Women most affected by gender bias
Lovemore Chikova News Editor
The Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development is a perfect instrument that needs to implemented by all member States to ensure the advancement of women in the region.
That there is no gender equality in most of Sadc countries is not a secret, considering that many countries are taking measures in a bid to address the situation.
This is why Sadc leaders must take stock on progress made so far in implementing regional instruments that are meant to address gender inequalities when they meet for the 34th Sadc Summit in Victoria Falls from 17 to 18 this month.
Women are the most affected by the gender biases, yet they form the majority in the region.
If allowed to continue, gender disparities will obviously affect development in the region because women and girls are an integral part of the matrix.
A society in which women and men enjoy the same opportunities in all spheres of life should be the ultimate desire of every Sadc country.
Every child must grow up knowing that equality exists and that access to opportunities is a right despite their sex.
Actually, women’s empowerment is vital to sustainable development and the realisation of human rights for all.
When the Sadc leaders discuss regional integration at the Victoria Falls summit they must also remember to include the importance of main-streaming gender in all sectors of such integration.
It is time that the Sadc Gender Budgeting Guidelines, which emphasise on budgets that are gender sensitive are taken seriously by the member states.
These gender budgeting guidelines will ensure that the girl child is not left behind in development.
While the principle of gender equity is generally accepted throughout the region, discriminatory practices still persist in facets of society and calls for an open and friendly atmosphere to address the issue.
Co-author of the annual Global Gender Gap Report Saadia Zahidi says that gender imbalances, and their resulting economic consequences, are still startlingly visible everywhere, from the developed world to emerging markets.
“Worldwide, most countries recognise that equal rights should exist between men and women,” she said.
“Many have produced regulations intended to fight discrimination and programmes granting women access to health, education and economic rights such as land ownership.
“However, the fact remains that women have fewer opportunities than men to benefit from economic development, with lower participation in the labour force.”
This observation perfectly fits well with the situation in the Sadc region and this is why it is necessary to have deliberate efforts from the leaders to correct the situation.
The United Nations Population Fund has observed that where women’s status is low, family size tends to be large, which makes it more difficult for families to thrive.
“Population and development and reproductive health programmes are more effective when they address the educational opportunities, status and empowerment of women,” noted the UN agency.
“When women are empowered, whole families benefit, and these benefits often have ripple effects to future generations.”
In the Sadc region, despite many regional agreements affirming their human rights, women are still much more likely than men to be poor and illiterate.
They usually have less access than men to medical care, property ownership, credit, training and employment and they are far less likely than men to be politically active.
The women also tend to be the majority of victims of domestic violence.
In countries like Zimbabwe, it is noted that several policy mechanisms to support women’s growth and development have been implemented over the years, yet the country still lags behind the Sadc requirements on gender equality.
Addressing delegates during the official launch of the joint Programme for Gender Equality with the United Nations in Harare recently, Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development Minister Oppah Muchinguri admitted that despite all the efforts made by her ministry Zimbabwe is still rated below Sadc expectations on gender-related issues.
But she acknowledged the fact that the eighth Parliament of Zimbabwe addressed the issue of proportional representation by making up a 34 percent increase of women in Parliament.
There is 32 percent of the members of the National Assembly are women and the figure stands at 48 percent in the Senate, mainly as a result of the special measures in the new Constitution passed last year.
The new Constitution also calls for the establishment of a Zimbabwe Gender Commission to push gender issues and enhance the lives of women.
The new Constitution is also aligned with several of the key international and regional gender equality and women’s rights instruments that Zimbabwe has signed and ratified.
These include the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa and the Sadc Gender and Development Protocol.
Other countries in the region have also taken several steps to address the gender imbalances, but more effort is needed in that regard.
South Africa has established the Commission on Gender Equality to advance gender equality in all spheres of society and make recommendations on any legislation affecting the status of women.
The Commission aims to transform society by “exposing gender discrimination in laws, policies and practices; advocating changes in sexist attitudes and gender stereotypes; and instilling respect for women’s rights as human rights”.
Botswana has the National Gender Programme Framework and a Gender Policy which has been developed to safeguard the position of women.
The country has also acceded to the Convention of the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women.
Namibia developed and adopted its first National Gender Policy in 1997 aimed at closing the gaps created by the socio-economic, political and cultural inequalities that existed previously.
To ensure the implementation of the policy, a National Gender Plan of Action was developed in 1998.
Zambia adopted a National Gender Policy almost a decade ago to ensure fair participation of men and women in the developmental process.
Malawi also has a National Gender Policy aimed at raising awareness of gender matters, legal rights of women, diet and the efficient utilisation of food and nutrition, and the economic empowerment of women in conjunction with the poverty alleviation programme.
Other countries in the region have various policies and programmes meant to address gender disparity.
But what the Sadc leaders have to realise at Victoria Falls is that despite these policies, Government institutions still remain gender blind.
This is most glaring when it comes to member States’ national budgets which completely fail to disaggregate resource allocation and incentives by gender.
The Sadc leaders must ensure that the region’s protocol on gender is fully implemented to provide for the empowerment of women, to eliminate discrimination and achieve gender equality.
There must also be deliberate moves to encourage and harmonise the development and implementation of gender responsive legislation, policies and programmes.
Only two members of the regional bloc Botswana and Mauritius have not signed the protocol, while 13 have done so.
Angola, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, South Africa, Seychelles, Tanzania and Zimbabwe have gone further to ratify it.
Out of these only five — Lesotho, Mozambique, Namibia, Tanzania and Zimbabwe — have deposited their Instruments of Ratification.