Kubatana.net ~ an online community of Zimbabwean activists

Development – another women’s issue

TOP del.icio.us

The women’s movement has over the years given rise to new phrases, new vocabulary and a whole gamut of realities as the goal of realizing gender parity becomes a pressing global concern – of note is the tendency to discuss and isolate what have been termed “women’s issues”.

As is the norm with words used broadly and constantly – it is assumed that women’s issues are obvious, that the phrase is self-explanatory and that anyone can deduce what is meant by “women’s issues”.

I fear in the labelling and branding of feminist concerns that there has been an unfortunate tendency to try and address issues in a vacuum i.e taking the problems women face out of their social context and classifying them outside the broader context of the world they live in.

What I am at pains to say is that what we have termed “women’s issues” are in fact ‘human’ issues – that there is no way of separating the concerns of women from the broader universal challenges faced by the societies they live in.

I am gratified by the sentiments once expressed former UN Secretary-General and 2001 Nobel Prize winner, Kofi Annan who stated that, “more countries have understood that women’s equality is the prerequisite to development.”

As Zimbabwe grapples with the many obstacles that have hindered the progress in achieving the Millennium Development Goals; one cannot help but wonder if perhaps the gross inequality deeply entrenched in our systems of governance and the broader social spectrum is not the root cause of this.

As a premise for my argument; the first MDG concerns the eradication of hunger and extreme poverty and if that is not a woman’s issue – I don’t know what is.

One of the phrases that have been bandied around in development circles has been the ‘feminization of poverty’ and there is little doubt that women, especially in Zimbabwe bore the brunt of the economic meltdown, hardship and hunger barely succeeding in fending for families through informal trading.

So one wonders how development issues can be separated from women’s issues, in fact come to think of it, what issues can be separated from women.

The exclusion and marginality of women in developmental issues can be traced back to the basic definition of what development is and borrowing from WikiAnswers, development means ”improvement in a country’s economic and social conditions”.

More specifically, it refers to improvements in ways of managing an area’s natural and human resources in order to create wealth and improve people’s lives. This definition is based on the more obvious distinctions in living standards between developed and less developed countries.

Therein lies the crux of the matter, in patriarchal Africa, natural resources and the creation of wealth are the preserve of men and therefore development has largely been about men and women have been dependant on men to provide solutions to the pressing problems relating to poverty, hunger and all other challenges they face.

If poverty is the deprivation of resources, capabilities or freedoms which are commonly called the dimensions or spaces of poverty; then development which relates to its eradication has a lot to do with those who are arguably most vulnerable – women.

In fact development has everything to do with women and the wide gaps in gender parity in this country are symptoms of a deeper malady and I would confidently make a wager that Zimbabwe, like many other African countries will not realize the MDGs unless they prioritize gender equity.

To emphasize my point I borrow from the World Bank report of 2003 titled, Gender Inequality and the Millennium Development GoalsĀ  which stated, “Gender inequality, which remains pervasive worldwide, tends to lower the productivity of labour and the efficiency of labour allocation in households and the economy, intensifying the unequal distribution of resources. It also contributes to the non-monetary aspects of poverty – lack of security, opportunity and empowerment – that lower the quality of life for both men and women. While women and girls bear the largest and most direct costs of these inequalities, the costs cut broadly across society, ultimately hindering development and poverty reduction.”

I have always held the conviction that gender equity will be the inevitable consequence of women’s empowerment that women’s empowerment will be the inevitable consequence of attaining education and the second Millennium Development Goal that seeks to achieve Universal Primary Education resonates with this.

Disappointingly, access to higher levels of education by girls and young women is negligible with indications showing that while 50% of young women fail to proceed with education due to financial constraints – 16% of the female student population fails to continue with their studies because they fall pregnant or get married early.

The vicious cycle of poverty thrives when the 50% of women who have no financial resources to pursue education are forced into prostitution, intergenerational sexual relationships, providing cheap labour doing menial tasks or opting to get married hoping their husbands will provide for them.

Inevitably, the 16% who fall pregnant or marry early face challenges as they often have no room to negotiate matters relating to sex, reproductive health and unwittingly, they relinquish autonomy over their bodies to their partners.

These factors make the third Millennium Development Goal all the more harder to achieve because promoting Gender Equality and Empowering Women cannot be done without a holistic approach that takes cognizance of the societal, cultural and economical status quos that militate against them.

Despite the myriad treaties that Zimbabwe has signed and ratified, Zimbabwe’s Gender Empowerment Measure (GEM) is so low the percentages are not only laughable, they are dismally indicative of a nation gripped by the stranglehold tentacles of patriarchy.

Recently, Deputy Prime Minister Thokozani Khupe challenged policymakers to recognise women’s role in economic development and move away from the patriarchal habit of looking at them as mere housewives.

Speaking at the end of the two-day National Constitutional Conference on Women and Land in Harare, DPM Khupe made the shocking revelation that women only owned 1 percent of assets in Africa despite their economic contributions.

Suffice to say, come 2015 – the Millennium Development Goals will remain an elusive pursuit as the deeply entrenched gender imbalances widen the chasm between theories on gender equity and policy implementation on gender parity.

So development is just another tagline on the long list of “women’s issues”.

Comments are closed.