Almost each passing minute in Zimbabwe a girl is abused, married off, raped, and in the worst of scenarios — dies, most often owing to grave poverty levels which she nor her family could not cope with in the coalface of the current economic meltdown.
Rural girls and women carry the burden and responsibilities for the development of communities in countries like Zimbabwe.
While issues around gender equity and child marriages are gracing various platforms of discourse, what stands unknown is whether these issues are being given the attention that they deserve in the context of the country’s development expectations.
Gender and girl-child activism is not by coincidence and neither merely ripple effects of Prosecutor-General Johannes Tomana’s gaffe on the unpopular “age of consent”, but have been topical issues all around the globe since time immemorial.
That’s why there is the Sadc Gender Protocol, Beijing Platform for Action, the Sadc Declaration on Gender and Development (1997), the Convention on the Rights of the Child (1989) and the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa which in themselves are also political confirmations resultant of political commissions and consensuses from all-engaging submissions.
The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action was approved in September 1995 at the fourth world conference and is widely referred to in feminists’ affirmative actions albeit being considered to have failed in all its 12 critical areas due to chronic under-investment in gender equality.
That these issues landed in the conscience of activists has however much more bearing, background and history. All issues that ultimately become bundled up as “activism niches” go far beyond fulfilling adopted programming methodologies for a host of organisations. They are in essence designed to reflect a certain quantity of social deficiency, just in the same vein as democracy, human rights and ethnic imbalances are addressed.
According to the Sadc Gender Protocol, these are what lead way to the culmination of what is preferred as “affirmative action”.
On a larger scale, condemnations of non-girl-child promoting actions like female genital mutilations in some African countries, all seek to ensure a monitored and non-harmful nurturing of young girls.
The United Nations considers girls and women as the most vulnerable groups in the wider contexts of national demographics and as pertaining to the organisation’s areas of social investments, of course, with the elderly and the disabled.
Goal 3 of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) sought to promote gender equality and empower women in addition to the six goals that mention women as priority targets.
Many Third World countries, including Zimbabwe, have pledged to nurture women and the girl-child in line with the consolidated common African position. However, poor countries have struggled to protect and safeguard the welfare and growth of women and the girl-child. Countries therefore have formulated “country specific” programmes and targeted goals to motivate this cause and to avert lagging behind in achieving this objective. But where this fails, the aftermath is a guaranteed rise in poverty and unbearable social ills, human migration and community stagnation.
It is in this regard that the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development in Zimbabwe should be treated as the core pith from which development by right should evolve. It is no coincidence that it is a merger of gender, women and communities’ advancement.
Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf believes that the MDGs could have failed due to their immense focus on the social aspect of development, relegating to lesser considerations, issues of economic investments, whose repercussions have compromised the rally to tilt the development scale to the side of women economic power access.
Zimbabwe shares the same position judging from the MDG yields 15 years down the road. Gender sensitive sustainable economic investments around communities were overlooked.
As if to respond to Sirleaf, who again believes African states have not devoted much resources to guaranteeing the mainstreaming of gender and women’s issues into mainline development spectrums, President Robert Mugabe appointed Nyasha Chikwinya to the helm of the Women Affairs ministry in the recent cabinet reshuffle.
Before celebrating the new appointment, Chikwinya’s new appointment should otherwise be viewed in the sense of an upshot of a national readiness assessment. In fact, it wasn’t a reshuffle, but an addition to female leadership in the country as Mugabe tried to embrace the new Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) while being responsive to the quest of encouraging women into social judiciary.
The SDGs are expected to be successor to MDGs which according to award-winning gender advocates like Sirleaf herself, were a product of undemocratic processes and overlooked the transformation of females into women entrepreneurs and leaders over time.
The summit on “Financing SDGs” held in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia on July 13-16 could be the last of its magnitude in the run-up to the adoption of SDGs in September. It is one of the very last three, to be precise. The summit possibly bears an assumption that “houses have been put into order” in countries subscribing to the agenda.
Chikwinya’s ministry has no doubt a strong link with the communities and the people.
The ministry’s ties with the expectations of the SDGs and redressing the frailties of the MDGs are at this time prime.
This therefore puts the burden of overall monitoring of the SDGs’ implementation process on the ministry. The ministry should encourage participation of local people in communities to avert known shortcomings of MDGs (of non-inclusivity) and to integrate Zimbabwean communities into the global sphere to synchronise development activities and to refresh international markets for trade. Markets even for women’s household enterprises.
Although globalisation is partly viewed as infringing to poor communities, former UN secretary-general Kofi Annan and now Ban Kin-moon’s advisor on MDGs and SDGs, journalist Jeffery Sachs argues that “global capitalism is a good thing”, but is careful on the possible misinterpretation of the statement, and thus warns of that. Goal 8 in the MDGs targeted to address global co-ordination which loosely can be thought of as attributed to “sanctions” in Zimbabwe. Undoubtedly, Zimbabwe being a “fragile state”, needs to integrate globally.
Given that she is entirely new in government cabinet, Chikwinya might be riding on a galloping horse to an unknown destination. Her most arduous task will be to carry the MDGs load through their transition towards the SDGs and to bring up development in Zimbabwe’s communities in a manner “evidence-based”, competing with the mulled 2030 deadline. And her being new might be a factor to bank on.
Zisunko Ndlovu is a journalist from Binga and executive director for GDP Zim, a rural community development humanitarian organisation. — firstname.lastname@example.org