Zimbabwe: Let's Continue Removing Barriers

On Wednesday, the curtain came down on Women's Month, amid renewed calls to continue removing barriers to female leadership and ensuring that women have access to equal opportunities across the political and economic divide.

Running under the theme; "Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a Covid world", most traditional events were blighted by the Covid-19 virus lockdown regulations that restrict public gathering to 50 people.

A few events that passed the litmus test on Covid-19 regulations were held under very strict conditions or on various virtual platforms.

However, the circumstances under which the events were held did not in any way dampen the enthusiasm among women and other stakeholders, who reflected on the long and arduous journey in advocating for equal spaces for men and women.

Such platforms held across the globe also afforded the same populace an opportunity to revisit and strengthen their long-term vision of ensuring that women have equal opportunities with men. If anything, this year's Women Month reinvigorated the gender equality discourse, following the elevation of several women on different platforms, a validation of women's competency and leadership skills, not only in Africa, but also across the globe.

From 1917, when Loretta Walsh became the first woman to join the army, becoming the first American active-duty Navy woman, the gender equality discourse has trudged on for years.

Save for a few patches of successes here and there, attempts to achieve gender equality has been met with structural and physical resistance.

The gender narrative has remained a widely acknowledged discourse, that almost everyone has engaged in, pledged to be part of, yet the results do not reflect the level of commitment made to narrow the gap between men and women. Of course the attempt to address historical imbalances have not been a futile one, judging by pockets of redress that have been made, albeit on ad hoc basis.

As the nation makes a countdown to the Independence Day on April 18, it is important also to take stock of the road that women have trudged in their endeavour to gain leverage in social, economic and political spaces.

Notable achievements have been made in education, with UNICEF saying that the majority of women and girls can now afford to read, having attained primary level education across in most of the African countries.

Outside, the literacy levels gender equality disparities in both economic and political circles, remain a cause for concern that women raise on a daily basis. Naturally attainment of political and economic independence would be the citadel that women have for generations been battling to attain.

While Africa boasts a litany of statutes and legal instruments that call for the political and economic empowerment of women across the globe, the female population has not been considered for meaningful leadership positions.

The swearing in of Madam Samia Suluhu Hassan as Tanzania's first female leader, becoming the second female president in the continent out of the 54, is one of the rare, but exciting pieces of news that multitudes of women and gender activists would love to relish on, but sadly, such developments do not come cheap.

Madam Hassan will join Sahle-Work Zewde, the first elected female President of Ethiopia and their presence on the African leadership table will do nothing to dilute the highly concentrated male environment. The two are a figurative representation of nearly 700 million voices of women across the continent, whose aspirations and expectations have not been captured in equal measure because of gender dynamics in leadership.

With historical gender inequalities that have gone through several generations, the gender equality trajectory can only be carried forward honourably if more women than before sit are accorded space in political and leadership spaces, where hard decisions are made. The glaring absence of women in political spaces not only in Zimbabwe, but across the globe points to the global leadership's failure to support engendered governance.

While the reasons may vary with regions, several factors such as lack of resources, weak political structures to support women's ascendancy to leadership, the abrasive nature of politics that scares away women are some of the averse factors stalling political inclusion of women. In the case of Zimbabwe, it is among several countries that boast of good policies on gender equality, but lack proper implementation, monitoring and evaluation, hence the gap between policy and results.

Apart from the Constitution, which advocates for the uplifting of women, Government has on ad hoc basis adopted several stop-gap measures, remedial measures among them zebra political parties policy policies meant to elevate the status of women in politics

While they might never be a universal template that can be used to promote gender equality, Zimbabwe still needs to pursue its own home- grown solutions to elevate the status of women in politics.

Mentoring, availing of resources, socialising communities to embrace gendered leadership and ending all forms of violence against women are some of the long term solutions that the Government would need to look as part of the many other attempts needed to ensure gender equality.

Ensuring gender equality is a human right, a feat that is doable once the Government commits to monitor and whip the implementers into line.

Countries such as Rwanda have successfully managed to implement gender equality policies that are already yielding positive results.

Rwanda does acknowledge the role that women play in economic and national development, and has been pushing for the continued inclusion of women in all government sectors.

Speaking during the International Women's Day commemorations a few years back, Rwanda President Paul Kagame said: "gender equality and women's empowerment is a cornerstone of the government of Rwanda's development strategy, and a proven source of development progress".

There is still room for Zimbabwe and other African countries do more towards gender equality once stakeholders and the Government are inspired by the same vision.

With women taking up half the global population, and carrying with them historical baggage of being treated unfairly for generations, it is high time they should get a sizeable share on the leadership and governance tables with men.

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