Tendayi Chitiyo, 41, is a housewife like many of other married women of her age in her neighbourhood.
Every morning she wakes up and prepares breakfast for her husband and three children, and helps everyone get ready for school and work. After doing her daily chores she is, however, left with nothing to do and because she does not like to gossip she spends most of her days watching soap operas on open view satellite broadcasting channels.
“Besides feeding the family and taking care of children- I have nothing meaningful to fill my days, and I always wonder what I am going to do after my kids marry and move out,” Chitiyo said.
“I do not have a career and my life is centred on my family. Without them I am nothing. I also feel underappreciated- the hardest part of my chores is hauling water every day from neighbours well for family use,” said Chitiyo.
According to the Asian Development Bank (ADB) gender checklist on water supply and sanitation: “Women have primary roles in the collection, transport, use and management of water and the promotion of sanitary practices, and yet are hardly involved in decision making processes in that sector.”
This statement from the Asian Development Bank taken together with Chitiyo’s story fortifies the scenario confronting most women in Zimbabwe confirming that women are the biggest stakeholders in the water and sanitation sector but are not empowered to make decisions affecting them daily.
In Chitungwiza, most of the problems associated with lack of development initiatives, corruption and poor service delivery, affect women more than men.
A particular scenario is the water crisis which continues to hound most of Harare’s suburbs where during this crisis, upholding gender roles has led to oppression of women in society.
According to a Chitungwiza resident, Trish Rutsito, residents are being forced everyday to search of water, a basic commodity due to persistent water cuts. Day in and day out one can see people going to and frmo carrying buckets of water on their heads, some wheeling them in wheelbarrows or sometimes pushing carts arrayed with buckets of water.
Rutsito said, “In my family I am the one responsible for fetching water and this task seems to have been naturally delegated to us women for when I go to fetch water I hardly see men involved in such activities. In some instances, when you actually see men at water fetching points they will only be there to harass women and control how we fetch water.”
According to the Southern African Research and Documentation Centre’s Information Officer, Admire Mutoti: “If more women were to take on leadership roles and get elected into leadership positions in the country there would be effective and efficient development.”
In Chitungwiza and all over Zimbabwe, the number of women who are involved in decision making processes is very little in comparison to that of men and very few women actually have leadership positions in society.
For example, in Chitungwiza municipality only 28% of the total number of councillors is women. Nationally, the percentage of female representatives in the Zimbabwean parliamentary national assembly is at 33% while the percentage of women in the parliamentary senate is 48%. Therefore on average the percentage of women in political leadership positions is 36 percent which means that the other 64% is men.
According to Chitungwiza Community Development Network Gender officer, Magret Chogugudza: “The reason why leadership positions are dominated by men mainly stems from socio-cultural perspectives of the Zimbabwean society. Like many African societies, Zimbabwe has for a long time been ruled by male chauvinist traditions which favour male superiority and female passivity. These socio-cultural perspectives are proving difficult to erode and will need time to be completely ruled out.”
Mutoti said that Zimbabwean women have just embarked on their journey to emancipation and, although the introduction of the campaign on equal rights has paved way to a society in which women can enjoy the same rights as men, it may take a while for some men to allow their women to venture into leadership roles or even some of these women themselves to venture into leadership territories.
“Leadership is still a scary and foreign territory for some women, especially for the older generation. Some of them actually discourage their daughters and grandchildren to get into leadership positions, and this becomes a stumbling block to development,” Mutoti said.
Mutoti said that culturally women have always been taught to be submissive, been taught to only look after the family, that their responsibility lies at home and that they should leave important matters to men, thus cannot stand toe to toe with men.
Over the years society has been ruled by preconceived notions of gender roles. These roles are social structures which assign duties and responsibilities over all social systems, including the family. Upholding these social structures, man have passed sets of duties and responsibilities ascribed to each gender in society.
Gender roles are vital in creating and maintaining a semblance of order in society among people who constitute as members of these social systems. Nevertheless, even as gender roles help in creating and maintaining social order they also go a long way in creating and maintaining oppression for some members of society, and they are becoming a barrier to women realising their potential.
According to Chogugudza gender roles have been passed on from generation to generation and they have resulted in gender stereotyping. In society, there are jobs that are categorised as jobs for men only or for women only.
Otengo said that some jobs are even created for men only and it will seem a taboo or improper for a woman to venture into those economical territories.
“Gendered stereotypes are resulting in opportunities being made for men only,” Otengo said. “There are some things that women are not expected to do –and if they do they are regarded rebellious and immoral. It is only recently that presidential positions have been opened up for women.”
According to Otengo this is therefore a great disadvantage for women especially in this economically terrible environment in Zimbabwe.
“Men and women should have equal access to resources, facilities, basic commodities and jobs should not be made for or restricted to a particular sex. Every person should be allowed to venture into any field without discrimination and be able to do what he or she feels comfortable with,” Otengo said.
Mutoti encouraged women to take up leadership roles and vie as candidates in the upcoming 2018 elections especially in the sphere of local government were decisions affecting women are made and implemented.
“This will not only create a social balance, but other women will take up leadership roles where they will be able to stand for what they believe and push for the problems they experience to be addressed rather than leave men who might not have first-hand experience of these problems represent them,” Mutoti said.