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Gender equality a key ingredient for sustainable development

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  • Religion, patriarchy, culture and legal biases are some among the causes of gender inequality that exists between men and women. The inequality suffered by women start from childhood age as the girl-child is burdened by the household chores and responsibility over siblings especially in most African settings, writes Percy Shonhiwa.

By Percy Shonhiwa

The Aristotelian views that saw women as subject to men and lacking authority contributed immensely to the gender inequality that exists in the world.

Gender inequality hinders the prospects of poverty reduction and endangers the prospects of human and economic development. Inequality to resource access and disposal; the gender division of labour which results in highly paid jobs for men and low paid ones for women; and women’s limited powers in the defence of their interests which is conditioned by economic, legal, social cultural and other factors are threats to sustainable development.

The UN in 2015 adopted a 15 year plan termed the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. The Agenda has 17 Global Goals and of interest here is the SDG5 which aims at achieving gender equality and empower all women and girls.

For any development to be effective and sustainable, it must consider the needs of all people including of those that typically have no voice in decision making. It is therefore paramount to use gender lenses in exploring how to reinforce sustainable practices when coming up with developmental policies.

Gender inequality has been the major hindrance to sustainable development as it tends to exclude women and girls from participating in the policy making process although they happen to be the majority in any given population.

Religion, patriarchy, culture and legal biases are some among the causes of gender inequality that exists between men and women. The inequality suffered by women start from childhood age as the girl-child is burdened by the household chores and responsibility over siblings especially in most African settings.

This inevitably moulds the girl-child into a person focused on the wellbeing of the family at her own expense. In the so called third world countries, this even extends to situations where the girl-child is forced out of school to take care of her siblings thereby depriving her of the right to education.

This deprivation is in some cases a result of religious beliefs in which the girl-child and women are treated as only suitable for child rearing and cooking for the family.

This marginalisation then subsequently translates into exclusion from policy making positions roles of which are then left in the monopoly of their male counterparts.

Gender equality and sustainable development are inseparable and many of the barriers to effective sustainability policies are found in out-dated discriminatory social norms and legal systems that marginalise the girl child. Investing in girls and women does not need any radical inventions that will break the barriers that continue to leave the millions behind.

It is against this inequality that the UN regards gender equality not only as condition of social justice but also a pre-requisite for the attainment of sustainable development. Structural and systematic barriers are addressed in SDG5: Achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

The 2030 Agenda notes that equal access to education, decent work, and representation in political and economic decision making processes form the basis for equitable societies. While gender equality is captured as a standalone goal (SDG5); gender must be incorporated across all SDGs.

Gender equality essentially speaks of the equal opportunities for both men and women. Global efforts to promote gender equality show that progress is slow and uneven dance. In the case of Zimbabwe, while women’s access to education and their share in the labour market have increased, gaps related to decision making and prospects for advancement, access to and control over natural resources still remain.

To correct this historical imbalance, any government that is serious in terms of pursuing sustainable development ought to enact laws that bring about women emancipation. There ought to be the political will in terms of bringing about gender equality especially considering that women tend to be the majority in most populations.

The quota system adopted by Zimbabwe is a stride in the right direction but still it is not enough if genuine and true emancipation of women is serious talk. Great strides in the inclusion of women as policy makers can be drawn from the cases of Rwanda which has 61,25%, Cuba 53,22%, Bolivia 53.08% and UAE 50% of legislators being women.

With such a higher percentage of female lawmakers, these states are faring well in terms of sustainable development. This inclusion of women helps in the correction of gender inequality as they are part of the policy makers and do have an experiential knowledge pertaining to the empowerment needs of the women.

From the states cited, it can be noted that gender equality is indeed a key ingredient for sustainable development. Instead of making it a mere song that there is SDG5, any serious government ought to step up its efforts in empowering the girl-child and women in terms of inclusion in policy making; access and disposal of natural resources.

Women and activists ought to step up in their lobbying for their inclusion rather than leaving their fate to their male counterparts occupying political offices.

– About the author: Percy Shonhiwa, (MSc in Politics and International Relations, UZ)

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