Home » Governance » Time to Break the ‘Fragmentation Syndrome’

Mozambican politician and philanthropist Ms Graca Machel last week launched a network of African businesswomen, the Zimbabwe chapter that will see local businesswomen working and networking with thousands of like-minded women in 11 countries under the Graca Machel Foundation.

The launch, which ran under the theme “Promoting Investment and Wealth Creation”, saw associate organisations and members presenting position papers as well as sharing information on how to explore business opportunities in Zimbabwe and the region.

Every speaker gave a sad narrative of how women in the region remain downtrodden and still have no access to the means of production, which is an indictment on the status of women.

Businesswoman Ms Rudo Boka of Boka Tobacco Auction Floors painted a gloomy picture when she said 60 percent of the tobacco that comes to the floors is produced by women, and yet they have no access to the proceeds. In some instances, the do not own the land they work on and continue to languish in abject poverty.

However, having listened to Ms Machel giving her presentation, I was left convinced that the narrative of women has been subjected to too many interpretations, too many interventions, too many voices and too many groups, which sadly have not brought about the change that women want.

Ms Machel noted that while the gender discourse and the need for gender equality has been around for as long as many can still remember, not much has been achieved, except the increase in the number of organisations whose missions are to alleviate the status of women by offering them more of the same. This, she said, was largely so because there are too many voices purporting to be representing the same group and interests, but are failing to break through the physical structures that bar women from getting what is due to them.

And because of that women’s superior numbers in terms of population have not translated to anything tangible because women are still not well resourced.

In Zimbabwe for instance, women are visible in almost every sector, be it in business, social, economic and political circles, but they have no voice and do not even sit on the roundtables where serious and fundamental decisions are made.

In politics they are in their numbers in the opposition MDC-T and ruling party Zanu-PF and even touted as the ghold of these political parties but they are not in any way better placed to make crucial decisions that define and shape party discourse.

The same can be said of their status in business, where they hold ceremonial posts as board chairpersons, non-executive positions or retire as acting chief executives, and are not in control.

And the few who are lucky to sit on these round-tables are either too overwhelmed to represent women’s aspirations or generally go with the flow and become part of the “oppressive system” the female population is fighting hard to dismantle.

So even if Ms Boka has got the hard facts on the number of women who are involved in tobacco production, how many women or gender sensitive men sit on the agricultural commissions, boards and even on meetings by the Agriculture, Mechanisation and Irrigation Development Ministry who will be able to present their challenges?

By lack or failure of representation where it matters most, women’s narrative eventually come up as a sordid state of affairs, pathetic and hapless narrative that constantly needs intervention from too many groups and voices, saying the same thing over and over again.

Having listened to Ms Machel, and having written so much about women in the last few years and sadly parroting the same line of thinking, I suddenly have a change of heart about how society should view women’s plight.

In my opinion, the issue of poverty should not be a basis for sidelining women and neither should organisations and individuals continue to use that as an entry point in lobbying for inclusion of women in economic matters.

Yes, the majority of women, not only in Zimbabwe but across the globe do not have material and financial resources to power their own projects, although they boast a wealth of experience and knowledge that cuts across sectors.

If according to Ms Boka, the majority of the tobacco being auctioned at the floors is produced by women, who are also major contributors in agriculture – one of the major contributors to the GDP – does that make them poor?

Regarding women as poor is a tidy explanation for a messy problem that is playing on common stereotypes, instead of addressing the problems that are there.

The narrative on women needs to change so that women do not continue to be tied down to the past, but should now be elevated to a generation of intellectually and physically resourced people who need money and opportunities to improve their well-being.

Women need a new narrative, one that better represents reality and leads to solutions. Women need land, access to credit facilities, leadership posts and opportunities in emerging economies.

And they need good representation, representation that speaks with one voice and with a common purpose. Rather than have so many groups claiming to represent women, Ms Machel believes that women need to break the “fragmentation syn- drome”, come together and strategise as a bloc.

She called for the establishment of systems that allow money to get into the hands of women, a feat which will not be achieved if women continue to be grouped in clusters.

Source : The Herald