This is the first of a series of short essays from my shining students in the Global Challenges Program at African Leadership University in Rwanda. They amaze me with their compassionate, innovative, and relevant ideas. This student below, Charline Prazen Chikomo, is the founder of the D.U.C.E. Leadership Initiative. He is also at the fore of the #menengage efforts in his country of Zimbabwe. His ideas are timely for the International Day for the Elimination of Violence Against Women and Girls today.

Allyship for Women in Zimbabwe”

The call for women’s empowerment is a trending issue that captures headlines globally. Zimbabwe, my country, cannot be exempted from this long-awaited generational struggle. It is long overdue considering the country’s dark post-colonial history of economic challenges affecting women. Institutionalized patriarchy manifests itself through the ugly face of inequalities, inequities, and disparities within the country’s political, economic, and social sectors. Now, the call for change has gained attention in and outside the borders of the teapot-shaped country. However, in Zimbabwe, there is the rise of opportunists pretending to solve gender-based challenges to gain public attention.

To politicians, this struggle is a “lipstick devotion” meant to score political points nationally, regionally, and internationally. For instance, instead of addressing the systemic challenges that have plagued women for years, tokenism has become the order of the day. Leaders offer a perfunctory promotion of a few women to give the appearance of gender equality within a workforce. Nevertheless, they do nothing to address the root reasons why Zimbabwean women are where they are in the first place. Some politicians have started initiatives to end gender-based violence, period poverty, and child marriage. Such symptom-focused initiatives are simply avenues to acquire NGO funds and less about the emancipation of Zimbabwean girls and women. A cause-based approach and a systems thinking-based pathway are the best way forward in dealing with such a challenge. Anything less than that is a drop in the sea. The true emancipation of Zimbabwean women is aligned with the redefining and reimagining of our education system. Education was, is, and always will be a tool for economic empowerment–and economic freedom is the foundation of all freedoms.

Ideally, schools are a microcosm of the larger world. Even more, there is a strong relationship between the education system and communities. It is a two-way exchange; schools produce community leaders, and communities create the terrain in which our students learn. Our communities are dynamic, and the education system should be the same. However, for Zimbabwe, the social revolution is outpacing the education revolution. The Zimbabwe of today and its education system have become two parallel lines never intersecting, leaving a wide gap between schools and communities. Therefore, Zimbabwean women’s inability to prosper economically results from an education that made them misfits in the marketplace. Over the past 41 years of independence, Zimbabwe has become a place of minimal opportunities, characterized by high unemployment levels and poverty. It is even worse for women who, for an extended period, have been denied access to not only education but also wealth creation. Thus, Zimbabwe does not suffer from the deficit of certificates but a deficit of skills, job creators, and incentives for women.

Zimbabwean women’s empowerment and economic freedom depend on the redefining and reimagining of our education system. This calls for a shift from major-driven to mission-driven higher education. It calls for a radical change from a job-seeking to a job-creating mindset. It calls for shifting the fulcrum of our pedagogy from grades, theories, and statistics to skill development, discovering, developing, and unleashing one potential. Instead of looking for jobs that are already scarce, women become masters not only of their destiny but also of others. Any women’s empowerment without them at the center cannot succeed.

It is social justice to discuss poverty in Zimbabwe and blame it on a lack of material, social, and opportunities without discussing gendered poverty as structural violence. A gendered perspective reveals that men and women have different responsibilities and experiences based on the social constructions of their identities. As a result, their interests, needs, and capacities are also different. The Zimbabwean workplace is unfavorable for women because of low wages, job insecurity, and the placement of women in the informal economy. Women do over three times as much unpaid care work in the home as men in Africa, often on top of their paid work outside (the “double shift”). Women also have more extended workdays. Therefore, empowering women with skills allows them to become entrepreneurs, to create small and large-scale businesses while acquiring economic freedom. Entrepreneurship liberates them from the economic manipulations of society. Hence, education can not be set aside as it deals with the root causes of some of these challenges. Equally, education has the potential to become women’s defense when men view women’s empowerment as not a threat to their manhood but as a means to develop the nation.