Women must assert their rights

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Young Ethiopian middle class women at Kaldis, a popular cafe in Addis Ababa: A new reckoning of who is middle class has some surprising results for Africa. (Photo/Per-Anders Pettersson/Getty Images).

Yesterday the world commemorated International Women’s Day, an important occasion to celebrate women who have changed the planet as well assess the challenges that still need to be tackled in the quest for gender equity.

Zimind Comment

In the 21st Century, women’s rights are not seen as narrow freedoms that only benefit the female half of humanity. Women’s rights are human rights and women’s rights are now at the very heart of inclusive economic growth and development.

Experience all over the world shows that promoting gender equity is a game changer. Zimbabwe cannot attain its full economic potential when women — who constitute more than half the population — continue to be oppressed, marginalised and downtrodden.

In other words, gender equity is not only a human rights issue but also an economic development matter.

A recent review of Nigeria’s economy by the International Monetary Fund has shown that closing the gender gap would mean higher growth and productivity, and greater economic stability.

Economist Monique Newiak says Nigerian women could help transform the economy given the chance. Like most African countries, including Zimbabwe, Nigeria suffers from widespread gender inequality and is therefore missing out on a key ingredient to economic success.

Reducing gender inequality could boost growth by one and one-quarter percent on average, the IMF argues.

For instance, although the constitution of Zimbabwe theoretically provides a solid framework for the promotion of gender equality, there is a scandalous sense of lethargy in implementing the supreme law of the land. There must be 50-50 representation in all spheres of public life. The composition of cabinet, the bench, parliament and even the fourth estate — the media — must all comply with the constitutional and Sadc Gender Protocol stipulations on equitable gender representation.
In this country, there are hardly any listed companies headed by women. The private sector, largely run by an old boys’ network, has not transformed.

Zimbabwe’s constitution is clear on the issue of gender equality. Section 56 (2) states that “women and men have the right to equal treatment including to the right to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.”

Political parties are among the most egregious violators of gender equity. Women constitute the majority, in terms of sheer numbers, and yet when it comes to the selection of candidates, men are disproportionately dominant. Backward patriarchy must fall.

With a general election coming up this year, the political parties have a glorious opportunity to atone for their sins. There must be 50-50 representation, starting with presidential and senatorial seats to lower house and municipal slots.

But women also have a responsibility to take the bull by the horns and run for public office. We should now disabuse our society of the fallacy that men have a divine right to rule. In reality, it is women who actually run society. What stops them from seeking higher office?

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