A Paper Presented at the International Conference on African Women Development by Mrs. Esijolone Okorodudu
March 30, 2012
2012 International Conference on African Women Development
March 31, 2012
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Burj-Arab Hotel, United Arab Emirates


I accepted the invitation to attend this Conference on African Women and Development without hesitation as I am fully aware that the African woman is an anchor, not only of the family, but society and the nation as well.  In one of Zimbabwe’s indigenous languages we have an adage that underscores the importance of women, which loosely translates to “the woman is the home.”

The theme of this conference and also the title of my presentation is, “Women as Catalysts for Africa’s Economic Development in the Emerging Decade.”

Development, just like politics, is about numbers.  Women constitute 52% of the world population.  Thus, any development strategy which excludes the majority of the population is doomed to fail.  Ladies and gentlemen, we cannot talk of development if over half of the world population remains poor and marginalized.

Women make up 40% of the global labour force, which translates to over half a billion people.  They form 43% of the world agricultural labour force.  In developing countries, the percentage of women working in agriculture ranges from 20 – 50% where Latin America accounts for 20% and East and Southeast Asia as well as sub-Saharan Africa 50%.  Sadly gender discrimination remains a problem world over.

International Efforts To Eradicate Gender Based Discrimination

The fight for gender equality has evolved over decades and still remains a topical issue.  Various efforts have been made at international, regional and national levels to address the problem of gender inequality.  While numerous World Conferences on gender equality have been held, the most notable include the Beijing Conference of 1995.  Further, at its 55th Session held in September 2000, the United Nations General Assembly, adopted eight Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), of which gender equality is Goal number 3. I put it to you that MDG 3 is a key development goal and central to the achievement of all MDGs.

Closer to home, the African Union (AU) and the Southern African Development Community (SADC) have made resolutions towards addressing the problem of under representation of women in decision-making.  Quotas were set to improve the number of women in leadership and decision-making, the latest being the call for 50/50 gender representation in policy making bodies by 2015.

Sources of Gender Based Discrimination

The Un Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon observed that progress has been very slow in the area of women empowerment and gender equality.  Women continue to grapple with the problem of gender discrimination due to the following reasons, among others:-

  • traditional beliefs and attitudes that relegate them to the social, political, and economic periphery;
  • limited access to education due to strongly held cultural beliefs;
  • limited access to independent financial resources;
  • limited access to productive assets and credit facilities;
  • limited mobility and therefore limited access to information;
  • adverse cultural perceptions;
  • limited access to productive resources such as land, equipment, agricultural inputs, livestock, extension services and credit facilities.  In some developing countries 3 – 20% women own land.

Despite the forgoing, women continue to carry the biggest percentage of the domestic burden.  They shoulder the reproductive and productive load and have to contend with multiple roles both inside and outside the home.  They have to work twice as hard as their male counterparts to gain recognition and acceptance.

Ladies and gentlemen, gender equality is at the core of development because it has a positive correlation with productivity.  As the Director-General of the Food Agriculture Organization Jacques Diouf noted, “Gender equality is not just a lofty idea,  it is also crucial for agricultural development and food security.  We must promote gender equality and empower women in agriculture to win, sustainably, the fight against hunger and extreme poverty.”

Even the World Bank in its 2012 report on Gender Equality and Development observes that eliminating barriers that exclude women from working in certain sectors reduces the productivity gap between male and female workers by a third to one half.  It notes further that gender equality is ‘smart economics’  because harnessing talent and skill of women optimally will impact positively on economic development and increase output per worker by 3-25% across a range of countries.

Women’s Potential

According to the Food and Agricultural Organization (FAO), in the year 2010, approximately 906 million out of 925 million malnourished people live in developing countries.  The media is awash with news of how hunger and poverty have eroded the family dignity of some African countries.  Empirical evidence shows that giving women equal access to assets, inputs and services will lead to increased agricultural output in developing countries by 20 – 30%; increase total agricultural production by 2.5-4% and in turn reduce the world’s hungry people by 12% to 17% which translates to 100 – 150 million people.

Unleashing Women To Be Catalysts For Development

Given the foregoing, the question we need to address is what needs to be done for women to be the catalysts for development?  The simple and short answer is that US WOMEN need to be ready to take up the challenge, to remove all gender based barriers and eliminate all forms of gender discrimination.  At a practical level, I propose the following reforms that Governments have to tackle with urgency:-

Legal and Statutory Reforms

Madam Chair, for women to participate meaningfully in development there is need to come up with legal frameworks and policies that eliminate structural barriers – be they political, institutional, social, cultural or economic.  It should therefore be the duty of every government to promote and protect the rights of women and facilitate the attainment of gender equality.

At continental level, we have the African Union Constitutive Act, the Solemn Declaration on Gender Equality in Africa and the Protocol on the Rights of Women in Africa within the African Charter on Human and People’s Rights.  Progress in attaining set targets has been disappointingly slow.  The question that arises then is:  Are Government committed to those pronouncements?

The 13 SADC member states, of which Zimbabwe is one, have adopted the Protocol on Gender and Development, but ratification has been slow.  Consequently, representation of women in politics and decision making remains disappointingly low.  With reference to Parliament, only four countries have reached the 30% mark, the four being South Africa, Mozambique, Angola, and Tanzania.  Clearly more work still needs to be done to achieve gender parity in our region.

I call upon African female Parliamentarians to demand for an audit and review of all laws that have the effect of discriminating against women.  Further, we need to cause for the enactment of legislation that promotes the cause of women who, as we have noted, have the numerical advantage.


There is need to remove all barriers that discriminate against women and limit their access to education.  Empowering women gives them “the voice and the choice.”  We need to educate women to know and claim their rights and engendering of all policies.

Cultural Revolution

There are aspects of our culture that need reform, and education can play a key role in this regard. In my view the greatest hurdle to gender equality and women empowerment are mindsets.  A lot of work needs to be done at the level of informal social institutions, that is, the mechanisms, rules, and procedures that define gender roles, beliefs, social norms, and social networks.  These shape behavior and social interactions.  Social norms influence what households can gargain for and the manner in which they do it.  Social networks on the other hand shape opportunities,  information, social norms and perceptions.

Gender Based Budgeting

Governments need to be compelled to back up their support for gender equality through gender sensitive budgets.  Further, the issue of gender should be mainstreamed in the planning process so it becomes an integral part of each national institution.  Put directly, support for gender equality should be judged, not on the frequency of verbal commitments, which is at times abused to mobilize the female vote, but by the allocation of resources toward the cause.

Affirmative Active

In Africa women have suffered double discrimination.  First they were discriminated against on the basis of race now discrimination is on the basis of gender.  It is therefore inevitable that consideration be given for quotas and affirmative action in order to create a critical mass of competent women across sectors.  I however, believe affirmative action should be time-bound, only to level the playing field, the wise it becomes a source of stereo types as even the best, and those appointed on merit, are looked upon as products of affirmative action.  We are equally good, therefore let us get what belongs to us on merit.

Women Empowerment and The Trickle Down Effect

Closing the gender gap will help put more income in the hands of women.  Greater control of household incomes by women translates into better growth prospects of countries, through changing spending patterns in a way that benefits children.  As we all know, investing in children is investing in future human capital.  It is therefore through investing in women’s education and health, enabling them to make the right choices and availing opportunities to women, that we can positively mould the future generations.

Lets Us Identify and Make Use of Opportunities

They say “luck is where opportunity meets preparedness”. As African women, we need to be ready to seize every opportunity that comes our way to push for our gender balance.  One such opportunity is the adoption of the African Women’s Decade 2010 – 2020 by the African Union Heads of State and Governments.  Action should have started since the launch in Nairobi in 2010.  We have lost time,  but all is not lost yet.  Further procrastination will however, continue to work against us.

Secondly, a number of our countries are working on our respective countries’ Constitutions.  That is a God given opportunity for us to protect our cause and get it enshrined in the supreme law of the land.  Further, we should be on the look out to identify those who are against our cause and work to win them over!

Strategic Partnerships

We need to identify and form strategic partnerships with men who support our cause.  These are our strategic partners in this struggle.  In Zimbabwe we say “men of quality are not afraid of equality”. Let us partner with them and let us support them, but let us keep in mind that the struggle is ours!

Zimbabwe, A Case Study

As a country, Zimbabwe has demonstrated its commitment to gender equality by prioritizing MDG Goal 3 on gender equality together with Goals 1 on poverty reduction and Goal 6 combating HIV and AIDS.  Zimbabwe is also signatory to the regional declarations and protocols that seek to improve the status of women.

Furthermore, a number of laws have been enacted since independence, in a effort to enhance he confidence and status of women in Zimbabwe.  These include the Equal Pay Regulations (1980); Legal Age Majority Act (1982); Labour Relations Act (1984); the Electoral Act (1990); the Administration of Estates Amendment Act (1997); the National Gender Policy (2000); The Sexual Offences Act 2001; and Domestic Violence Act (2007), among others.

We are one of those countries that now have female members in both the Presidium and the premiership.  We can improve on female Cabinet and  Parliamentary representation and notable strides have been registered.

Madam Chair, at a local level we have observed that women are very enterprising and there is wealth of knowledge that is resident in communities.  Allow me at this stage to share with you one of the initiatives earmarked and being spearheaded by my office, to improve livelihoods and the living standards of women in Zimbabwe.  The initiative is referred to as Family Dignity/Hunhu kuMhuri/Ubuntu eMulwini.  It is a household based approach to economic empowerment and rural development.

This initiative was born out of the recognition of increased poverty in the rural areas and among women due to imbalanced development infavour of urban areas and masculine gender, respectively.  The result had been low productivity, poor income and inadequate housing and lack of other social infrastructure in the rural areas.  This resulted in rural-urban migration that caused a strain on social services and housing in the urban areas.

The Family Dignity programme focuses on the family, its primary target being women.  It seek to empower women primarily because women tend to bear the brunt of poverty and under development,  both in the home and society.  Thus, empowerment gives them the right to restore their self esteem and improve their families’ standard of living.

Given that Zimbabwe has an agro – based economy, the Family Dignity initiative is anchored on agriculture.  In line with the country’s land reform programme,  this initiative seeks to increase productivity of the land.  It is holistic in approach.

The ultimate goal of the Family Dignity initiative is improved livelihoods and better standards of living through increased access to better housing and social amenities by the rural populace.

The underlying idea is that a family should not only depend on rain fed agriculture, but should have other side projects complimentary to production of the staple food which provide additional income to the family.  Such complementary projects could include poultry, piggery and market gardening, to mention but a few.

Practically, support is given to enable a family to increase production of its staple food, which in our case is maize.  The target is for one to produce enough for consumption and for national strategic reserves to ensure food security.

Surplus produce is achieved as an  intended outcome and is then used to initiate and support piggery, poultry or market-gardening projects, as the family may choose.

These additional projects become an additional source of income to the family.  This helps improve the nutrition; disposable income and consequently the living standards of families.

With successive production cycles, the family’s disposable income improves significantly leading to the level where some savings are attainable.  Creation of savings is prerequisite to investment and ultimately economic growth and development.  This approach is the answer to all that the United Nations has pronounced, including housing for all and poverty reduction to name but a few.

With increased disposable incomes, the rural households will be empowered to service mortgages through annual/biannual/quarterly premiums.  So far two model homesteads, which include a modern house, the traditional round hut that serves as a kitchen and hub of important cultural and traditional ceremonies, a fowl run, as well as a toilet have been constructed.  The homestead will also include protected water source preferable tapped water.

Under the initiative, efforts are made to get business players to go down to the grassroots where the people are.  They partner the rural communities and finance activities that will lead to the expansion of their business interests in areas such as agriculture, agro processing, construction, baking and financing.

Ladies and gentlemen, the above is not theoretical but a reality that is taking shape in Zimbabwe.  What is just lacking is the meaningful initial support to the families to enable them to have irrigation facilities to counter the effects of successive droughts that have hit my country.  The lack of support is largely due to the illegal economic sanctions imposed on my country by the Western countries.

Following restoration of our land to its rightful owners, the indigenous Zimbabweans.  Notwithstanding sanctions, my country has registered growth rate above 8% over the past three years.  While this growth has not yet visibly translated into improved family lives, we are on the road to recovery, with agriculture and mining being the anchors of growth.


In conclusion, ladies and gentlemen, our future as African women, literary lies in our hands.  We can choose to remain docile and subservient and remain in the periphery or stand up for what is right and improve the lives of the girl child and indeed our continent.  We can do it, after all some of us shared trenches with our brothers to liberate our countries.  If we were equal then, what has changed today? Let us also remember we are called Africans  and notAfricans.  We can do it! Yes we can!

May God bless the beautiful and hard working women of Africa.

May God bless us all.

I thank you all for your attention!