Zimbabwe's Finance Minister Professor Mthuli Ncube delivered his maiden financial budget statement for 2019 to a much anticipating citizenry, especially women, to whom he had promised some positive measures. In this piece we focus on the major take aways especially for women and vulnerable groups.
It was interesting to note that the Minister mentioned in his introduction that "Gender Equity" was part of the key objectives and priorities gathered during budget consultations.
Under the Small, Medium Enterprises (SMEs) sector, which houses a lot of women entrepreneurs and start-up projects, the minister said his Transitional Stabilisation Programme (TSP) would give emphasis to investment and support to the SMEs sector. This he said would include the establishment of venture capital funds that would augment institutions such as the Women's Bank. The Women's Empowerment Bank was launched in June 2018 to help women easily access capital for their income generation projects.
The Minister also suspended duty on sanitary pads, as was anticipated, but only for a period of 12 months with effect from the first of December. He also suspended Value Added Tax on all imported sanitary wear thereby ensuring a significant reduction and stay in price hikes in the next financial year.
The Gender commission will access part of the US$38,5 million allocated to the seven constitutional commissions.
The minister's budget had an exclusive Gender Mainstreaming section which included the following snippets.
i. 2019 budget to priorities integration of gender across all sectors of the economy critical for achieving equitable, sustainable and inclusive social economic development,
ii. Budget to be inline with Government's commitment to Gender Responsive Budgeting Strategy and the National Gender Policy,
iii. Line Ministries required to ensure all developmental progress under purview and all related systems give equal opportunity to women and youths,
iv. US$381 Million allocated to the ministry of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises, Development.
The Minister also lifted duty on goods to be imported by people living with disabilities inclusive of wheelchairs, talking calculators, mobility white canes and contact lenses among other goods already exampted.
Also notable are the high allocations to Education (over a billion dollars) and Health and Child Welfare with over half a billion dollars allocated to it. These sectors impact a lot of women, girls and children and continued support gives hope of more girls getting as close to a decent education as possible through the mentioned support systems to fund disadvantaged students. With improved health services seen as a positive step towards the reduction of mother and child mortality cases which have been on the increase in recent years.
While the figures look attractive on paper we must be careful of celebrating too soon as in past years access to such allocated funds has been limited with the Ministry of Women Affairs getting as little as less than half of the allocated funds in the fiscal year.
In her analysis of the 2017 budget which was largely endorsed as gender responsive, Pamela Mhlanga, Executive Director for the Zimbabwe Women's Resource Centre and Network, wrote that women empowerment was much broader than just financial inclusion for women, but is also about investments into "community initiatives designed to increase women's productivity". We also agree with her that it is also about ending circumstances of poverty and exclusion that lead to child marriages and other forms of violence against women.