Southern Africa: Not yet economic Uhuru for women

Southern Africa: Not yet economic Uhuru for women

Date: September 9, 2014
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Johannesburg, 15 August: Women’s month commemorations in South Africa create ripple effects across the Southern Africa region. When hundreds of women marched to the Union buildings decades ago to demand freedom, it was not only a political activity to make history but a bread and butter issue to mark ‘herstory’. With the 34th SADC Heads of State Summit underway in Victoria Falls, with trade as a priority area, it is critical for policy makers and the region to ensure that trade policies which are largely gender blind include women’s economic empowerment.

According to the proportion of women in economic decision making has stagnated since 2012 at only 26% in 2014. Despite numerous calls and policy attempts across the region to emancipate women economically, the 26% proportion is an indicator of who controls the means of production in the region.

The national purses are mainly controlled by men with only two finance ministers in the SADC region. The SADC Protocol on Gender and Development calls for policies and frameworks that will ensure equal participation by men and women in policy formulation and implementation. This includes gender responsive budgeting when appropriating national resources.

The SADC member states have developed policy frameworks to ensure economic growth in the region. South Africa’s Women Empowerment and Gender Equality (WEGE) bill and Zimbabwe’s Agenda for Sustainable Socio-Economic Transformation (ZimAsset) endeavour to include women in economic development. However, the creation of jobs for girls continues in the region with women on the periphery of economic development and concentrated in the survival sectors. Women still account for a large proportion of informal and cross-border traders. It is still difficult to find women in male dominated sectors such as mining, construction, farming, manufacturing and finance.

Agriculture remains a major contributor to the region’s Gross Domestic Product (GDP). Estimated economic growth for 2015 in all SADC countries is above 3%. Women need to constitute an increased contribution to the GDP estimates otherwise it is still not yet ‘Uhuru’ for women in the region economically. Women form large proportion in the labour force with many farm labourers being women. However, women’s ownership of land and agricultural means of production is negligible.

Unemployment remains high amongst Southern African women but women still make crucial unremunerated contributions to economic development. Gender disaggregation in economic indicators remains scanty affecting economic planning for SADC member states. Gone are the days where women’s economic empowerment will focus on seamstresses, catering, cleaning or flower arranging. The region needs to push the envelope to include more women in the science and technology fields as well as decision making positions in the financial sector.

The women’s banks have provided start-up platforms for women in the region but these need to be supported by capacity building on entrepreneurship to ensure economic justice. Swaziland’s SWEET bank established by the Queen Mother is a responsive project to emancipate women especially from rural areas. Malawi’s Gender Equality Act endeavours to provide equal opportunities for women including in the economy. Madagascar’s National Adaptation Programme of Action (NAPA) review seeks to tackle women’s empowerment through climate change mitigation. Botswana’s National Development Bank has assisted women to grow and expand their businesses but this is tough terrain as more men than women access the loans. The challenges with the economic empowerment projects and frameworks is implementation as well as monitoring and evaluation. The post-2015 agenda provides an opportunity for SADC member states to put in place stringent frameworks for implementing and monitoring economic policy frameworks.

It may be argued that affirmative action policies have favoured women in the work place. However, there are still few women in the boardrooms let alone in management positions. Women’s economic emancipation is still marred by gender based violence with an upsurge of women not in control of their own income. Gender responsive economic policies and action plans should reflect intertwining of economic justice with gender justice. The multiple roles that women endure have to be reflected in economic policies and labour practices to ease the burden on women and ensure that women play productive roles. Systematic time use studies should be conducted by governments in line with national household surveys to achieve accurate baselines.

Although some member states have been progressive to bridge the finance gender gap, calls to bring women into non-traditional roles have sometimes been unanswered due to capacity building issues. As politicians ask where the women are when campaigning for inclusive development, this call has to be viewed in tandem with the multiple roles women play and the restrictive economic policy frameworks.

Zimbabwe’s 2010-2011 Demographic and Health Survey shows that women’s ownership of assets is hampered by the need for collateral by finance institutions. This situation is common across the region with financial institutions flagging the 2008 economic crisis as a lesson learnt for stringent financial controls. Barometer, affirms the demand for collateral as a major stumbling block for women to own assets. Local government, such as the Namibia Build Together Project, is critical in ensuring availability of collateral through housing and land ownership. Inheritance practices and laws have affected widows’ ownership of assets. However, progress has been made in some SADC countries to protect widows and children. The challenge is to align customary laws with the constitutions where 11 countries have reviewed their constitutions since 2012.

As SADC Heads convene this weekend, and with the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development targets expiring in 2015, it is only appropriate for them to ensure a progressive economic empowerment framework through new targets backed by indicators- what cannot be measured cannot be counted. An inclusive post-2015 development framework is critical for the region’s development. The SADC Gender Protocol Alliance calls on governments to leave no one behind in economic transformation and to put women at the heart of trade policies.

Sifisosami Dube is the SADC Gender Protocol Alliance and Partnerships Manager and co-editor of the 2014 SADC Gender Protocol Barometer. She wrote the ‘Productive resources and employment, economic empowerment’ chapter. This article is part of the Gender Links News Service Women’s Month special series.





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