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GENDER: Zimbabwe Basket Fund Takes Off

HARARE, Dec 4 2009 (IPS) - A basket fund aimed at increasing the economic participation of women in Zimbabwe, has been relaunched after a start which faltered due to the delayed appointment of the new government earlier this year.

The jury is out on whether women at the grassroots are best served by Zimbabwe's Gender Support Programme. Credit:  Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

The jury is out on whether women at the grassroots are best served by Zimbabwe's Gender Support Programme. Credit: Ephraim Nsingo/IPS

The fund, properly known as the Gender Support Programme, seeks to improve gender equality and equity in Zimbabwe.

Speaking at the launch of the fund on June 17, Udo Etukudo, an MDG specialist and economist with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), said the cost of not investing in gender equality in Zimbabwe was enormous.

“Gender equality is important in the reduction of not only women and girls’ poverty, but also that of men and boys,” said Etukudo.

Funds from the European Commission (EC) and the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) totalling more than three million dollars, have been committed for the next three years.

The fund supports organisations in the fields of women’s health, education, migration, human trafficking, economic empowerment and decision-making.

A strict selection process is used to determine grant recipients.   Organisations working under the banner of the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ), and registered non-governmental, community and faith-based organisations working in the gender and women’s empowerment arena, are eligible.

But while the fund will engage with the women’s movement – particularly the WCoZ – it will also work with a wide network of partners in the area of gender and women’s rights, particularly those working in grassroots communities.

“We work with a cross-section of organisations both large and small, particularly those working in communities,” Ndanatsei Tawamba, the UNIFEM national director, told IPS.

She said the first phase of the fund circle had been done, and initial disbursements of about $2 million made.

Basket Fund a milestone

Gender activist Rutendo Hadebe decried the fact that gender and women's empowerment were typically under-funded.

She said the fund would help women lobby for reconstruction in health, education and security, particularly in eliminating impunities and pursuing crimes committed against women and girls, such as politically motivated rape during last year's elections.

"The inauguration of this fund is a milestone. Change has come to Zimbabwe. Supporting women is the difference Zimbabwe needs to turn around decades of political and human rights violations," said Hadebe.

Businessman Phillip Chiyangwa, a founding member and first chairperson of the Affirmative Action Group of Zimbabwe (AAG), a black-empowerment group, said the fund offered women an opportunity to leap out of poverty.

"It is now up to women to aspire to be big, move from informal trading and make strategic choices to approach and learn from people who have made it big in business," said Chiyangwa.

He urged women to demand economic quotas to empower them, and take advantage of the constitution-making process to push for policies that increased their participation.

“We have had a rigorous period of selection, and we did not target specific organisations. We called for proposals and selected 30 from the applications received,” said Tawamba.

“Among these is a trade organisation dealing with issues such as how the government can engage women, and more particularly those involved in trade between Zimbabwe, China, Singapore and Japan.

“We did not have an organisation dealing with cross-border traders, but hope one will be included in the next cycle.”

Tawamba said no organisation dealing specifically with HIV/AIDS had been selected as a grantee, as it was believed the pandemic was part of gender-based violence (GBV).

“For us HIV and AIDS is not a stand-alone issue – we treat it as part of GBV,” said Tawamba.

The UNIFEM official said the basket fund was firmly rooted in Millennium Development Goal 3, which seeks to promote gender equality and empower women.

“There is a big scarcity of resources for gender issues, so we are happy that the fund has taken off, and it is a good thing donors are pulling together to promote women,” Tawamba told IPS.

Asked what impact the fund had had so far, she said, “Issues to do with women have suffered for a long time in Zimbabwe due to economic, social and political problems, but the fund has had a positive effect so far, because women at grassroot level are benefiting from the work of the organisations which received funds, and can now present their issues.”    But she admitted it was still too early to measure real impact.

There is no role for the government in this revival of the fund.

“We are working only with civic society organisations (CSOs),” Tawamba told IPS.

But many grassroots organisations which are often used in justifying funding are left out.

Emma Mahlunge, who works with a grassroots-based organisation, the Kunzwana Women’s Association, told IPS that the KWA feels it has been left out.

“It’s better for UNIFEM to do their things without us because the design of the funding mechanism favours big organisations and ignores grassroots organisations working with community-based women whose idea of empowerment is to enable them to form commodities associations, access markets and achieve self sufficiency,” Mahlunge told IPS.

She complained about funding criteria which force grassroots organisations to partner with big organisations dealing with policy related issues that affect women.

“For us it makes no sense to ask organisations with women who can’t even speak English to partner with an organisation of lawyers, when we attend meetings discussions are only in English and they are often held in hotels where most of the grassroots women have no access. UNIFEM should give us funding directed at our needs.”

Activist Rita Nyamupinga, works with WCoZ, but nonetheless questions the coalition’s position managing the fund.

“The fund is helping women make a difference because organisations that previously couldn’t access funding are getting something but there is a gap,” she told IPS. “The money is too little and the distribution pattern is problematic because it assumes that WCoZ represents all women.”

“The fund acquires an elitist agenda because most of the grassroots organisations are not part of WCoZ.”

She added that the Gender Scoping Study done ahead of the establishment of the basket fund was all inclusive, but the implementation of the fund is exclusive.

“Most grassroots organisations’ members cannot write proposals. They are asked to engage consultants who are often paid a lot of money eating almost half of the money that they are applying for so these donors must plan with all that information in mind,” Nyamupinga told IPS.

Naome Chimbetete, who works with the Zimbabwe Women’s Resource Centre and Network (ZWRCN), concurs, but hopes her organisation will benefit from the fund.

“The fund is making a difference in women’s lives in areas it has touched, but the design needs to be reworked to include the specific needs of grassroots organisations  which are unfortunately sometimes left out. That is the weakness of the fund,” said Chimbetete.

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