The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has revealed that the country’s workplaces remain unsafe for female employees who are stalked by vices such as sexual harassment, job insecurity and lack of empowerment.

In a study titled: “Future of Women at Work Initiative,” the ILO established that women are victims of unpaid work, low wage jobs and the ills associated with informal economies such as lack of job security, poor social security and lack of empowerment.

With dwindling formal employment and negative job creation, Zimbabwe’s female workers find themselves confronted by traditional challenges, such as sexual harassment, unpaid maternity leave and are generally soft targets during retrenchment and gender discrimination by virtue of being women.

According to the study, 30 percent of the country’s employees in the labour force are women. A paltry five percent are in senior management positions with three percent of Zimbabwean boards being chaired by women.

Participants drawn from the informal economy, business, academia, civil society and government, who recently met to discuss the ILO report, emphasised the need for government to promote women.

They also questioned why the Maternity Protection Convention, 2000 (No. 183) has not yet been ratified at a time when the country is harmonising its labour laws. Some noted that paternity leave can be a useful tool to advocate for gender equality.

From the discussions, which recommended a review of the education curriculum to promote gender equality, it also emerged that the July 17, 2015 Supreme Court ruling that made thousands of workers redundant through three months retrenchment notices, had worsened the plight of women.

The ILO report also links Zimbabwe’s macro-economic history and its impact on women and men to the period (1997 to 2016) when women did not report cases of sexual harassment because they feared losing the scarce jobs.

Permanent secretary in the Ministry of Women Affairs, Gender and Community Development, Perpetua Gumbo, bemoaned the high levels of labour informality associated with women. She lamented the fact that thousands of women are still confined in care-giving work, which is undervalued and poorly remunerated. She said the majority of women are engaged in low paying jobs like farming.

Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions, head of gender department, Fiona Magaya urged stakeholders to desist from analysing sexual harassment only from the formal sector perspective.

“Evidence is pointing to systematic incidences of sexual harassment to informal workers involved in the cross border trade. This has prompted the labour unions to realise the need to change their organising techniques in order to reach out to the informal workers,” said Magaya, while reiterating the importance of also recognising housewives as workers because their contribution not only impacted on the family, but also on the country’s gross domestic product.

Employers’ Confederation of Zimbabwe president, Josephat Kahwema, noted that ILO and the Southern Africa Development Community have a protocol signed by heads of state condemning abuse and discrimination of women in any way.

“Such organisations have been marketing equal opportunities at any work station. It is unfortunate that poverty and desperation at times push women to avail themselves for abuse. Zimbabwe provides the cheapest prostitutes and domestic workers mainly due to poverty. Our efforts therefore are hampered by the economy and remain more academic than practical.

“To avoid being abused one needs to be self-reliant. The training sessions that ILO has set up in the past have been poorly attended by our members, who find the programme a waste of time. Our culture also is found guilty of making women less assertive and in turn vote for men into senior positions socially and at work. We are very far from the ideal position. We should not be ashamed of the situation because even the first world has not crossed the 12 percent mark,” he said.

However, past president of the Women’s Coalition, Virginia Muwanigwa, believes otherwise and maintains that the missing link is enforcement of the existing laws and policies. She said trade unions today are facing resistance in carrying out their mandate in a globalised environment, which has resulted in job insecurity.

“Specific to eradicating sexual harassment, particularly of women, remains an area where men need to join the campaign because they are also affected. Those harassed need to speak out regardless of the secondary victimisation that usually follows.


Source: Financial Gazette (Harare)

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