact that contrary to what has been reported in the media, people of Zimbabwe are going to make a new constitution thus the importance of involving as many Zimbabweans as possible. People are not going to revise a draft that has been worked on by representatives from the political parties. It may be a challenge however, to get people to participate both in rural and urban Zimbabwe as most are worried about bread and butter issues whose effect is directly evident in their lives.

I am particularly interested in women’s participation as this is an opportunity for us to ensure that our social and economic rights are guaranteed in the new Constitution. For us to see change, we need to raise awareness among our female counterparts so that they understand the importance of a constitution and how it affects their lives. This period is indeed an opportunity for Zimbabweans, constitutions unlike leaders are not changed every once in a while.

An insult to motherhood

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Monday, December 1st, 2008 by Moreblessing Mbire

It is on a sad note that this year’s 16 Days of Activism against Gender Based Violence Campaign is commemorated in the context of a collapsing health delivery system in Zimbabwe where women continue to face the impact of the current political intolerance.

Access to adequate health care is among the most basic human rights and it is currently being violated in this country. Most pregnant women in Zimbabwe are resorting to risky means of delivering as they cannot keep up with the soaring charges at private doctors and hospitals. With the public hospitals not admitting any patients there is no choice but to deliver either at home or in an unsafe place.

A few days ago I had a chat with a friend of mine who is expecting. From our discussion I discovered some very disturbing realities that women are going through to access antenatal services.  Private gynecologists’ consultation fees are ranging between US$20 and US$40. Delivery charges are about US$500. Admission charges at private hospitals cost about US$850 for a normal delivery. This means that one needs to prepare about US$1 300 for delivery. With the rising cost of living few people can afford this.

Some doctors now propose back door deliveries. This is when the doctor suggests that delivery can be arranged for a ‘reasonable’ fee at a surgery in the outskirts of a residential area. These surgeries do not have adequate facilities thus both the mother and the baby are at risk.

A woman’s right to maternal health care in Zimbabwe is compromised by the delay in resolving the political differences in Zimbabwe. This is indeed an insult to motherhood.

Heartless souls

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Monday, November 24th, 2008 by Moreblessing Mbire

The current political situation in Zimbabwe has cost the ordinary person too much. I cannot imagine how people are surviving. Most food stuffs are sold in foreign currency yet the majority of Zimbabweans earn the Zimbabwean Dollar whose maximum withdrawal limit can only buy a loaf of bread. Public health institutions have stopped admitting patients leaving people no choice but to rely on home based care.

The living conditions are hard. Count the number of times in a day that you think about where to get what. In most cases time is spent trying to find the means to survive. Sometimes I wonder if ever we are going to be normal again. People have been turned to what they are not. Most people who work in public institutions have turned into ‘heartless souls’. Imagine what kind of soul you need to have to turn away hundreds of people who evidently need medical assistance from a public hospital. Sometimes I feel for the nurses and doctors. How can you be expected to deliver a good service with no adequate drugs and health facilities?

I guess you need to kill a certain part of yourself as a way to brace up for the situation.

This situation slowly kills the spirit within. I for one am trying to resist but how can I succeed? Survival in this economic environment requires certain characteristics which may not necessarily be positive. There is so much potential for success in Zimbabweans. I am worried by the time we enter into a new political dispensation all this may be gone.

Survival of the fittest

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Monday, September 8th, 2008 by Moreblessing Mbire

Life in general has always been a struggle requiring one to work hard for everything – from food to clothing. Now the situation has worsened. One works so hard but come the end of the month, the money is not easily accessible. With the withdrawal limit currently at $500 a day (only enough for a loaf of bread), one has to be geared up to go to the bank every day of the week to be able to buy something meaningful.

Everything has become so expensive and salaries fall short. Most of the basic commodities are being sold in foreign currency on the black market yet the majority of employees are paid in Zimbabwe dollars. What concerns me most is the way we all seem to be going about our business as if everything is normal. Nobody seems to question or challenge the way life has become in our country.

A few days ago I had one experience that got me thinking it is time something is done to improve the Zimbabwe situation . . . I took a trip to the doctor with my Medical Aid card for a Medical Certificate only to be told that they no longer accept Medical Aid cards. Instead the majority of surgeries I visited asked for a US$20 fee. I had to no choice but to return home and forget about the application. Surely if scholarships are for the less privileged, minor processes such as attaining a Medical Certificate should not be prohibitive.

A few months back I was so convinced some good economic recovery plan was on the way when I heard of the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding and Power Sharing Talks. Now weeks have gone by and still there is no official position or detail on proceedings during the ‘Talks’. If these ‘Talks’ are being done for the people Zimbabwean citizens certainly deserve to know what is really going on from the officials themselves.

Sometimes I wish these leaders engaged in Talks would consider that whilst they are ‘dragging’ their feet in sealing a deal, people are dying every day. The health delivery system has deteriorated and drugs are not easily accessible. Some people are resorting to purchasing drugs from neighboring countries like South Africa while the majority of the disadvantaged Zimbabweans have no choice but to keep on hoping that life in Zimbabwe will improve before their souls give in.

Despite the numerous challenges that we are facing there seems to be a little hope in me that somehow Zimbabwe will rise again. This is my only sense of comfort. It may take time but our resilient spirit will see us through.