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Published:October 23rd, 2007 03:44 EST
The Voice of a Woman

The Voice of a Woman

By Zoneziwoh Mbondgulo

Over the years, many policies have had a discriminatory impact on women, often unintended since gender equity/equality was not considered in the society. This was mostly due to certain constraints and barriers that women face in our society. This is as a result of social, cultural and legal norms.

Some of the cultural beliefs were that it’s not sensible for a lady to own land, since women were considered as strangers. In other words, as someone’s property; and, it will be foolish for property to own property.

Also, most of the lands then were considered as shrines, secret lands for the gods or evil lands for the deaths and was taboo for a woman to go close to such zones. All these factors that had to relegate women to occupy only limited circumscribed position in the society led to a major contribution to the feminine poverty.

Furthermore, women have been invisible in policy and decision making which has eliminated their perspectives, concerns and possible alternative approaches regarding environmental sustainability.  Consequently, developmental activities and men’s interest in selected natural resources is geared towards money making.

These actions ignored the long-team effects on the environment and natural resources. As a result, women and their families are adversely affected by projects that deplete the resources base on which they rely.

For example, their men deplete the natural resources through exploitation. Hence, the women are exposed as victims of environmental damage-- especially women living in fringe rural and urban areas.  They are at particular risk from environmental dislocation because their livelihood depends so much on stable and fertile natural resources.

Furthermore, their bodies adsorb pollutants and toxins that, because of their reproduction role, can be passed on to the next generation. They are more vulnerable to the ravages of declining resources because of their daily responsibilities in caring for the families and communities.

That is not all. Women tend to work longer hours than men. This difference in workload is particularly marked for rural women, the world’s principal food producers. Women are involved in every stage of food production and, although there is a gender-based division of labor, women tend to shoulder the larger share.

In addition to food production activities, women have the responsibilities of preparing and processing the food, while fulfilling their fundamental role of nurturing and caring for children and tending to elderly members of the household.

Following an oral interview with Mr. Awantos, he feels that the increasing rate of the workload upon women is due to lack of employment and other income-generating opportunities for their men. Thus, this has led to an increasing seasonal or permanent emigration of male population and, therefore, a significant rise in the number of female headed household, and also the “feminization” of agriculture.

When interviewing some rural women on their opinion, Ma Josephine said, "It’s obvious that the rural women, for example, generations after generations, have built up a stock of knowledge about their local environment, its nature and resources durability, also their medicinal and other uses. We can tell when it’s favorable for particular crop cultivation, taking into consideration all environmental and climatic conditionality.  But, because there is a gender bias in resources allocation, men have not given women the opportunity to deeply explore these skills and gain experience, which are significant-- not only to their own individual needs, but also for the need of the society."

According to Ma Achu, women are better natural resources managers. But, their unequal status and limited access to education has led to many unfair results. This can only be corrected by:

-       A holistic environmental development approached is implemented

-       Empowering women by giving them the legal right to own any resource

-       Rural economy should be diversified. In other words, farming should not be the only occupation; let women be trained in different fields of work. For example, while some are doing farming, others could be trained to become secretaries, typists, etc.

Finally, there should be a change in attitude and social perception towards women.