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Women's rights

Women's rights

Zimbabwe is a signatory to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW).

In the past ten years, several measures have been introduced to enhance the legal status of women, including legislation which: empowers the Court to equitably divide and reallocate property, including land, in the case of divorce; makes it possible for a widow to claim a share of the estate of her husband on the basis of her contribution to its acquisition, and to continue to enjoy the use of crops and animals; and, makes it possible for married women to acquire immovable property, including land, without having to obtain consent from their husbands.

However, women still do not have equal access to land in the communal areas. Married women have only secondary land use rights through their husbands, and divorced women are required to vacate the land and acquire new land in their natal homes. In addition, rural women who are not in formal employment are not covered by social security schemes.

The Economic Structural Adjustment Programme (ESAP) introduced in 1991 has resulted in a sharp increase in the interest rates charged to farmers, and a sharp rise in the retail price of agricultural inputs. As a result of escalating production costs, small farmers, who are primarily women, have had to decrease their use of inputs, resulting in declining productivity. Women in particular are also negatively affected by the decreased government provision of agricultural and social services and the removal of government control of prices and marketing.

The severe drought of 1992 crippled agriculture and threw the economy into a deep recession. Water resources are inadequate in 75% of the communal lands where the majority of women live. The drying up of water sources and wetlands means that women must walk longer distances to water sources.

About 75% of the communal lands consist of semi-arid lands with marginal agricultural potential. These regions experience the least reliable rainfall and are characterized by rocky topography, steep slopes and shallow, infertile soils. Environmental degradation is causing further deterioration in the communal lands, including deforestation, soil erosion, and declining soil fertility, caused by a shortage of land, population pressure, and unsustainable land use systems and farming techniques, in the absence of alternatives.

About 60% of the households in the communal lands experience food deficits. One-fifth to one-fourth of Zimbabwean children suffer from malnutrition, which is especially extensive among children residing in communal areas and on large-scale commercial farms.

Women in approximately 50% of the districts experience fuel shortages requiring them to spend more time and labour gathering fuelwood.

Male migration has resulted in an increase of female-headed households, which account for 60% of all households in the communal areas. These households are likely to be allocated smaller parcels of land than male-headed households. Fewer rural female-headed households own agricultural productive resources, and in terms of household incomes, they are 40% poorer than rural male-headed households.

Land. Zimbabwe inherited a landownership system in which about half the land was reserved for those of European descent through the Land Tenure Act. Although this Act was repealed in 1979, the best agricultural land remains concentrated in the commercial sector, dominated by a small number of farmers and companies. Almost two-thirds of the population live on the poorer agricultural lands in the communal areas. Although a Land Resettlement Programme was set up after independence in 1980, progress has been slow. No data is available on how this programme has affected women.

Although legislation has improved women's access to land in the communal areas, where the majority of women reside, married women still have only indirect access to land through their husbands. Moreover, traditional attitudes and practices have lagged behind legislation. According to a sample survey, the mean arable landholding for male-headed households is 2.73 ha, while that for female-headed households is 1.86 ha.

Livestock. Data collection needed.

Forestry. Data collection needed.

Water. Data collection needed.

Credit. The communal agricultural sector is served by the parastatal Agricultural Finance Corporation (AFC), which requires only that its clients have access to land and a marketing card. Approximately 32% of its clients are women, an increase from 11% in 1982. A number of other Government-sponsored credit schemes, such as the Small Farmer Credit Scheme and the Resettlement Credit Scheme, have been introduced, but no data is available in regard to women's access to these. A number of private credit facilities have been formed to assist women, including the Zimbabwe Women's Finance Trust, which provides credit and technical assistance to small-scale grassroots businesswomen. Women comprise the majority of members of savings clubs which were formed to help meet the needs of the rural population. For instance, women constitute 83% of the membership of the Self Help Development Foundation, which promotes group savings that can be mobilized for productive purposes.

Extension services and agricultural training. The Extension Services Department did not focus on gender issues until 1990, when it became apparent that agricultural extension was contacting only 44% of women farmers. In 1994 the Department began focusing on the constraints to women's participation in extension in an attempt to develop a more appropriate package to reach women farmers.

Prior to 1980, women were not awarded master farmer certificates, but from 1982 to 1992, women constituted 33.2% of this training programme, and in 1993, there was an increase in women's participation of 60 to 90%.

Until the mid-1980s, the majority of agricultural training institutes did not have facilities for women. Since then, there has been a gradual increase in women's enrolment. In 1988, only 7.77% of extension staff were women. More recent data is needed.

Agricultural Extension Staff by Position and Gender, 1989

Source: Agricultural Extension and Farm Women in the 1980s, FAO, 1993

Enrolment in Agricultural Colleges and Universities

Source: MLAWD, Universities and Agricultural Education Branch

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