The 2019 International Women’s Day theme: “Balance for Better” has different interpretations and meanings to young people. When asked the question, “What does ‘Balance for Better’ mean to you as a young man”, the males responded by saying, “it means ensuring males and females have an equal access to socio-economic opportunities”. For some, though acknowledging the need for equal access to opportunities, they felt that it was important to emphasize the inherent physiological and psychological differences between males and females. The theme was also interpreted as a call to action to achieving gender parity for the growth of better communities. All these responses were captured during YI’s special International Women’s Day discussion which also focussed on issues such as feminisation of poverty, gender inequality in household chores, opportunities for young women in the workplace and other economic areas and lastly, how males can be part of the change.
To guide the discussion on feminization of poverty, the youth used the following extract from Medeiros and Costa (2008):
The term, ‘feminization of poverty’ was first used by Diana Pearce in 1976 following her observation that two thirds of the poor were women over the age of 16 and an increasingly large number were from economically disadvantaged groups. The discourse on feminization of poverty holds that as a result of recession and reduced public spending by governments, women are increasingly represented among the world’s poor. Women and economic development are at the core of the discourse on feminization of poverty.
Most of the young people could relate with the term in that, traditionally women have the responsibility of preparing and putting food on the table, hence when children did not have a meal, they would look up to their mother. To elevate the discussion, it was pointed out that this responsibility had more dire consequences to female-headed households who find themselves having to compete for economic opportunities in an already unequal playing field which is male dominated in order to afford basics for their families. In that respect, poverty portrays itself in a woman’s face. The youth noted that levels of poverty are higher amongst women as compared to their male counterparts because of inequalities in access to and control of important resources. This assertion is supported by Bhatasara (2011) who states that, in Zimbabwe, men owned 82% of the land as compared to 18% of women in the A1 model. Land is one of the key economic means of production, without which, women cannot equally lead productive lives.
Balance for Better was also understood as a call to action to reduce gender inequality in household chores. As Osman (2002) noted: “social and cultural expectations and norms constrain women from exercising all their capabilities. Women primarily perform unpaid household work.” Young women acknowledged that some of the household chores take up most of their time which they felt could be used advancing their careers or working on more economically productive tasks as their male counterparts. For the young women, they felt that their gendered roles such as cleaning the house, sweeping the yard and washing have to be done in the morning so much that, by the time they finish, they will be tired to do any productive work. Males on the other hand are generally expected to do gardening which is done towards sunset. Furthermore, young women felt that they missed out on networking opportunities which take place after hours as they have to be home, cooking for their families. The youth thus felt the 2019 theme was bringing to light such cultural norms and expectations and interrogating their relevance in today’s world where the focus is on eradicating poverty in all its forms.
The discussion would have been incomplete without exploring economic opportunities for young women in the workplace. It was highlighted that as a result of the new education curriculum, girls in secondary school are now taking up technical subjects such as Wood work, Building and Technical Drawing, a situation presenting new opportunities for more female teachers for those subjects. The youth felt this was positive development which women should take advantage of to enhance their participation in the construction sector.
On the question of how males can be part of the change, the youth were agreed that to be impactful in their different entrepreneurial and developmental work, they had to be empathetic towards one another. However, they noted that, in the foundation for girl child empowerment, the boy child was being neglected thereby causing imbalance. It was thus recommended that checks and balances be used in the gender parity endeavours, to ensure that focus is indeed on Balance for Better and not elevating one gender over the other.
In a nutshell, Balance for Better means achieving gender parity and eliminating any forms of domination/subjugation and unequal access to opportunities. In the long term, this creates a conducive environment for the betterment of our world today and the future. The 2019 theme conscientizes us to concepts such as feminisation of poverty that suggest gender equality as the logical step towards poverty eradication. Furthermore, this theme is significant in creating opportunities for young women in all economic areas, and makes room for the participation of males in effecting change. Balance for Better is key in balancing our socioeconomic fundamentals to better ourselves as a people.
Bhatatsara, S. (2011). Women, Land and Poverty in Zimbabwe: Deconstructing the Impacts of the Fast Track Land Reform Program’, in Journal of Sustainable Development in Africa, 13(1).
Medeiros, M and Costa, J. (2008). ‘What Do We Mean by “Feminization of Poverty”?’. International Poverty Centre (58).
Osman, A., M., K. (2002). ‘Challenges for Integrating Gender into Poverty Alleviation Programmes: Lessons from Sudan’, in Gender & Development, 10(3), 22-30, DOI: 10.1080/13552070215922.