The Zimbabwe Human Rights Commission (ZHRC) joins the Government of Zimbabwe and the global community in celebrating the International Women’s Day today, the 8th of March, 2024.

The ZHRC is the National Human Rights Institution as well as the Administrative Justice Institution for Zimbabwe with a constitutional mandate of protecting, promoting and enforcing fundamental human rights, fundamental freedoms and administrative justice.  

This year’s IWD theme, “Invest in women: Accelerate progress” highlights the urgent need to prioritise women’s empowerment and tangible investments for gender equality to drive positive change worldwide.

Investing in women means providing resources and programmes that empower women to actively participate in economic activities, and have ownership and control of productive assets.

The Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, to which Zimbabwe is a signatory, calls upon governments to undertake all the necessary administrative and legislative reforms to give women equal and full access to economic resources, including the right to ownership of land other forms of property, natural resources, appropriate technologies and credit.

This helps in alleviating poverty, reducing gender inequalities and catalysing national development.  

Investing in women entails providing opportunities for women to access financial resources, support socio-economic activities that advance gender equality, and empower women to attract economic opportunities such as employment.

In 2018, the government of Zimbabwe established the Women’s Microfinance Bank with the aim of empowering all women economically and socially.

Education is a critical enabler towards women’s empowerment.

The African Union (AU) has denoted 2024 as ‘The Year of Education – Educate an African fit for the 21st Century’ to rally African nations across the continent to prioritise education as the cornerstone of progress and development.

According to the 2022 Population and Housing Census Report, commendable progress has been made in narrowing gender disparities in primary and secondary education in Zimbabwe, as evidenced by marginal variances in the net enrolment ratio between males and females across all levels. Interestingly, in the lower secondary level, there was a net enrolment 67.7% for females and 61.8% for males.

However, there were disparities among individuals with tertiary qualifications, with 51.7% being male and 48.3% female.

Furthermore, investing in programmes that empower women to take up leadership positions is a cornerstone towards women’s empowerment.

To facilitate a proportional representation of women in politics, the Constitution provides for at least 50% representation in elective and appointed positions and the Government has established a 30% women’s quota in local councils.  

Despite these considerable administrative and legislative efforts towards women’s empowerment and gender equality, gaps still exist as women and girls continue to face numerous human rights challenges, including limited access to economic opportunities and participation in political spaces.

Women’s empowerment and gender equality remain underfunded. Access to finance is an obstacle as most women do not have collateral.

The concluding observations on the Sixth Periodic Report of Zimbabwe by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women raised concern about the limited access by rural women to formal credit and loans and the inadequacy of the loans provided by the Women’s Microfinance Bank. 

Concern was further raised about the disproportionate levels of poverty among rural women, who comprise the majority of the female population in Zimbabwe, and their limited access to education, health, justice, housing, water, sanitation, electricity and other infrastructure.

In 2022, the National Employment to Population Ratio was 37% for males and 19.5% for females. Additionally, females dominated the economically inactive population across all provinces.

Despite having the majority of the population working in the agriculture sector being women, access to and ownership of agricultural productive resources by women remains low. 

Women bear a disproportionate burden in  the wake of climate change, which often disrupts women’s empowerment initiatives, particularly in the agricultural sector. 

Several communities are still recovering from the devastating effects of the COVID-19 pandemic which had excessively affected women.

Disease outbreaks such as cholera, coupled with the widespread issue of drug and substance abuse by youths, have imposed an additional layer of responsibility and burden on women who are often regarded as primary caregivers.

This added burden significantly impacts women’s economic pursuits and livelihoods, diverting their time towards unpaid care work instead of engaging in gainful economic activities.

This decimates opportunities for financial independence and empowerment.

Despite efforts to establish Small and Medium Enterprises (SME) Centres across the country, they remain insufficient and inconvenient as evidenced by the continued presence of women selling their goods on open street pavements.

Additionally, many women operating these businesses lack essential financial literacy skills, which are indispensable for the success of any entrepreneurial venture.

The ZHRC firmly believe that investing in women is not only an economic imperative but also a critical enabler in advancing human rights.

Women’s empowerment and gender equality are fundamental to achieving social justice, economic growth and peace in any society.

By investing in women, the country can unlock their potential as drivers of change and catalysts for progress.

Therefore, the International Women’s Day serves as a call to action to address the persistent challenges and barriers that hinder the full realisation of women’s rights.

The ZHRC continues to monitor and investigate violations against women’s rights; monitor and inspect the state of women’s rights in places of detention, refugee camps and during disasters; and educate, raise awareness, and research on women’s rights and gender equality. 

In addition, the Commission protects women from abuse of power and maladministration by State institutions and State officials.

The Commission also calls for state and non-state actors to intensify efforts for empowerment and investment in women by providing them with opportunities and financial resources for sustainable development.

By working together, we can build a more just, equitable and inclusive world for all.

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