The 15th of October marks the annual celebration of international rural women’s day. This year’s commemoration is running under the theme ‘Building rural women’s resilience in the wake of COVID 19’. This is a call to create awareness of rural women’s struggles, their needs, and their critical and key role in ensuring the sustainability of rural households and communities, improving rural livelihoods and overall wellbeing. These women continue to carry out the duty of care and provide unpaid work within the household or community setting, their movement has been restricted by national lockdown circumstances, the demand for the already strained public services has increased; all of which compound the impact of COVID 19 on them. The pandemic threatens to worsen the vulnerability of rural women to discrimination, exclusion, and exploitation. Rural women’s role in agriculture, food security and nutrition, land and natural resource management and other rural enterprises cannot be ignored. Rather, gender responsive investment in rural women has become critical during this pandemic context as the disadvantages faced by women and girls are aggravated in rural areas.
The CEDAW Committee, which is the international body that monitors elimination of discrimination against women, recently received and reviewed Zimbabwe’s report on the status of implementation of the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination Against Women. From this report the Committee raised issues of concern, some of which are specifically aimed at improving gender responsiveness towards the plight of rural women.
Zimbabwe was commended for its effort to facilitate access to land by women through Statutory Instrument No. 53 of 2014 which deals specifically with agricultural land settlement. Through this subsidiary legislation, the government seeks to recall old land permits and provide for registration of joint land ownership by both spouses. However, despite such an initiative, the CEDAW Committee remained concerned about the operation of harmful cultural practices that impede rural women’s access to land. The Committee was particularly concerned about the inability of such women to inherit land. Women’s land rights, particularly rural women, continue to rely on their husbands and in the present context COVID 19 widows risk disinheritance on the death of their husbands. It was, therefore, a recommendation of the CEDAW Committee that access to inherited land by women be facilitated through various government initiatives. One such initiative recommended by the CEDAW Committee is penalising action by both public institutions and private individuals which prevents rural women from enjoying their right to land.
The CEDAW Committee also generally noted the limited access by rural women to formal credit and loans as well as the inadequacy of the credit made available through the women-centred financial institutions, that is, the Women’s Microfinance Bank. Rural women were said to be more likely to be economically disadvantaged during the pandemic because their enterprises have become redundant. In this regard the CEDAW Committee recommended that access to adequate loans and financial credit be facilitated for rural women. Such facilitation includes provision of free and accessible financial literacy trainings as well as through promoting establishment and scaling-up of small enterprises.
It was also highlighted that rural women face higher levels of poverty as compared to women in urban areas, despite rural women making up the bulk of the female population in Zimbabwe. The higher levels of poverty amongst rural women are generally increased by their limited access to education, healthcare, justice, housing, water and sanitation, electricity and other infrastructure and services. In this regard the CEDAW Committee recommended strengthening of efforts to promote the economic empowerment of rural women, ensuring that they have access to justice, education, employment, healthcare, housing, safe water and sanitation, electricity and other infrastructure and services.
Gender responsive investment for rural women ought to support women’s productive and unpaid work which is intensified by the COVID 19 pandemic. Basic public infrastructure and services must be extended and expanded to rebuild rural women’s lives after the pandemic and to increase their resilience to be better prepared to face future crises. Realisation of rural women’s invaluable contribution to development must remain a priority.
By Geraldine Kabaya
For feedback questions and comments please feel free to email email@example.com or to phone our hotline number on +263782 900 900/+263776 673 873 or our toll free on 08080131 and landline(s) +263242 708491/+2630242 706676
The public is encouraged to continue observing social distancing, wearing of face masks and constant washing of hands to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.