Employment and Economic Empowerment: The Case of Young Women in Zimbabwe
Youth development and empowerment are vital stages in life for building the human capital that allows young people to avoid poverty and lead better, and possibly have a more fulfilling life.
The human capital formed in youth is thus an important determinant of long term growth that a nation can invest on. The gender dimension in achieving such a milestone is also important towards inclusive growth and development. What it means is that young women, as a part of the young generation, must also be given their chance and space to compete and enjoy the economic benefits that the nation offers.
Women perform variety of functions at different stages in the value chains, but their roles tend to be poorly visible and inadequately acknowledged, largely because they are either operating in the informal sector, are part-time employees, or carry out their activities at home between family responsibilities (SHACKLETON, PAUMGARTEN, KASSA, HUSSELMAN, & ZIDA, 2011). With the current political social and economic challenges Zimbabwe is facing, poverty has taken centre stage. Unfortunately, poverty violates the human rights of women and their children by denying them education, food, health, housing, participation in political and public life, and freedom from violence (WHO, 2002). There is a thought that concurs with the fact that “the level of unemployment is a mirror image of the state of a nation’s economy” (Awogbenle & Chijioke, 2010). For women, particularly those in peripheral areas of society face many challenges that culminate from their lack of independent source of livelihood or sustainable employment. This paper thus seeks to discuss factors that haunt women economic autonomy and possible areas of interventions particularly in the context of Zimbabwe.
1) Economic Violence against Women
One of the major drawbacks towards women economic freedom is the extended hand by the masculine men in the way women live, work or spends the resources around them. This kind of dictation amounts to economic violence against women. Economic violence is when the abuser has complete control over the victim’s money and other economic resources or activities. Economic violence toward women occurs when a male abuser maintains control of the family finances, deciding without regard to women how the money is to be spent or saved, thereby reducing women to complete dependence for money to meet their personal needs. It may involve putting women on strict allowance or forcing them to beg for money (United Nations Fund for Women [UNIFEM], 1999).
Economic violence has hindered a great proportion of women from achieving economic autonomy and sustainable livelihood for themselves and their dependents. First, economic violence results in deepening poverty due to women’s diminished access to independent means of livelihood. Economic violence against women have exacerbated a form of poverty with a women face, standing as a threat towards the unborn and born children under such repressive conditions that do not allow women to make economic choices on how to sustain themselves and most importantly how to spend what they would have worked for. This extended exploitation do not only affect women economically but also compromises their capacity to acquire skills and afford an education that can raise their competitiveness on the labour market against their male counterparts.
2) Limited Economic Choices for Women
The current economic challenges have provided women particularly those who are young their choice and access to employment opportunities. One way of thinking about power is in terms of the ability to make choices. To be disempowered means to be denied choice, while empowerment refers to the processes by which those who have been denied the ability to make choices acquire such ability. In other words, empowerment entails change (Kabeer, 2005). That power of economic choice is minimal to the rest of Zimbabweans but worst to the young women. Income generating activities such as vending, which were traditionally dominated by women, due to limited choices of employment, have since been invaded by the masculine power of men. For instance, where young women would probably buy 50kgs of tomatoes for resale, men have come and done that three or four times more, leaving women vulnerable and lacking the power to compete and withstand such masculine invasion of the few sustainable livelihoods currently available and which were traditionally dominated by women in the Zimbabwean context.
3) Patriarchy, Gendered Division of Labour and its obstruction on Women Economic Empowerment
Culture, if it remains stagnant can be a regressive force that undermines emerging generations to prosper and achieve success in this competitive world. The attitudes, beliefs, and practices that perpetuate economic violence are often deeply entrenched and closely related with cultural, social, and religious norms of a society. The family, as a social institution, is a brewery for patriarchal practices by socializing the young to accept sexually differentiated roles. (Kambarami, 2006). In Zimbabwe, the breadwinner is perceived to be men alone. This kind of tradition has compromised women’s ability to question decisions, including economic/financial decisions made by men within families and in institutions. Furthermore, the African culture, Zimbabwe to be specific, have hammered the role of caregiving upon women and that of breadwinner upon men. What it means is that women are left with little powers to manage financial or economic matters that only relates to the kitchen (ie what to be eaten, amount of groceries and where to buy those), while men do more financial intensive decision making that relates to property acquisition, land ownership and so forth. The economic tradition confines women to little options that goes further than the kitchen and further cartels their liberty to also work and make economic decisions on their own. It is important to note that women’s unpaid care work is both an important aspect of economic activity and an indispensable factor contributing to the well-being of individuals, their families and societies (Stiglitz et al., 2007). Worryingly, society is yet to reward such hard work. 
4) Women’s Access to Land as a means of Production
The unequal distribution of key resources that anchors production and economic growth is one of the major impediments towards women access to employment opportunities. Historically, the inequalities exhibited in Zimbabwe are largely attributed to the racial dominance of the white settlers in the colonial period (1890 -1980) and the manner in which scarce resources are being distributed to and accessed by different groups in the post- colonial period. These inequalities mainly relate to access to land and the labour market as well as the provision of basic social services (health, education, housing and sanitation). (Mazingi & Kamidza)These huge disparities in resource distribution are still vivid in the current Zimbabwean context, worrying at the expense of women. According to Zimbabwe have about 8.6 million hectares of potentially arable land and more than 5 million hectares of forests, national parks and wildlife estates. In a report by (ZIMSTATS, 2016), women land ownership is too way below the acceptable, with 13.9 percent of women occupying large scale commercial farming as compared to 86.1 percent that of men. Under communal lands, women in Zimbabwe occupy an estimated 34.5 percent against a 65.5 men land ownership. Land as one of the major determinants towards access to loans and credits should be distributed equitably and unfortunately, women in Zimbabwe continue to be pushed further into perpetual poverty as a result of minimal ownership of land as a means of production.
Recommendations and Conclusion
Women Enterprise development:
Preparing women for business and entrepreneurship is one way to expand their economic alternatives at the same time building reference and entry points for other women to learn and get inspiration from. Women’s participation in business is highlighted in the Beijing Platform for Action as an important enabler for achieving gender equality (ZIMSTATS, 2016). Developing women enterprises entails the support and services that incubate and help develop their own businesses. It goes beyond entrepreneurship education by helping youth to access small loans that are needed to begin business operation and by providing more individualised attention to the development of a viable business idea. Developing a chain enterprise that builds the capacity of women in business, assist them in building sustainable teams, accumulate the required knowledge and most importantly expose them to relevant investors and markets is more important in giving them the confidence in leading their own economic destiny.
Women Access to Education:
Education forms the basis at which a society evolves and responds to its ecosystem. The type and quality of education thus shapes the society and reflective of the development outcomes in such respective communities. The extent to which a nation educates its women has a bearing on the nature of development and level of inclusivity. This again goes back on how a “nation treats its women” particularly by providing them with an education that makes them fit to contribute towards development and shun unemployment and exploitation. Provision of education to women increases their employability chances. In Kenya, it was found that women with at least four years of schooling were able to correctly understand instructions for administering oral rehydration salts; but only those with at least secondary education were able to explain the environmental causes of diarrhoea (Kabeer, 2005). ‘Access to secondary stages of education may have an important contributory role in enhancing women’s capacity to exercise control in their lives … through a combination of literacy and numeracy skills, and enhanced self-esteem’ (Sen, 1999). A study in rural Zimbabwe found that among the factors that increased the likelihood of women accessing contraception and antenatal care – both of which improve maternal survival and well-being – were education and paid work (Becker, 1997). Education thus, stands as a backbone towards gender equality.
Investing in locally Available Skills and Resources
One of the untapped remedy towards employment creation for women has been their capacity to adapt to their local environments. For instants, rural women are so skilled and dedicated towards the provision of subsistence agriculture and household and care services. Such kind of knowledge and expertise in providing and managing local resources for domestic consumption is a clear skill that most women have and if channelled towards entrepreneurship, can potentially develop a local economy that can develop communities through local markets providing goods and services to the people. This line of thought has been supported by many researchers some citing that, “Poor people have assets in their own skills, in their social institutions, in their values and cultures and in their detailed and sophisticated knowledge of their own environment” (DFID, 1997: para 1.11);
The Empowerment of Women is not a one size fits all. It is a process with interplay of related factors that go beyond the economic empowerment but also their personal well-being as women. Women need to be empowered from personal level, which include the provision of adequate health, education, moral and environmental support, not to compete with men but to be able to co-exist and perform at the same level and opportunity with that of men. Ensuring an economic environment that accommodate all members of the society particularly women is vital in the realization of inclusive growth and development. Employment is the life line of any economy. I should also be in mind that “Human development will definitely be grossly undermined and impaired without employment” (NEEDS, 2004).
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