Friday, October 28, 2016

Women Critical in Economic Turnaround
October 27, 2016
Victoria Ruzvidzo Business Focus
Zimbabwe Herald

Current economic challenges demand that stakeholders in the economic think outside the box or far away from the box as many would posit. In all this, women, who constitute about 52 percent of Zimbabwe’s population, have a critical role to play to turn the economy around, bringing it back to a sustainable growth trajectory.

Experience has shown that excluding the majority is any economic strategy will not be sustainable. Women need to participate actively in the country’s socio-economic discourse. They already contribute significantly to the Gross Domestic Product, hence policies that deliberately include them will yield better results.

The reserve Bank of Zimbabwe has taken a pro-active stance by directing banks to create women desks to ensure financial inclusion and tailor made products. Already eight banks have set up such facilities. These are critical steps in harnessing women’s potential to make a difference in the economy. The World Economic Forum on Africa has just released its Global Gender Gap Report 2016 which states that economic parity between sexes could take about 170 years to be achieved.

“The world is facing an acute misuse of talent by not acting faster to tackle gender inequality, which could put economic growth at risk and deprive economies of the opportunity to develop,” concluded the report, which is an annual bench-marking exercise that measures parity between men and women in educational attainment, health and survival, economic opportunity and political empowerment.

Zimbabwean women have much to contribute to the country’s economic well-being and are doing all they can to be included in the processes. I solicited views from top local and regional women and herewith their submissions:

Zimbabwe Open Univerisity Vice Chancellor and President of the Professional Women and BusinessWomen’s Forum (Proweb) Professor Primrose Kurasha had this to say:

Kiran Mazumdar-Shaw in the article: How can women promote India’s economic development? says,“Denying women opportunities to realise their potential is a waste of human capital and bar to economic progress. Women are undoubtedly the foundation of the basic unit of society — the family. Even in traditional roles they demonstrate great innovation, skill, intelligence, hard work and commitment.”

It is against this background that I say Zimbabwe needs to harness these attributes effectively, to grow a more inclusive and equitable economic environment. Women are natural multi-tasking beings and will naturally survive most economic environments. Almost always, women play a dual role in the society, that is, they produce goods and services and they also have their domestic chores; and, above all that, some of the women are wives and mothers.

This is their initial contribution to economic development that has been neglected in many societies. In most societies, women are the custodians of traditional/indigenous knowledge relating to resource management and again provide access to modern technology.

Women have proved to use micro-finance effectively to develop small enterprises and are recognised as good at paying back loans (Sustainable Development Solutions Network: A Global Initiative, United Nations). Dollar and Gatti,1999 highlighted that ‘societies that discriminate by gender tend to experience less rapid economic growth and poverty reduction than those societies that treat males and females more equitably’.

Today, gender equality is no longer a lofty aspiration for economies on the growth path like Zimbabwe; it is the critical missing link for sustainable development.

As a woman folk it is time to fully embrace gender equality and gender equity to ensure meaningful participation in the economy. Women, the world over, constitute more than 50 percent of the world’s talent base and are known, on average, to reinvest up to 90 percent of income into their households.

Given resources therefore, working women would reinvest significantly back into the business and ensure thriving economic environment thereby, fostering the success of their local communities.

A study by Swamy (2001) found out that women are less involved in bribery than their male counterparts. It concluded that women have higher standards of ethical behaviour and are more concerned with the common good. In that study, it was recommended that increasing women’s presence in public life can reduce levels of corruption and increase sustainable economic development.

To Johnsson-Latham (2007), strengthening both the gender equality perspective and the voice of women in decision-making, enhancing work on sustainable (economic) development, not least in the leadership sphere is what appears missing. Goetz cited in Sampson (2009) pointed out that corruption functions primarily through all-male networks and in forums from which women are socially excluded.

Varley, (2005) has shown that gender is an important determinant of leadership and female leaders tend to share power with staff and use a more democratic approach to leadership than male leaders. (Chiome C, 2013 British Journal of Social Sciences)

The role of women in Zimbabwe’s sustainable economic development is two fold; that is, making the market work for women and empowering women in the market place. Zimbabwe needs therefore to incentivise companies on the employment of women in leadership positions in order to “improve performance and achieve higher profits”.

Despite what other people may say and believe supporting female empowerment would almost always have positive outcomes and impact on family life and the community for sustainable economic development in Zimbabwe. In addition, women induce values and integrity into the workplace. Women are driven by task accomplishment and not the clock. They will work until the task is done.

Entrepreneur Gerry Rantseli from South Africa said: “Women are by nature entrepreneurs, and have remained resolute to their entrepreneurial aspirations against all odds. It is because of women’s determination to succeed that micro-lending has become big business, since 65 percent of borrowers are women.

Despite women’s determination to push the boundaries and claim space in the economic sphere, the existing economic structures in different countries in Africa are stifling growth and flexibility of entrepreneurship among women.

Looking at the effort that women have been making in the economic sphere, by now gender empowerment should no longer be a point of conjecture. But here we are, seating in this room, discussing and sharing notes on how best we can move forward.

Women should disregard societal attitudes and instead push for recognition through hard work. Glass ceilings should be broken and not spoken about.

Women should not be caught up in the challenges and lose focus but they should plan and be able to implement their projects, even with limited resources.”

Women’s rights activist working in communication, gender and development Virginia Muwanigwa had this to say :

“Women’s contribution to Zimbabwe’s economy of course is hampered by the uncertainty surrounding the impending bond notes. However, women have never been known to just sit back and I know that they have over the years devised home grown mechanisms to not only put food on the table but to earn a living.

One method to counter lack of equal access to finance be it income, credit or otherwise has been the rounds which have taken various forms, where they take advantage of their numbers to pool together resources for distribution to each other.

These methods are, however, affected by macroeconomic policy so women need to be part of the dialogue — to inform on their analysis of the issues and also present alternatives. I have always wondered why the formal financing institutions have not adapted or at least target the rounds groups as a niche market.

The potential in the groups some of which are high stake is quite immense and should be tapped for increased economic growth and also from an indigenisation perspective.

However, women can only thrive in their contribution to the economy provided the fundamentals are right, their increased participation requires support that recognises the sustainability of their approaches which are based not on risky investment of lots of money into a venture by one person but grows a community-driven resource pool. The control mechanisms largely work and penalties are enforced where relevant.

Network of African Business Women (NABW) chairperson Hazel Chinake had this to say: “Despite the myriad of challenges that women face, many have been able to rise to the occasion and make a significant contribution to the economy, not just in Zimbabwe but in the region as well. They may not have enough space to manoeuvre but they make the most of what they have.

In this economy even in the days of hyper-inflation where empty shelves in supermarkets became the order of the day, cross-border women went across the length and breath of the continent to fend for their families and the economy at large. Their socio-economic activities play a vital role in the economy but at the same time we feel so much needs to be done to harness their full potential.

More strategies and efforts are required to augment women’s efforts on the grand stage. Financial inclusion is critical to facilitate increased participation be women.

Furthermore, women bear the brunt of the effects of debt, particularly in their families and communities hence the need for sustainable debt management strategies for this constituency. Awareness programme are also necessary on such issues as the impeding introduction of bond notes to tame the anxiety that has gripped many while fully apprising women of the benefits of these notes and how they will work. Involving women in decision making and high level discussions on national policies and strategic will certainly bring positive results that the economy needs at this juncture.”

In God I Trust!

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