Friday, September 28, 2012

Address Women's Challenges Now

Address women’s challenges now

Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00
Ruth Butaumocho
Gender Forum
Zimbabwe Herald

I was going through my e-mails last week, when I came across an auto-reply from a South African colleague, saying she was away from work for a week, as part of the Woman’s Month commemorations that were taking place in that country in August. Curious, what the hype was all about, I went to the website link she had provided to get an insight on what the commemoration was all about.

I had not heard about Woman’s History Month commemorations apart from the International Woman’s Day, normally celebrated in most countries in the southern region on March 8.

True to the contents of the email, South African women were indeed among thousands of women across the globe that spent a month celebrating women’s contribution to the survival and existence of womankind from the time of the Biblical Eve.

Dubbed Women’s History Month, this is an annual event celebrated every month of August worldwide to highlight the contributions of women to events in history and contemporary society.

It is celebrated during March in the United States, the United Kingdom and Australia and during October in Canada, corresponding with the celebration of Persons Day on October.

Some of the groups promoting this interest are state historical societies, women’s organisations and groups such as the Girl Scouts that are scattered across the world.

The popularity of women’s history celebrations has become widespread and in Africa it is increasingly becoming an important event on the feminist calendar. It has actually become a money spinner for women’s movements, who organise red-carpets events running for a good month, for very poor and marginalised women, who can’t tell a difference between a wine goblet and a water glass.

Yes, initially I was a bit disappointed that the World Woman’s Month does not appear on our national calendar and public holiday events, with the exception of the International Women’s Day, which largely goes unnoticed, and is almost akin to the World’s Oral Day.

It was even sad to note that there was a black out on the month long celebrations in Zimbabwe, while in neighbouring South Africa, it was a big event.

In South Africa, the month long commemorations were even marked by protests and marches, as thousands of women took to the streets, demanding the equal treatment of women in all sectors.

But on second thoughts, I realised that there was no reason really for Zimbabwean women to spend time questioning the dynamics of its absence and the relevance of its presence on our national calendar.

What women need to do is to establish whether the programmes that non-governmental organisations and policy makers have been doing in empowering women, socially, politically and economically warrants any form of celebration, a day or a month long for that matter.

For a long time, non-governmental organisations, the civic society, political parties and even the government have been mouthing platitudes on “women’s empowerment”, “gender equality”, “gender mainstream” and other equally empty euphemisms that have done little to improve the plight of the ordinary woman.

All these euphemisms have been supported by high-sounding national, regional and international conferences where women’s empowerment issues, have been discussed to no end.

During these symposiums, experts have even been engaged to craft well-polished recommendations and policy documents. In some instances blue prints have been produced for implementation with some projects actually taking off the ground, only to be abandoned midway probably due to funding and other unforeseeable circumstances.

Only few women can claim that they benefitted from women empowerment, while the rest continue to wallow in poverty in their different circumstances.

Yes, success stories of women empowerment in different sectors of life have been recorded here and there, but sadly on the whole, the plight of women continue unabated across the social spectrum.

The situation alone is telling.

While the struggle for gender parity in politics has been gaining momentum, albeit at a snail’s pace, other areas like right to safe motherhood, legal rights, wills and inheritance, equal economic participation and equal opportunities at work and other sectors continue to lag behind.

Women continue to be marginalised and discriminated against in terms of economic opportunities, the labour market as well as access to land, credit, and finance. It is well and good for other countries to roll out red carpets, partake in festivities and toast to continued good policy-implementation, while commemorating the month-long Woman’s History Month.

But the Zimbabwean women still have a long way to go before they can sit back and enjoy the success that would have come along with their toil.

It will certainly be a long walk to freedom unless the Government intervenes and expedites some projects that have remained on paper for longer than necessary. The beauty about Zimbabwe’s women’s history is that, it is a well known struggle that have been on the lips of nearly every policy makers, implementers and politicians and yet nothing seem to be moving.

Zimbabweans across the political divide know that our women have borne the brunt of the recent crises, as measured in high child mortality rates, unemployment levels and the confinement of women to agricultural work, where they are just nothing but labourers.

Their exclusion from modern, technical, and scientific fields — either by the process of elimination or strategically — is well known and remain unattended to. On the social front, on a daily basis, the country continue to record alarming statistics of women who are being raped, violated and are victims of gender based- violence in their homes, families and the community at large.

If women are to take part in these month long festivities, that our neighbours seem to be enjoying, then our community leaders have to get very serious on ending the culture of silence and impunity that has allowed the abuse, degradation, of women to go largely ignored for generations.

The same leaders have to empower the women, mentor them to unleash the greatness within them and give them socio-supporting structures to promote and ensure their sustenance and that of future generations.

The problems that women continue to face are insurmountable and call for an urgent redress, at all levels, to create a conducive environment, where one day Zimbabwean women will join thousands across the globe in commemorating Woman’s History Month.

Yes, its okay, to join thousands of women across the globe in celebrating the achievements of women, in all sectors, but women need to be clear on why they are celebrating, and what they are celebrating.
Until women’s challenges are taken seriously and addressed, then they may continue to be spectators when celebrations like the Woman History Month sweep across the region.

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