Income opportunity gap, gender-based violence, domestic work burden: What’s holding back women in Zimbabwe?

Around 79% of the burden of water fetching responsibilities in Zimbabwe falls on women

Women in Zimbabwe face discrimination on many fronts, although the country ranks better than some others in the sub-Saharan Africa region across various gender equality indices. The gaping gender gap was illustrated in anew report released by the World Bank on March 4, 2024.

High rates of gender-based violence, under-representation of women in wage employment, overconcentration in the informal labour market, high youth unemployment among women persist, the findings showed.

There was a wide difference in income opportunity for men and women in the country, widening the gender divide. Women made up for only 42 per cent of agriculture, forestry and fishing sectors, while men accounted for the rest.

Only 22 per cent of working women were found to be employed in wage or salaried positions, compared to 41 per cent for men, the analysis showed.

Women also had less ownership and access to agricultural land. This was driven by a lack of finance to purchase commercial farmland, challenges with navigating the system of land titling and the traditional exclusion of female spouses in land titling / user rights.

On average,women in Zimbabwe earn two thirds of what men do, according to the Interim Poverty Reduction Strategy Paper (2016-18). This is largely because women usually dominate the soft, low remunerating sectors and occupations.

Inequal burden

Zimbabwe, just like many countries in the southern Africa region, has suffered years of drought, hitting hard the country’s water and food reserves.The household and community burden of seeking access to water largely falls on women, who have to travel long distances to fetch water.

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According to the report, an estimated 79 per cent of the burden of water fetching responsibilities in Zimbabwe falls on women.

The burden of water collection significantly affects women’s human development capabilities, as it increases their opportunity costs of attending school and of working.

Moreover, during COVID-19, anecdotal evidence from the country suggested women were spending much longer times fetching water under difficult and hazardous circumstances, including under increased sexual harassment at water points.

Women bear a heavier burden of both communicable and non-communicable diseases. At 13.7 per cent, HIV prevalence among women aged 15-49 years is nearly double that for men in the same age bracket.

Gender gap at the secondary school level include low net attendance and disparities in completion rates in upper secondary schools. These are driven by high incidence of teenage pregnancies, child marriage, financial constraints compounded by the lack of social safety nets, especially for girls and rural children and limited access to appropriate menstrual health and hygiene.

The gender gap in tertiary education has narrowed since 2016, although males continue to dominate in science, technology and mathematics.

The rate of GBV is high in Zimbabwe and poses a threat to the health and overall livelihood of those affected by it. According to the 2019 MICS, about 2 in 5 women have experienced either physical or sexual violence and one in 10 have experienced both.

Most of the violence occured in a domestic context, so married or women in a union are the most vulnerable to GBV. Moreover, women with low levels of education and those in the poorest wealth quintile were also particularly vulnerable to GBV.

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Policy route

The report covers a range of policy options, which are aligned with the four fundamental dimensions – human endowments, economic opportunities, ownership and control of assets, and women’s voice and agency.

These policy options are organised according to their implementation timeframes – short-term, medium-term and long-term.

It is essential to maintain a cross-cutting approach across these dimensions to enhance women’s access to opportunities within the country.


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