« 100 Years – 100 Lives » | ZIMBABWE - “Whatever it is that I can do, a woman is also capable of doing it”

An ILO Project on gender equality in Zimbabwe helped traditional leaders like Madamombe to understand the benefits of involving women in economic and social activities.

Feature | Zimbabwe | 20 September 2019
HARARE – Male traditional leaders play an important role in rural Zimbabwe. In addition to governing their communities, they have the power to allocate land, are responsible for settling disputes and ensuring that cultural norms and values, which were handed down by their forefathers, are preserved.

Given their influence, an ILO project on gender equality saw the opportunity to set up training sessions specifically for them.

The challenge, however, was that most traditional leaders in Zimbabwe have a vision of society based on male domination.

"If change is to happen in attitudes towards women, it is important to include men in our gender programmes," said Hopolang Phororo, from the ILO Office in Harare.

Hardened views

Madamombe is a Headman and traditional leader in Ward 1, Murewa district, located about 75 kms northeast from the capital city Harare. According to him, women in his community have always been considered at a lower level and were expected to be subservient to men.

Similarly, Madamombe had always held the view that whatever he says, women must obey without questioning, leaving no room for them even to take part in discussions.

However, things started to change after he attended the training sessions organized by the ILO as part of a joint UN programme for gender equality

The training covered various areas like self-esteem, confidence building and leadership; livelihoods and food security; business development; gender equality; women’s rights; women’s working conditions; sexual and reproductive health, including child marriage; gender based violence and domestic violence as well as HIV and AIDS.

Though the goal of the wider project was women’s economic empowerment, it was necessary to conduct training on transforming attitudes about gender roles as an entry point.

Change of mindset

At first, Madamombe found it hard to agree to the very idea of taking part in the training. His first reaction was that it would be a waste of time and resources, as he firmly believed that women were not capable of performing any economic activities.

“I found the training very difficult at first because it sounded as if they were trying to reduce me to the same level as women,” he recalled.

However, as the training progressed, he realized that the objective was completely different.

“I began to see that the training was there to help me understand that whatever it is that I can do, a woman is also capable of doing it.”

In Murewa district, Madamombe even noticed a reduction in the number of incidents involving violence towards women, as a result of the training and the income that women are now generating from the gardening projects.

Involving women in the decision process

“Perhaps the greatest transformation has been in my family,” says Madamombe.

“As someone who makes decisions for my community and arbitrates in various cases, I now request my wife’s views, which I seriously consider before I come up with a decision,” he added.

Madamombe became a ‘Male Champion’ in the community, advocating for gender equality amongst his peers and subjects. He has since introduced a quota system in his committees. As a result, women now make up 50 per cent of the members in the committees ensuring that gender-sensitive decisions are made.

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