By Byron Mutingwende
Gender Links Zimbabwe (GLZ) has launched a book entitled, “At the Coalface, Gender in Local Government” that assesses “Gender at Work in Local Government” in order to promote gender-responsive service delivery at the local level.
In his speech during the launch in Harare on Tuesday 13 June 2017, Christopher Shumba, the Principal Director of Rural Development and Rural Local Authorities in the Ministry of Rural Development and Promotion and Preservation of National Culture and Heritage said the book documents sustained efforts to promote gender in local government.
“The programme is a partnership between the Centres of Excellence (COE), Gender Links Zimbabwe (GLZ), the two ministries responsible for local governance inclusive of the 68 participating urban and rural councils. The programme’s Theory of Change is based on three principles; that of access, participation and transformation. The theory suggests that for women to make a difference there is a need for a “critical mass” of women in decision-making structures and positions.
“Formal and informal barriers to their effective participation (such as meeting times, male dominance of leadership positions, the language and conduct of meetings) need to be removed or reviewed. This paves way for change that is measured at both institutional and personal levels, through the empowerment of women on the one hand and changes in the attitudes of men on the other,” Shumba said.
In the same vein GLZ called on partners in the Fifty-Fifty campaign to redouble their efforts to ensure women’s increased representation in local government in the 2018 elections following the decline from 19% to 16% in 2013.
“Our work shows us the very real ways that women contribute to gender responsive governance,” said Gender Links Chief Executive Officer, Colleen Lowe Morna. “It would be a great pity if we do not use the coming elections to press for women’s equal representation at the level closest to women’s needs.”
The research and subsequent work on the ground is based on Thenjiwe Mtintso’s gender and governance framework. This posits that for women to make a difference they must be able to access decision-making in sufficient numbers to have an impact, and be able to participate effectively. Change is then measured in gender-responsive policies and laws and services delivered. Change is also measured in the empowerment of women, and changes in the attitudes of men towards gender equality.
The COE programme, that covers 74% of the councils serving 10 million people, has registered significant gains. All these councils now have Gender Focal Persons (GFP) and Gender Champions (GC), the Drivers of Change who create multiplier effects through gender action plans and gender responsive resource allocations, albeit within tight economic constraints. The proportion of women mayors in the COEs has increased from 4.3% to 15%; deputy mayors from 4.3% to 29% and women chairs of committees from 19.5% to 23%.
Councils have shared 467 best practices of gender at work in local government at SADC [email protected] summits. These include gender and climate change; local economic development; Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights and ending gender violence. Ten councils worked with GLZ on an innovative pilot project – the Sunrise campaign – to empower women economically and end gender violence.
Shumba said that the overall proportion of managers in COE councils rose from 18,6% to 23, 7%. Prior to 2009, there were less than four women as CEOs or Town Clerks in councils. Currently, there are 10 women CEOs or Clerks and more than 20 directors. He added that civil participation in local affairs was important since it gives credence to the work of local authorities.
Maria Selin, the Deputy Head of Mission and Head of Development Cooperation at the Swedish Embassy, in her remarks while officially launching the book, said the aim of gender equality policies was to ensure that everyone enjoys the same opportunities, rights and obligations in all areas of life.
“This belief has seen Sweden coming up with a feminist policy. This has seen Sweden developing policies in all sectors such as education, industry and commerce. Through this book, councils and other stakeholders should be able to get best practice of gender mainstreaming in council processes, arouse debate, facilitate cross-pollination of ideas, acquire skills for gender planning, monitoring and evaluation which would help councils to be accountable and sensitive to the people they serve,” Selin said.
Zimbabwe is a signatory to the SADC Protocol on Gender and Development that has recently been aligned to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs); the African Agenda 2063 and the UN Beijing Plus Twenty. All call for women’s equal and effective participation in decision-making.
Testifying about the positive change that the GLZ programme had brought to her life, Rumbidzai Kapamara from Chitungwiza recounted a tale of both physical and sexual abuse at the hands of her stepfather and husband but revealed that she had survived such ordeals to live a better and empowered life.
“I lost my father before I had completed my primary education. My mother remarried and I ended up staying with a stepfather whose family members treated me like I was their housemaid. I then looked for work as a housemaid elsewhere but my employer’s husband raped me and I kept quiet and was afraid to report him to the police. Luckily, I later got married and anticipated a peaceful life but my husband was more abusive.
“He went on to marry my younger sister because I gave birth to two girls. His argument was that I had not given him a male heir who would multiply his clan. Thanks to GLZ, I was trained on entrepreneurship and told to go back to school. Today, I am a proud owner of a boutique that sells fashionable bags and perfumes in the CBD of Harare on Angwa Street,” Kapamara said.
Julieth Makombe, the Ruwa Local Board Town Secretary said she was pleased to be among the few women in leadership positions within local authorities and pledged to continue mainstreaming gender. Her sentiments were echoed by Melania Mandeya, the Gokwe Town Secretary who hailed the fact that due to the GLZ programme, there were now female guards and male office assistants serving tea as opposed to the situation that obtained in the past where people were assigned gender roles.