Zimbabwe: Agnes Tore

Date: September 3, 2019
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I got involved in women empowerment programmes way before I was selected to be a councillor. It all started when I was inspired by a councillor who was a gender champion in the previous term. We shared the same political party. She used to invite us for gender workshops, meetings and social gatherings. I got interested in the community work we used to do and I also joined women programmes in the church. I enjoyed providing counselling for women and youth especially in our political party. When I was elected as a councillor I felt that this was a chance to use my experience from women empowerment programmes and community work for the whole town of Beitbridge instead of our party.

My mission is to promote a gender-sensitive community that works to empower women and shun gender-based violence. To create a platform where women and the girl child can boost their self-confidence and be able to express themselves since they are the most vulnerable group because of the patriarchal society that still exists. To advocate for the rights of the girl child, for instance, the right to equal access to education and also the right to decent childhood life, for example, to do away with early child marriages through awareness campaigns in churches and the community as a whole.

I am the chairperson of the health and housing committee and I advocate for resolutions and programmes that work in favour of women and children. In my ward, I mobilise people to participate in sanitation activities since most people occupy houses that are not serviced with water and sewer. Being the only female leader in a team of six I work with men who are not interested in contributing ideas to improve gender equality. We also lack resources for workshops. Participation in meetings and activities is based on political affiliation and this negatively affects our efforts.

Women do not have qualifications to occupy the head of department positions because there are no tertiary education institutions in Beitbridge, so they have to migrate to other towns to access tertiary education, because of this most women resort to vending for a living. The issue of culture is also a hindrance to gender equality because of the patriarchal society that still exists whereby all decisions are made by men in most families, therefore most women are not allowed to work as men consider themselves as breadwinners. Myths and stereotypes from the society also limit the participation of women in the economic and political sector for example if a woman manages to get a top position they believe that there is immorality that is being done by women hence this shun the participation of women and its attributes to gender inequality. Religious beliefs also pose as a challenge to the efforts of achieving gender equality due to the fact that there are some churches that do not allow women to go to school or work which deprives women of having public platforms to participate. This makes women lose their self-esteem and confidence. In our organisation, there is a lack of resources to educate women and carry out workshops to sensitise women on gender issues, which is one of the major challenges in pushing for gender equality.

I have learnt to value each person in a special way without considering their status in society. I have learnt that women are the most disadvantaged group in society in terms of abuse even though men are also abused. Everyone is equally important and have a right to live peacefully and free from violence. I have realised that in times of economic hardships women are the ones that suffer the most as they are the caregivers, it is easy for men to abandon their families in times of hardships, unlike women who stand with their families.

Women are now involved in income-generating projects, for example, women in markets have been given skills to sell their products. Boreholes have been drilled for easy access to water. Women are now involved in income-generating projects, for example, women in markets have been given skills to sell their products. Boreholes have been drilled for easy access to water. Championing for gender equality has increased the participation of women in the economic and political sector which boosts their self-esteem. Parents now realised that all children should have equal access to education regardless of their sex. The empowerment of women has changed the status of women in their families. Most of them are now able to provide for their families through different income-generating activities which include vending and the number of women who are advancing their education. Participation of women in workplaces and in politics has increased.

The institution is now observing gender values, which is evident in job advertisements and commemoration of the 16 days of activism. Job advertisements encourage women to apply for the advertised posts. We introduced the junior council this year in order to improve child participation in local governance issues. We organised a Beitbridge business Expo for business people to showcase their products and services. Championing for gender equality has also led to the adoption of policies like gender policy, sexual harassment policy, a fully paid maternity leave and extended lunch for example two hours for breastfeeding. Our budget for gender mainstreaming and gender issues used to be very limited. We have lobbied for an improved budget towards gender activities and it is our hope that we will be able to get this.

We conducted a Participatory Health and Hygiene Education (PHHE) training to promote conditions and practices that help to prevent water and sanitation-related diseases for the wards 3, 5 and 6. My ward had the highest number of participants. Females comprised of the majority with 95% as compared to their male counterparts. As part of the way forward, the participants volunteered to be environmental stewards so as to assist the Municipality to ensure the maintenance and sustenance of a healthy environment. The volunteers formed groups as per their residence and nominated their chairpersons and deputies. The duties of the environment monitors include monitoring their local surroundings against littering, participate in clean-up campaigns and sensitizing other residents on the importance of health and hygiene.

It is important to involve the communities in health and hygiene issues that affect them. Different approaches should be used so that people understand the issues that concern them. People should be engaged rather than impose solutions on them. We plan to conduct more workshops and campaigns to assist people to improve on health and hygiene.