Thursday, March 09, 2017

Women Are Agents of Economic Development
March 8, 2017
Opinion & Analysis
Agnes Magunje Correspondent
Zimbabwe Herald

If more Zimbabwean women become agents of the change they would want to see, their economic status will improve immensely. Women should liberate themselves from the social, economic and cultural barriers that hinder their development. The economy and development of Zimbabwe lies in the hands of women as they are statistically more than men, making up 52 percent of the population.

If you empower a woman you empower a nation.

Zimbabwe’s informal sector is driven by more women than men.

This I have come realise as a member of the Harare Chamber of Small to Medium Enterprises and the projects manager of Harare Informal Traders Council.

I joined the sector as a member of an association that travelled to China to purchase goods for trade at a flea market and in a small shop I owned.

In one of our association meetings, a question was posed, “What is the difference between the informal sector and Small to Medium Enterprises (SMEs)?”

I explained that SMEs are registered with a certificate of incorporation and operate from a formal business place on a regular basis.

“Informal traders on the other hand might be here today and nowhere tomorrow, or either selling tomatoes because they are in season and whatever goes the next day. They are not registered and strive for the moment and because of a crisis.

The Harare Chamber of SMEs is the board that is supposed to represent all the Small to Medium Enterprises in Harare.

The organisation represents the needs of the people and is supposed to bring about change to the sector.

Despite the high percentage of women in the informal sector, I am the only woman in the Informal Sector executive board.

In the chamber we had to fight to have women elected into the executive board. All top positions are occupied by men and powerful positions are circulated among themselves.

Zimbabwe largely remains a patriarchal society, which continues to deny women equal opportunities.

Women have to fight for positions of power and control in the private sphere and even in the public sphere.

Stereotypical mindsets among men that women are useless and voiceless continue to prevail in these spaces hence not much consultation with women is done when developmental programmes are being put in place.

Yet it is very important to include women in development and entrepreneurship.

Women are key to unlocking the economic potential and development of Zimbabwe and they need to be taken seriously.

Women’s entrepreneurship and empowerment is a good vehicle to achieve growth and reduce poverty.

However, the multiple roles of women hinder their progress and sometimes limit them from rising up as fast as their male counterparts.

Development is not possible without participation of women in decision-making positions.

More women should take up top positions and break the proverbial glass ceilings that men have created in the public sphere.

Even though Zimbabwean women are hard working, educated, skilled, they are constantly denied opportunities and are looked down upon.

Banks deny women credit loans as they have no collateral and are not bankable.

Access to capital to grow their businesses is always a challenge and lack of skills and technological know-how also hinder women from moving forward.

It is time financial institutions gave women equipment and machinery as a way of allowing them to benefit from loan schemes.

In most cases, amounts as little as $300 are given to start-up businesses, however, very few if any business can really grow from such an amount.

This model of assistance does not develop the woman but only increases her problems and burdens and creates more informal business models.

Micro financiers should introduce small machinery for manufacturing such as brick moulding machines, peanut butter making machines, gas grillers, doughnut making machines, detergent machines and allow women to purchase them in order to have viable businesses that can repay the loans given towards the machines.

These machines should be their collateral until they are paid off, in that way a woman would be empowered.

Such items should be secured for women instead of giving them cash.

This should be done in the hope of growing women in business and moving them from the mentality of just merely buying and selling to being producers, who can make their own products and even export to other countries.

In the agricultural sector, a lot of women are farm labourers and only a few own the land.

As agriculture is the backbone of Zimbabwe, it would be very important for Government to allocate women more land and inputs directly.

Men are the ones who receive inputs such as tractors, diesel in their names.

In most cases, inputs are sold and not utilised to benefit the farm in any way and women have no say. Men as the heads of the households, have prestige and more rights to land than the women.

Women’s contribution to agricultural production has a multiplier effect on the development of the country and emancipation of women.

Although there has been some turnaround, where women in Zimbabwe are realising that they should take part in economic growth, there are too many challenges that hinder their development.

The gender dynamics always play a role in the development processes.

Women have also taken an opportunity in mining, where they have been allocated claims and some are mining as groups.

It is, however, a challenge for most to get the relevant equipment for mining as it is costly and finances are scarce.

Most partners also want to partner with men.

Research by the World Bank in 2001 has highlighted that societies that discriminate by gender tend to experience less rapid economic growth and poverty reduction than societies that treat males and females more equally and that social gender disparities produce economically inefficient outcomes.

Women in Zimbabwe should not just be viewed as reliable, productive and cheap labour force but they should also be viewed as the right vehicle for bringing a change and a force worth investing in.

The recognition of women as hard working, influential, productive and efficient distributors of services and goods within the household and country should be enough reason to elevate women to positions of power and decision making, where they will be able to contribute to innovative and sustainable economic development of the people of Zimbabwe.

Agnes Magunje is a gender activist driven by women’s empowerment, a voice of the voiceless. She is currently a final year student reading Women’s and Gender Studies at Women’s University in Africa. She is an executive member of the Harare Chamber of SME’s and projects manager at Harare Informal Traders Council.

No comments: