Over the past 15 years, Zimbabwe has not made great strides in achieving the goal to eradicate extreme poverty and hunger due to the economic decline that has persisted since 2000. Although efforts have been focused on improving economic growth, with our GDP improving from 5.4% in 2009 to 9.3% in 2011, the process of growth has not been inclusive. A comprehensive approach to ending poverty and ensuring inclusive growth, to me, would mean
1. the creation of decent employment;
2. the promotion of entrepreneurship through development of ICTs and other infrastructure;
3. the enhancement of access to and quality of social services;
4. a reduction in inequality between men and women and between social classes;
5. the promotion and implementation of a strategy to address the effects of climate change and the environmental hazards it brings
We still have a lot of our people living on less than $1.25 per day which is the global index measure of extreme poverty. Between 1990 and 2012 we only managed to reduce hunger by less than 10% while other countries such as Ghana, Congo, Mauritania, Malawi and Angola reduced hunger by a margin of 50% or more.
There is limited availability of loans translating into poor access to loaning facilities. This means more corruption by those who hold the reins to the finance, but of course in Zimbabwe that has a different name-it s called sanctions. The conditions of accessing the loans are extremely stringent for women, who predominantly are outnumbered by their male counterparts in owning immovable property that is required as collateral. If anything the last 15 years have seen increasing levels of poverty as our country has lost its middle class to create two classes, the poor and the rich. I am one of the poor. The majority of women-66% are in the informal sector, providing domestic labour and farm labour. Only 34 % are in formal employment.
What have we done well?
- There is a marked decline in the number of underweight children under the age of 5 from 11+% in 2009 to 10% in 2012. This means that our fight against malnutrition in young children has largely been successful. I reckon the feeding schemes in schools and hospitals are what has paid off. I am not sure how these will be sustained since most are funded by donors (read western stooges and detractors).
What have we not done?
- Our agricultural sector has not been performing well and we are being mocked, left right and centre as the classic example of a nation that turned from a bread-basket to a basket case. Food insecurity has also increased as a consequence of increasing concentration in commercial cash crop farming rather than growing food crops.
- We continue to marginalise the people who till the land-the women- in land allocation processes. Only 20% of the beneficiaries of the land reform are women.
- We redistributed land to poor peasants but have not followed up their ability to utilise the land through the provision of capital.
- We have no data on how well we are doing. Most of the available statistics are outdated to 2011 [Is this a reflection on the incompetence of ZIMSTAT or are they just underfunded?]
- We do not have gender disaggregated data [again this is an indictment on ZIMSTAT to pull their socks up].
- We have not and are not adequately funding women dominated sectors of the economy including small scale farming and other small to medium enterprises (SME’s).
- We have no comprehensive social protection services [and how could we when our National Social Security Authority (NSSA) is busy investing the funds workers contribute in shady deals]
What more can we do?
I have a proverb that I like which says “Give a woman a dollar and she will either create another dollar or feed her family with it. Give a man a dollar and he will buy a beer.” Yes, this may sound stereotypical of men but the reality on the ground indicates this is true. The majority of women place the needs of their families and children above their own in almost any given circumstance. This is why a wise government should know that ending poverty is possible when we invest in our women. This is what I propose we do;
- Our commitment through the budget to fund women’s projects must increase and extend to ensuring equitable, non-partisan distribution of the funds. This business of giving farming inputs to certain political-party-card holders should stop.
- We need to increase women’s participation in both small scale initiatives and large scale ones, be it in mining, agriculture, fisheries or any other area.
- We must recognise the informal sector as the current backbone of our economy and give better protection to the women in the informal sector through enacting the relevant legislation. Current labour laws are focused on regulating the formal sector with very little attention paid to the informal.
- We must negotiate the inter-Africa trading space with women in mind. Our cross-border traders, who are predominantly women, need a friendly and safe working space to enable them to continue to provide for their families. We must never forget that had it not been for cross-border traders, Zimbabwe would have collapsed in 2008-2009. They brought us bread, mealie-meal, soap, cooking oil, milk and even eggs from across the borders.
- We must have a land audit to ensure optimal utilisation of the land by repossessing all the land not being fully utilised and redistributing it with a focus on women farmers. We cannot afford to have idle individuals with big-fat behinds to claim ownership of land that they do not know how to till, do not till and does not produce anything meaningful except spans of grass and thorns.
- We must increase our investment in women farmers as a means of increasing production, reducing hunger and malnutrition and increasing food security.
- Our reliance on the rains (which are erratic) to sustain our agricultural sector is unsustainable. We must invest in irrigation. However this will also mean improving our electricity supply, which at the moment is nightmarish for the average urban dweller and totally gothic for the rural dweller.
- We need to resuscitate our manufacturing industry, which used to provide employment to the majority of urban dwellers and whose closure has resulted in increased unemployment and poverty among our urban population. This business of grabbing productive companies and industries and turning them into rat-breeding warehouses must stop. Let those capable of running industries do so. If we want to capitalise from their hard earned productivity then let us create a taxation regime that gives the fiscus significant gains. Alternatively we should create a labour system that allows the employees of these companies to have share schemes and benefit from the huge profits we are sniffing after. We do not have to own companies to benefit from their existence in our country when we can’t run them profitably; although owning them and making them truly productive would be ideal.