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Financial freedom for women (part 2)

Women, regardless of their marital status, need to work at achieving financial freedom for themselves. We have come a long way.

By Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto

Since independence in 1980, there has been sections of the law that have been changed in order to include and empower women. Some of the several pieces of legislation as outlined by Machirori Fungai, in a January 2015 article entitled, 15 Legal Reforms that Impacted Zimbabwean Women’s Rights in the 1980s and 1990s published on herzimbabwe.co.zw include but are not restricted to the following:

Equal Pay Regulations (1980)

This provides for equal pay for equal work, in addition to providing for half an hour’s time before and after lunch for breastfeeding.

Customary Law and Primary Courts Act (1980)

This piece of legislation was established to empower community courts to administer maintenance laws. It also provides for maintenance claims for women in unregistered customary marriages.

Legal Age of Majority Act (1982)

This confers full legal capacity on every Zimbabwean aged 18 years and above. It also gives daughters the right to inherit their fathers’ estates. It also authorises women (including widows) to qualify as guardians of minors and to administer the deceased’s estates.

Labour Relations Act (1984)

This provided for three months’ maternity leave with some reasonable reduction in salary. The Act outlaws discrimination against any employee on grounds of race, tribe, place of origin, political opinion, colour, creed, or sex, in respect of wages, promotion, recruitment, training and retrenchment.

Matrimonial Causes Act No 33 (1985)

This provides for equitable distribution of matrimonial assets upon divorce. It also removes the “fault principle” (that is, when one partner is said to be at fault in the breakdown of the relationship) as grounds for divorce.

Public Service Pensions (Amendment) Regulations (1985)

This allows for women to contribute to medical aid schemes in their own right. Female contributors in public service could also now contribute to their pension at the same rate (7,5%) of pensionable enrolments as men.

Deceased Person’s Family Maintenance (Amendment) Act (1987)

This provides for the surviving spouse and children — in the case of death —the right to continue occupying the matrimonial house, use the household goods and effects they were using before the deceased’s death, use and enjoy crops and animals belonging to the matrimonial estate. Property grabbing by relatives of the deceased, therefore, became illegal.

Infanticide Act (1991)

This Act allows the crime of infanticide to replace the murder charge out of consideration of a mother’s post-natal depression, rejection by boyfriend/ husband, parents and/or relatives.

Deeds Registry Amendment Act (1991)

The Act allows women to register immovable property in their own name (and can apply to urban and rural commercial land where title deeds were obtainable).

White Paper on Marriage Inheritance (1993)

This was proposed as a replacement of the African Marriages Act with legislation equally applicable to all Zimbabweans. As such, it seeks to give the surviving spouse, and children, equal rights to inheritance as opposed to one heir.

Administration of Estates Amendment Act (1997)

This Act provides for the rights of the surviving spouse/s, in an intestate estate, over the matrimonial home, and also for them to receive a share in the deceased spouse’s intestate estate. An intestate estate is one in which the deceased’s estate is not effectively disposed of by the deceased’s will.

Maintenance (Amendments) Act (2002)

Under this act, the non-custodial parent is required to contribute regularly to the maintenance of minor children in the custody of the other parent. In the Act, the courts are empowered to attach terminal benefits (e.g pension benefits) accruing to the person who was ordered to pay maintenance if he/ she subsequently left employment.

A woman could now file maintenance claims from the court nearest to her, with the man legally obliged to travel to that court. A woman could also claim maintenance from an ex-spouse any time after divorce if there was need for it, and a woman in an unregistered customary marriage was entitled to maintenance from the man after dissolution of the union.

Domestic Violence Act (2006)

To make provision for the protection and relief of victims of domestic violence and to provide for matters connected with or incidental to the foregoing.

Despite the enabling legal framework, more than three and a half decades of independence in Zimbabwe, the status of women, gender equality and most importantly, the issue of economic empowerment of women, have reached an all-time low. It is a low I have never seen nor witnessed before. Less than five women are heading up Zimbabwe Stock Exchange listed companies. Less than five women are CEOs of state-owned enterprises, less than five women are permanent secretaries of government ministries. Women’s representation of parastatal and private sector company boards are negligible.

Although this is the situation at the higher echelons of formal employment, according to the Zimbabwe National Statistics Agency 2016 report entitled, Understanding Equality in Zimbabwe: Women and Men, Zimbabwean women make up 54% of the workforce in the agriculture, fisheries and forestry sector, 62,1% of the wholesale and retail trade and repair of motor vehicles. Women also dominate

education at 57%, health and social welfare work at 64,2%. Female dominance also extends to categories defined as “other service activities” at 57,6% and “activities of households” with 79,5%. But gainful employment of women is not necessarily translating to savings or wealth creation by women. As women get older and leave employment for whatever reason, the feminisation of poverty spikes. When the data on the predominance of women in employment is disaggregated, it shows that many women are employed at the lower end of the market, including the informal sector where their existence is survivalist.

Financial literacy amongst women, both educated and uneducated, is low and generally speaking, women are less confident to make good savings and investment decisions with their own money. The tendency by most women is to fund household expenditures with their money throughout their working lives. As a result, on retirement, many women are exposed, without adequate financial security even to cope in unplanned emergencies.

The deafening silence of the women’s movement on many issues affecting women has grown acute. A country with a high propensity for excluding women and relegating them to the fringes of society involved in menial and survivalist roles, in essence marginalising them, a whole constituency of 52% of the population, is a country going nowhere slowly. The fact is no one gender should be preferred over another and if you leave more than half of your population behind, progress will be hampered.

In my next write-up, I will talk about several ways to achieve financial freedom for women.

l Gloria Ndoro-Mkombachoto is an entrepreneur and a regional enterprise development consultant. Her experience spans a period of over 25 years. She can be contacted at totemshumba@gmail.com

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