While women have, to some extent, benefited from deliberate policies to improve their lot in the economy, politically and on the social arena since independence, Zimbabwe is still far from empowering them in an effective and sustainable way that will produce tangible and broad-based results.
The pros and cons of the current process can be debated, but basically this signals an upheaval in terms of people’s access to and control over economic resources. Any credible assessment of these processes must consider the opportunities for women’s empowerment and seek to redress the existing disparity between male and female players in the mainstream economy.
The Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Act has largely been viewed as contentious but, if handled correctly, it has immense potential to improve the fortunes of women in our country.
It calls for at least 51 percent of foreign-owned companies to be relinquished into the hands of Zimbabweans. It is from this portion that women, as a specialist group, will also claim their stake.
Although women are mentioned as one of the specialist groups meant to benefit from the initiative, there are no specific provisions or deliverables in the Act to ensure that women are not left out.
All it says in specific reference to women is this: “The measure may be implemented by the government specifically on behalf of any one or more of the following groups of indigenous Zimbabweans – (a) women, (b) young persons under a prescribed age and (c) Disabled persons as defined in the Disabled Person Act.”
In the rest of the Act it is merely implied that women will be part of the indigenous people to benefit from the disposal of shares, and the new investment expected over the next few years under which joint ventures with locals will be the permissible route for any investor.
While the sectoral approach to the entire process should see women entering all sectors of the economy, caution has to be taken over the specific implementation mechanisms. For example, in the mining sector, the share ownership schemes, particularly the community ownership trusts – some of which have already been placed under (male) Chiefs – may perpetuate the subordination of women’s control over proceeds.
There is therefore need for the National Indigenization and Economic Empowerment Board, created to implement the Act, to come up with measurable objectives to cater for women, who constitute the majority of the Zimbabwean population, at 52 percent.
This could then erase the danger of women being left out of the entire process if the gender dimension is not entrenched. At the launch of the Women Investment Fund last year, Indigenization Minister Saviour Kasukuwere said his ministry would make sure that in every deal women would not be left out. He will need to be held accountable.
In a supplement to the July 2011 monetary policy statement, Reserve Bank of Zimbabwe Governor Gideon Gono offers the Supply and Distribution Indigenization and Empowerment Model (SADIE) approach as a quicker and more effective way of empowering the previously disadvantaged, with a specific target for women laid out.
Under this approach, government can ensure that indigenous people supply about 75 percent of inputs and services into Zimbabwe’s production processes as opposed to mere equity holdings that may not yield high dividends and profits.
Whilst SADIE proposes that cross-border trading women should be exempted from paying duty, its suggestion that 30 percent of supplier companies should be controlled by women while 15 percent of businesses should be sold to women is a perpetuation of the tokenistic approach to women’s empowerment.
Further, SADIE’s suggestion that sectors such as clothing, food and hairdressing should be made a preserve for women is stereotypical, placing women in the less lucrative economic ventures.
The Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Community Development, Parliamentarians and other political and economic leaders are expected to play a key role in ensuring that women are catered for.
Women’s groups and other advocates should not be passive at a time when the country’s cake is being redistributed.
As debate rages on the modus operandi of implementing the Act, the various strategies need to be viewed in a practical manner that will, at the end of the day, give rise to empowered women, with real power to influence the economic landscape.Post published in: Politics