Samson Muradzikwa Correspondent
The promotion of gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls is central to any society keen to achieve equity. In order to achieve results of every child, especially the disadvantaged, it is essential that one of the most fundamental injustices that exist in all societies – gender inequality – is fully addressed.
Evidence shows that gender, poverty and geographic residence are three of the strongest factors determining disparities in child rights and well-being.
Zimbabwe is somewhat in a unique position to foster gender-equitable outcomes by redefining gender roles and power relations for the men and women of tomorrow.
This is so because the new Constitution, with its strong provisions on gender equality, gives us the basis to advance the interests of women and girls, with the Government taking an active leadership role.
However, the reality on the ground shows that more still needs to be done!
Despite progress since the Fourth World Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995, a range of challenges to gender equality, especially girls’ empowerment, remain.
These include girls’ lack of access to basic health and education services, negative social norms and practices, such as son preference and child marriages, disproportionate burden of work and frequent experience of violence both in and outside the home.
These limit girls’ potential and set them on a path of limitation and deprivation.
Our policies and programmes need to reflect gender equality.
Gender equality should no longer be viewed as a “separate question” but as a central part of all policies and programmes. This gender mainstreaming approach does not just look at women in isolation but looks at both women and men as actors in the development process.
The greatest mistake we can make is to assume that policies and interventions will affect men and women, boys and girls, in the same way.
To date, considerable progress has been made in mainstreaming two key areas – gender-based violence and girls’ education at primary level. There is emerging progress on mainstreaming gender in sectors beyond child protection and education.
Moving forward, we need to build on these successes by maximising opportunities within and across all sectors to not only meet girl and women specific needs, but also to help reshape gender relations in terms of opportunities, burdens, responsibilities, and expectations.
Inclusion of adolescent girls in mainstream society keeps them on a path to achieving their maximum human potential which will ultimately result in significant national economic growth. It is clear that economies suffer when girls miss out on investment choices.
Even by the most conservative estimates based on a number of studies, the economic costs are huge.
This, of course, is to say nothing of the massive social and intergenerational costs incurred by families and societies when today’s uneducated girls become tomorrow’s mothers.
The challenge facing policy makers, development experts, donors, corporations, NGOs and all stakeholders is to intervene before it’s too late.
If we manage that, the world will finally realise this tremendous opportunity for change.
To monitor progress, it is necessary to collect data on adolescents.
By tracking programme beneficiaries by age, gender, marital status, location, family income and school enrolment status in all programmes and sectors, managers and governments can better assess whether programmes are reaching adolescent girls – especially the most vulnerable.
This is commendable but it does not begin and end there.
There is a responsibility on all of us to walk the talk and be the change we want to see. In our day-to-day lives, we need to demonstrate that we believe in the equality of men and women and do everything we can to promote and protect this inalienable right.
The author is Chief of Social policy at UNICEF Zimbabwe.