Gender inequality taking Zimbabwe down

By Maxwell Saungweme

In spite of the growth in numbers of civil society groups pushing for the empowerment of women and gender equality in general, and the political pronouncements by parties in the coalition government on their purported seriousness in dealing with gender inequality, it still remains a conspicuous fact that gender inequality is taking Zimbabwe’s development down.

Maxwell Saungweme
Maxwell Saungweme

The 2013 Human Development Report produced by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) shows that Zimbabwe is not doing very well in various development indicators including gender equality.

According to the report, the Gender Inequality Index (GII) for Zimbabwe for 2012 was 0.544 ranking the country at number 116 out of 148 countries covered in the report.

The GII index reflects gender-based inequalities in three dimensions that include reproductive health (measured by maternal mortality and adolescent fertility rates), empowerment (measured by number of parliamentary seats held by each gender and secondary and higher education attainment by each gender), and economic activity (measured by gender labour market participation rate).

GII shows loss in human development owing to inequalities between the achievements of men and women in the three dimensions- reproductive health, empowerment and economic activity. A high GII figure shows that a country has higher gender inequalities and the opposite is true.

With a GII index of 0.544 Zimbabwe ranks 116 out of 148 countries. This shows the existence of a lot of inequalities as compared for instance with the Netherlands that is ranked first and has a GII index of 0.045.

Zimbabwe also has higher gender inequalities than other low human development countries like Lesotho (GII index 0.534, ranked 113), Uganda (GII index 0.517, ranked 110), Myanmar (GII index 0.437, ranked 80) and Senegal (GII index 0.540, ranked 115).

Swaziland even has a GII index of 0.525 and ranked at number 112, four points higher than Zimbabwe. However, Zimbabwe’s GII index is lower than the Sub-Saharan average of 0.577 and the average for low Human Development Index (HDI) countries which is 0.578.

The GII index of Zimbabwe showing high gender inequalities is driven mainly by high maternal mortality rates, adolescent fertility rates, and lower numbers of women seating in parliament (suggesting lower women empowerment) and reduced participation of women in economic activities.

According to the report, in 2012 for every 100,000 live births 570 women died from pregnancy related complications in Zimbabwe while in Kenya 360 women died and the Sub-Saharan average was 47 deaths for every 100,000 births.

In Swaziland and Myanmar 320 and 200 women died from pregnancy related complications for every 100,000 live births respectively.

In terms of females seating in parliament, Zimbabwe had 17.9% in 2012 , a figure lower than that of Lesotho (26.1%), and lower to both the Sub-Saharan Africa and low HDI countries figures that were 20.9% and 19.2% respectively.

Even other countries considered to have more conservative cultures like Sudan, Pakistan, Afghanistan and Swaziland had more women in parliament than Zimbabwe. Sudan had 24.1%, Pakistan 21.1%, Afghanistan 27.6% and Swaziland 21.9%.

Zimbabwe generally has higher female literacy levels than most Sub-Saharan Africa and low HDI countries but inequality exists between male and female with regards to access to education. In 2012 about 48.8% of females had at least some secondary education compared to 62% among males.

The female participation in labour markets is lower than that of men. In 2012 the participation rate for females was 83.5% as juxtaposed to 89.5% among males.

Overall, in 2012 Zimbabwe’s had a Human Development Index of 0.397 but when this index is adjusted for inequalities in which gender inequalities contribute significantly the country’s Human Development Index plummeted by 28.5% to give an Inequality adjusted HDI of 0.284.

Patriarchal attitudes and male dominance lead to increased and continued inequalities against women in Zimbabwe.

Women are still being marginalised in politics and are poorly represented in government, occupy most of the low income jobs and are dominant in the unstable informal economy and communal farming.

The skills gap and “glass ceiling” are key barriers to advancement of women in the private sector, and these factors result in the burden of poverty falling more heavily on women. Zimbabwe is failing to leverage its high female literacy rates to reduce gender inequality.

If the gender inequality figures given in 2012 Human Development Report are anything to go by then there is need for both state and non-state actors working in the areas of women empowerment and gender equality to do more to address the issues driving gender inequalities.

With the election season in our midst, women should ask contesting politicians how they will solve gender disparities. Women should use their majority numbers to demand meaningful gender equality.

Maxwell Saugweme is a development specialist and writes in his own capacity. He can be contacted on [email protected]