Inclusion and empowerment of women, central to OYE

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Gender equality and women’s economic empowerment remain elusive ideals, and this is evident in most parts of Sub-Saharan Africa. In its Opportunities for Youth Employment (OYE) projects, SNV Netherlands Development Organisation is making conscious efforts to promote the inclusion and empowerment of young women and is continuously seeking how its approaches can be improved.

Understanding gender dimensions

To successfully connect young women with gender-equitable opportunities for employment in any sector, it is important to first have an accurate assessment of the environment they are operating in, as well as existing gender dynamics in the context of value chains. Thus, as the OYE project kicked off in Zimbabwe, the SNV team was determined to understand the gender dimension of its nascent activities in two districts of the country – one rural (Umguza) and one peri-urban (Goromonzi). A study was commissioned to collect insights into young women and young men’s (self-) employment prospects and ambitions in OYE’s focus sectors agriculture and renewable energy (green jobs) and how their aspirations are influenced by gender and age relations.

Study finds vulnerabilities and opportunities

The study both unearthed and confirmed much of what the team had witnessed in the field regarding the lived experiences of young women in many parts of the country. The astronomical rate of formal unemployment in Zimbabwe has left young people, who comprise nearly 70% of the population, vulnerable to risky behaviours. Young men often turn to drugs and precarious and dangerous work, if they can find it, while young women become reluctantly enmeshed in sex work, teenage pregnancies and early marriages.

The study findings revealed that indeed, several opportunities do exist in the agriculture and renewable energy sectors for young people. However, men and women access them differently. Some of the factors militating against equal access to these opportunities include restrictive cultural and social norms, time poverty due to disproportionally burdensome reproductive and household responsibilities, hampered mobility, and lack of access to financial and other resources (including land).

Examples of successful young women empowered through the OYE project in the study show encouraging evidence of buy-in and support from community leaders, husbands and other family members, whereby there is a strong likelihood of improved income generating potential for women. It was also noted that the negative gender dynamics are much less pronounced in groups of younger men and women working together, as opposed to older groups of men and women, which is promising in itself.

Wider family and community involvement needed

The study underscores the need for SNV to ensure wider family and community involvement in supporting young people in Zimbabwe, so as to foster a more conducive environment to sustain their development. By taking steps to further refine its direct services to young women while also working with existing institutions and promoting gradual systems change, SNV Zimbabwe aims to help young women to access and maximise on identified opportunities for (self-) employment, enhance their market participation and inclusion, and ultimately improve their agency.