Impact of COVID-19 on Women - Time for Zimbabwe to Strengthen Gender Responsive Budgeting
By Angela Mandoreba
It is a sad reality that the COVID-19 pandemic continues to worsen social vulnerabilities in Zimbabwe including worsening the plight of women, people with disabilities, youths and children.
However, the impact of the coronavirus related challenges is varied on different population groups because of the various social and economic factors. It is therefore imperative to understand how and why some population groups are more susceptible to the effects than others to inform better formulation and implementation of adaptation policies and programmes.
This short piece seeks to bring to light how women, as part of the most vulnerable groups in Zimbabwe have been affected by the devastating impacts of the deadly COVID-19 pandemic and how their plight can be addressed through gender-responsive budgeting (GRB).
Snapshot of the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on women in Zimbabwe
The coronavirus pandemic is not just a health issue. The pandemic brought to light and worsened the socioeconomic woes Zimbabwe was already grappling with including deteriorating public service delivery characterised by poor public healthcare, deteriorating public education system, dilapidating infrastructure, acute portable and safe water shortages, power outages among other ills.
The COVID-19 pressures on public service delivery increased the burden of unpaid care work on women due to their gendered roles and responsibilities; hence Zimbabwe’s gender norms and expectations look up to women to fill in the public service delivery gap including fetching firewood in face of power outages, fetching water from various alternative sources including boreholes in face of dry taps, taking care of the sick at home in face of incapacitated public healthcare institutions and home-schooling in a situation where online learning can only be afforded by the privileged few.
COVID-19 did not only offer a death nail to an already ailing public service delivery but also affected, through national lockdowns, the majority of citizens’ livelihoods which are sustained by the informal sector.
According to the International Monetary Fund (IMF) research “Shadow Economies Around the World: What Did We Learn Over the Last 20 Years?”, Zimbabwe has the second-largest informal economy, after Bolivia, with a percentage score of 60,6 per cent of its total economy.
According to the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), approximately 5.2 million people in Zimbabwe who make up the backbone of the economy are in the informal sector- about 68% of which are women.
The COVID-19 induced lockdown restrictions meant that informal players largely dominated by women could not do business as usual to fend for themselves and their dependents. On another note, the majority of women cross border traders were also heavily affected by the travel restrictions which also meant the closure of ports of entry and exit. The direct consequence of the situation is increased levels of poverty and the deepening of socioeconomic inequalities which weigh heavily on women’s shoulders because of their gendered roles and responsibilities.
GRB as a panacea to the women’s plight in Zimbabwe
It is imperative to note that the national budget is one of the key macroeconomic and fiscal policies in the promotion and fulfilment of citizens’ constitutionally guaranteed rights. As such, the success or failure of any national budget must be assessed on the extent to which it seeks to advance the rights of the different social groups including vulnerable members of the society especially women.
In this contemporary world, one of the major aims of Public Finance Management (PFM) reforms is to ensure the effective allocation of public resources for guaranteed improved public service delivery. The implication is that there has been a remarkable paradigm shift from solely looking at public finance management as purely an accounting issue anchored on balancing the books of accounts. Rather, the new dimension focuses on the “new” role of Ministries of Finance (MFs) in leading the process of achieving social impact through fiscal policy, (Governance and Social Development Resource Centre, 2015).
Gender Responsive Budgeting is considered an important tool for integrating social dimensions, based on gender relevance into the planning and budgeting process.
This integration means that Ministries of Finance are also responsible for leading initiatives to measure the social impact of PFM development in general and gender equality in particular, (Bosnic, 2015).
A gender-responsive budget can be best understood as a budget that works for everyone including men, women, children and other vulnerable members of the society and advancing gender equality and the rights of women in particular. It is thus a form of budgeting that deliberately raises revenue and channels resources in a manner that addresses disadvantage & exclusion.
The urgent need to formulate and implement budgets that promote the progressive realisation of women’s rights and empowerment in Zimbabwe cannot be overemphasised. This is mainly due to the historical exclusion of women from key economic governance processes due to cultural practices and skewed policy processes titled in favour of men.
Such a position is influenced by Section 17 of the Constitution of Zimbabwe which compels the state to rectify gender discrimination and imbalances resulting from past practices and policies.
Therefore, the various challenges faced by women in Zimbabwe can be addressed through the adoption and implementation of gender-responsive budgets.
Nevertheless, taking stock of the government of Zimbabwe’s commitment to promote and fulfil women’s rights and ultimately gender equity through budgeting in the past 2 years, it is worrisome to note that not much has been done.
There has been a remarkable decrease in the budget allocation for the Women Affair’s Ministry whereby the allocation for the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises was reduced from 0.7% in 2020 to 0.5% of the total 2021 national budget (2020 and 2021 National Budget Statements).
According to the Institute for Community Development in Zimbabwe, such an allocation decline highlights the government’s lack of commitment to address gender inequality in the country. This is even though one of the major aims of a national budget is to reduce inequalities and it, therefore, means that without sufficient resources allocated to the Ministry of Women, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises, the empowerment of Zimbabwean women remains compromised.
It is in this regard that the Institute for Community Development in Zimbabwe argued that the meagre allocation to the Ministry of Women Affairs also signifies that the 2021 national budget fell short of the gender-based budgeting principle; hence the urgent need for the government of Zimbabwe through the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development to make deliberate efforts to strengthen gender-responsive budgeting through sufficient budget allocation and expenditure to cater for the needs and aspirations of Zimbabwean women.
1. Gender Responsive Budgeting is key in addressing the exclusion of women in national programming and policy implementation. The government and the Parliament of Zimbabwe must invest in gender analysis of national budgets to ascertain the extent to which they promote gender equality in general and how they respond to the needs of women in particular.
2. The plight of women in Zimbabwe has been worsened by the devastating effects of COVID-19, hence the formulation of the 2022 National Budget must be informed by a comprehensive understanding and appreciation of the challenges faced by women in the COVID-19 context.
3. There is a need to ensure that adequate resources in the national budget are allocated towards the promotion of women’s rights and empowerment. This must also entail effective monitoring beyond allocation to ensure that expenditure is done accordingly. The Ministry of Finance and Economic Development must also, in its call for budget proposals, include instructions for mainstreaming gender in the formulation of budget proposals by line ministries and government agencies.
4. Gender Responsive Budgeting is a technical concept which the majority of public officials might lack the relevant skills and capacities to comprehend. There is, therefore, a need for sustainable capacity building for responsible personnel in relevant Ministries, including the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development and government agencies to increase their capacity to mainstream gender in planning, programming and budgeting.
5. The Parliament of Zimbabwe must create conducive platforms and opportunities for women participation during budget consultations for them to meaningfully participate and share their needs and aspirations for the national budget.
6. Civil society must create spaces for dialogue with women and conduct a gender analysis of budgets to inform their advocacy strategies with Parliament and the Ministry of Finance and Economic Development.
7. Women must be organised and take a leading role in monitoring the budget implementation by relevant ministries like the Ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises and agencies with a mandate to advance women’s rights and empowerment.