By Marcel Mugariri
The yawning gap between men and women in terms of property ownership can largely be blamed for the high levels of poverty and economic malaise which is endemic in the developing countries, the so-called third world countries. Governments now need to move beyond rhetoric and implement poverty-busting policies by deliberately crafting gender sensitive programmes aimed at capacitating both men and women, boys and girls.
To clear off the misconception around the meaning of gender equality, it refers to equal opportunities and rights for all without discriminating between women and men or boys and girls.
The developing countries have greeted international conventions aimed at addressing gender disparities with the euphoric effervescence of the post-colonial independent states. some of the conventions include the 1994 International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) commonly referred to as the Cairo Declaration of 1994 and the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in 1979 and ratified by Zimbabwe in 1991. It has been regarded as the bill of rights for women.
CEDAW then inspired the Beijing Platform of Action of 1995. Like other developing countries, Zimbabwe ratified a number of international conventions aimed at ending gender disparities and under these conventions, countries were encouraged to put in place legal provisions aimed at promoting gender equality.
It, therefore, shows that there is no shortage of legal instruments to promote gender equality, the missing link is the political will to implement the policies.
There are three basic approaches to measure the prevalence of poverty in a household, community, country, or region. The first approach assumes that people are poor if their income or consumption is below a particular level defined as a minimum threshold or poverty line and this is the World Bank working definition of poverty. The second method defines poverty as the absence of basic human capabilities to function at a minimally acceptable level within a society.
This approach hypothesises that poverty is a result of a lack of capability to “function” or to “achieve” well-being. The final approach is a hybridization of the aforementioned approaches as it broadly covers an array of aspects such as health, mortality, security, consumption and income poverty.
Poverty affects men and women differently given the structural differences which are pervasive but not limited to the third world countries. Studies have shown that women consume and spend less than men. Women’s troubles are further compounded by childbearing, home management and other household chores. Whenever poverty mitigatory measures are implemented, there is a tendency to generalise and provide blanket approach solutions which have chronically failed to arrest the glaring poverty levels in the developing countries.
Strategies to reduce poverty should work hand in glove with strategies to spur economic growth through promoting equal access to health, education, social protection, job opportunities. These strategies must go beyond piecemeal gestures of appointing women to leadership positions as a sympathetic gesture but rather strategies should be sincere and aimed at addressing the asymmetrical economic relations between men and women. Generally, men have the historical advantage of access to means of economic development like land which translates to an advantage even to influence policies and assumption of political offices. Without the correct prognosis of this asymmetrical relationship efforts to reduce poverty at household level will remain a pipedream.
To effect economic growth strategies such as humanitarian aid which should specifically target addressing gender disparity can be a way to go. Although aid cannot be hyped as a silver bullet to decimate poverty, studies have shown that aid which target specific sectors with disproportionate numbers of the poor has ties with poverty reduction. In Zimbabwe there has been an upsurge in the number of women having access to land and if aid is channelled towards that sector targeting women or men who were previously disadvantaged much could be achieved.
The gap between the rich and poor should be narrowed and countries should distribute benefits of development aimed at improving the lives of women and men. Further, the structural inequalities which exist between men and female should be addressed as a way to lessen poverty and induce sustainable ways of economic development.
Gender sensitive policies will not only result in correcting historical injustices but will produce a domino effect across the economy.
By Marcel Mugariri, MSc. Politics and International Relations (Student- University of Zimbabwe)