New push for positive gender policies

Despite evidence that investing in gender equality – such as increasing women’s access to health care, employment and credit – can accelerate economic growth and reduce poverty, mainstreaming gender equality is still lacking in economic policy formulation, implementation and evaluation in Zimbabwe.

But this looks set to be remedied if the government joins other African countries in the Gender and Economic Policy Management Initiative.

GEPMI, according to the Permanent Secretary of the Ministry of Economic Planning and Investment Promotion, Dr Desire Sibanda, was created to fill the existing gender gap.

Sibanda said there had been significant progress made in narrowing gender disparities in both primary and secondary education. But disparities still evident at tertiary level continued and pervaded employment and decision making, where women continue to be marginalized. Women also have fewer economic and political opportunities to improve their well-being and that of their families. As a result, men continue to enjoy a higher human development index.

Lobbying for the mainstreaming of gender into national policies, including the budget, has been done by women’s organizations and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs. But this has failed to penetrate other line ministries.

As a result, they continue to sideline or pay lip service to key issues and problem identification that inform whether their programmes are gender sensitive. There is a misplaced assumption that gender issues only need to be addressed by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs, although efforts have been made to show that these transcend all ministries.

A recent workshop by the Zimbabwe Women’ s Resource Centre and Network to sensitize journalists to report on gender budgeting in all ministries encouraged gender sensitive policy analysis in “unlikely” ministries such as transport, energy, defence, construction, trade and industry. In designing policies within the transport ministry, for example, reporters should ask to what extent do the specific needs of women, men, boys and girls, inform programmes? How are the challenges faced by cross-border traders, particularly women, in securing safe transport addressed?

While most people talk about the energy sector, not enough is said about the role played by women in managing the resources. For example, it is not known whether the relevant ministry takes into account the fact that women are mostly responsible for gathering firewood when it defines policy. “What is well known, however, is that women are blamed for damaging the environment although no alternative sources of affordable energy are offered,” says LindiweNgwenya of ZWRCN.

In trade and industry, the ministry has been challenged to consider the extent to which customs control structures are gender sensitive. When cross-border traders travel through the border posts, what are the sanitary conditions like and what does this mean for women, men, boys and girls.

In industries such as construction, gender issues have to do with procurement processes such as awarding of large scale building tenders. It would be interesting to investigate who has won these tenders and how many are women?

The GEPMI programme intends to accelerate achievement of the Millennium Development Goals, in particular MDG3 on gender equality and women’s empowerment, by increasing the effectiveness of economic policies and poverty reduction strategies.

The course is expected to enhance gender awareness in economic policy formulation and implementation and also sharpen the understanding of participants on the links between gender equality and such policies.

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