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Rewriting norms: paving the path to gender equality

Established in 1942, Oxfam is a global confederation comprised of 21 member organisations. They work together with thousands of partners and allies across regions in 86 countries, challenging the injustices and inequalities that keep people locked in poverty.

Regis Mtutu, Oxfam’s Women’s Rights and Gender Justice Coordinator told us about their work tackling the inequalities that face women in Zimbabwe.

“Ending poverty, ending hunger, ensuring that men and women have access to clean water and sanitation are some of the main challenges that the world faces. The SDGs are very important
in that they give a good framework globally, regionally and at country level to address such challenges.”

Regis Mtutu

Spotlight on: Zimbabwe

Oxfam believe that the unequal distribution of unpaid care and domestic work creates barriers for sustainable development. Women living in poverty shoulder the heaviest responsibility for this type of work. An unequal, and often arduous, care and domestic workload robs them of their time and limits their access to opportunities outside of the home, hindering progress towards the SDGs. Active since 2014, Oxfam’s Women’s Economic Empowerment and Care (WE-Care) programme addresses unpaid care and domestic work as a key driver of gender inequality. Oxfam’s work in Zimbabwe includes practical solutions such as providing new infrastructure, and initiatives in communities to challenge social norms.

Giving everyone a choice

Inadequate water systems, fuel and cooking facilities result in women and girls having to make long and backbreaking daily trips to collect water and firewood, while under-funded health services mean many must walk miles to get essential medical care for their families. As part of the WE-Care initiative, Oxfam are implementing practical solutions to these challenges, including the provision of fuel-efficient stoves and other improvements in water and energy infrastructure.

Regis explained that with support from government and international funding partners, Oxfam have improved infrastructure in rural areas, with piped water schemes that mean women now only walk 500 metres for water, freeing up time for them to do other things.

“It might not seem very high impact, but everybody in life wants to have choices. We are giving women a choice.”

Regis Mtutu

Amplifying the voices of women

Regis talked about the narrative shift and change in social norms that is needed in order to rethink what counts as women’s work.

“In Zimbabwe, and most of Africa, women are having to fetch water, cook, wash and take care of children. This is never recognised as work, but it is what maintains family and it’s passed from generation to generation. If a man was to do this work, he would be mocked, he would not be seen as ‘man enough’.”

Regis Mtutu

According to Regis, there is a prevailing narrative that women are responsible for unpaid care and domestic work, and this sustains the unequal distribution of such work. As part of the WE-Care programme, Oxfam have been working with institutions and communities to shift gender norms in Zimbabwe.

Oxfam have trained local men and women to act as community champions. They go from door to door, educating people in the local area about social norms. Since starting the initiative, they have seen men begin to cook, fetch water and do laundry. They have also been taking innovative steps to challenge existing views of who should be responsible for care work.

“You find that all cleaning products when they’re advertised, it’s usually a woman. We are working with institutions to shift public discourse around care work. Social media has been a very useful vehicle for amplifying the voices of women.”

Regis Mtutu

Government action

Restrictive social norms mean that women are rarely represented in budget-setting and policy-making processes. Regis believes that a lack of understanding from policymakers has challenged the sustainability of the WE-Care programme. Without an appreciation of the problem, strategies aimed at reducing and redistributing unpaid care and domestic work aren’t prioritised in government budgets or policy commitments.

“One of the Members of Parliament asked us what unpaid care and domestic work has got to do with government.”

Regis Mtutu

Over the past 5 years, Oxfam have been trying to persuade governments to recognise the importance of unpaid care and domestic work. Regis explained how Oxfam’s ongoing engagement with policymakers and local community organisations eventually prompted the Government of Zimbabwe to undertake the first public inquiry into the issue. This has resulted in further investment commitments, with one local council now funding the expansion of Oxfam’s piped water scheme. For Regis, it’s essential that the government take responsibility for the ongoing development of this work.

“Oxfam has provided the model to show that the piped water schemes works, saving time and reducing the drudgery of fetching water. We now need the Government to take over because it has the primary responsibility for providing this infrastructure.”

Regis Mtutu

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