IN Africa poverty has a female face because it is the woman who bears much of the brunt of poverty.
Globally, women are poorer than men in all racial and ethnic groups for a number of reasons. In some places, women still earn less than their male counterparts while having the same qualifications and doing the same work.
The majority of women occupy "pink collar" or typically low-paying jobs and spend time providing unpaid care-giving duties more than men.
Pregnancy affects women's work and educational opportunities more than men and lately, domestic and sexual violence (leading to job loss, poor health or homelessness for example) has also been seen to be pushing women into a cycle of poverty.
According to a women and poverty diagnosis conducted by UN Women, the uncertain global economic climate accompanied by economic restructuring, persistent, unmanageable levels of external debt and structural adjustment programmes have contributed to a significant trend of poverty among women in some countries in Africa.
Additionally, all types of conflict, including displacement of people and environmental degradation, have undermined the capacity of governments to meet the basic needs of their populations. Gender disparities in economic power sharing are also an important contributing factor to the poverty of women.
Migration and consequent changes in family structures have placed additional burdens on women, especially those who provide for several dependants. Essentially, the poverty gap is a complex, multi-dimensional challenge requiring nation states to come up with innovative ways to break the vicious cycle of poverty and hunger among women.
African leaders will be meeting soon in Addis Ababa for the 2012 African Union Summit. There are ongoing campaigns to compel them to recommit to smarter investments in the areas of agriculture and nutrition, among others directly impacting the lives of women and children.
Last week the Zimbabwe Poverty Observatory Steering Committee was launched as a national chapter of the regional Sadc Poverty Observatory Committee. This development came hard on the heels of the country finalising its Poverty Income and Consumption Expenditure Survey, which is intended to provide updated poverty figures and spells out where Zimbabwe is today as compared to 2003 when the last poverty assessment was conducted.
The discussion within Sadc to institute a poverty reduction framework at this stage therefore comes at a most opportune time.
The poverty observatory plays an important role of providing timely, accurate and comparable statistics to inform policy as well as assess the impact of policies and programmes. Most importantly, it will see to the development of standard indicators to monitor and evaluate poverty impacts, particularly of various Sadc protocols.
While various Sadc protocols, programmes and conventions contain crucial elements for poverty reduction, whose full implementation have the potential to transform the lives of disadvantaged groups - they remain with no target or monitoring frameworks.
Such a move is critical getting the issues affecting women heard, as it would be able to recognise the underlying differences in how poverty circumstances affect men and women differently. This initiative also follows best practices from other regions and at country level within the Sadc region.
In the past, Zimbabwe had a similar structure established in the 90s as the Integrated Poverty Monitoring and Analysis System. The now defunct IPMAS had a vibrant technical advisory group that saw to the production of two poverty assessment reports in 1995 and 2003.
The launch of the ZPOSC is essentially re-activating that body under the auspices of Sadc to provide direction on poverty data collection, analysis and dissemination in order to influence policy decisions both locally and regionally.
In specific terms, the ZPOSC - constituted by stakeholders from Government, civil society, the business sector and development partners - co-ordinates the monitoring and evaluation of socio-economic poverty development strategies.
It feeds into policy planning and implementation and develops relevant tools to collect and analyse data that will result in the setting up information banks for ease of access to information by all stakeholders.
It will also document and publish best practices as well as provide statistics for reporting on the MDGs and Human Development reports.
What is a most encouraging aspect about the observatory is that it is made up of thematic committees for analysis and development of the indicators. The committees include one on gender and development as a cross-cutting dimension of critical relevance as development and poverty alleviation strategies that fail to target women and girls have little to no chance of success in Africa.
This ensures that Sadc will recognise poverty as having a gender dimension and the resultant commitment to mainstreaming gender into the region's development agenda as enshrined in the Sadc Protocol on Gender and Development.
According to Mrs Naome Chimbetete, who chairs the gender thematic group in the observatory, the development of standard poverty indicators will ensure that Sadc "promotes gender equality in all spheres of life, and develops deliberate policies to reverse the growing trend of feminisation of poverty".
The Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and Network is an information-based organisation advocating for gender equality and equity.