The Sunday Mail
Ms Erica Jones, the chief director (urban local authorities) in the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, recently received a certificate of appreciation from the Office of the President and Cabinet in recognition of her contribution in setting up gender structures in local authorities across the country.
In his citation, Deputy Chief Secretary in the OPC Dr Martin Rushwaya said as a result of Ms Jones’ efforts, local authorities now have a gender focal person.
Her efforts to empower gender focal persons and female councillors through capacity-building programmes are considered the major contributor to rising female employees and councillors in managerial positions.
Further, she has also pushed for gender targets for the chief executive officers and town clerks of various local authorities.
The Sunday Mail Gender and Community Affairs Editor, Fatima Bulla, spoke to Ms Jones on this and more.
Q: How do you feel being recognised for the work you have been doing on gender issues?
A: I did not expect it, and when I was told, I actually did not think it was a big deal. When I realised that it was actually signed by the chief secretary himself, wow, it is now the first thing I show off. It is a big motivator for me.
Q: How were you appointed in the ministry?
A: I was appointed to be the ministry’s gender focal person when I was made director of human resources. That was around 2006. I was not really aware of gender issues. I was aware of the inequalities that existed between males and females, but because of my family background and my personality, I had always just made the inequality struggles about myself. I did not really have much difficulty because I have a strong personality, so if people made a comment about the fact that I was female, I just brushed it off.
Also, the fact that I was white was usually the thing that people noticed first.
So, the gender issue became a bit different, but when I started being exposed to gender issues, particularly with the help of the Gender Links programme, I realised that I had been a bit self-centred; that there were women who did not have my strength of character and had extra cultural issues.
Q: When you joined the ministry, how would you describe the state of gender issues in local authorities?
A: When I joined the ministry, we had very serious gender discrimination. In the pre-independence Government, women could not rise above the level of assistant district commissioner, and if you are married, you quit, and you earned one-third less than your male counterpart. Gender was one of those issues that was not a big deal. So, we decided to make it compulsory so that it solidified the position of existing gender focal persons and forced councils to introduce gender focal persons where they did not exist.
We realised that what would often happen was that the highest ranking woman in the council would be the gender focal person. And often that was your nurse, sister-in-charge or perhaps the head of the registry, because, unfortunately, there is a lot of slotting.
Gender stereotyping: the typists are women, the nurses are women, the engineers are men – that kind of thinking is still there in councils.
Q: So, how did you go about it?
A: We then changed the process and said that if you appointed somebody who was not in senior management, they had to sit in the senior management meetings because that is where a lot of decisions were made. If they were not head of department, they still had to attend committee meetings so that they could provide gender advice.
That is when we saw the first men coming in as gender focal persons – often the head of department for social services.
We had some difficulties where men would refuse gender issues, saying ‘I have freedom of culture’, but, fortunately, the Constitution has a clause in it that says where law and culture clash on gender issues, the law prevails.
So, we were able to deal with those issues.
We also talked to town clerks and chief executive officers and said to them that this had to be an issue, it was a constitutional requirement and so they should appoint people who actually cared.
I discovered that the best gender focal persons are people who care, it is not a job, it is like a calling. And then, we had some very strong gender focal persons.
Q: What was the next step?
A: We groomed each other. We would read, share and build quite a formidable team of gender warriors with the help of Gender Links. We would find people who were interested and give each other courage, and started bringing in other councillors. We ended up with this huge movement of women councillors and officials. It is now called Women in Local Government Forum.
Then, we started sending out circulars requiring certain gender issues, like we insisted there be a budget for gender activities, and councils have to tell us what they have done in their budget that is gender sensitive. We introduced the issue of gender-based violence, requiring councils to participate in the 16-days of activism and pointing out issues that council could do to make victims of gender-based violence access council clinics, having security guards so that women who had been battered could not be followed and abused in clinics, putting lights out and making sure that council meetings were either done during the day or that council security accompanied women home if it was in the evenings.
We also told councils that if there was not a good mix of men and women at council meetings, they had to hold discussions for things like budget consultation.
A lot of councillors consulted church women, so huge progress was made.
We are still moving towards progress and it is not an issue that is laughed at now.
So, we have seen a greater understanding (on gender issues).
We also have been working with Zec (Zimbabwe Electoral Commission) and Ministry of (Women Affairs), Gender (and Community Development) to try and find a way to get more women into councils without using a quota system.
We have been working with Zec on possible ways of getting the numbers up to meet the 50/50 requirement that is there in the Constitution, but not usurping people’s democratic right to choose the individual that they want in council.
And also to try and take some of the rough and tumble out of politics at ward level, because when a woman stands for a councillor, all the male opponent has to say is ‘she is a whore’ and the woman will back off because she has to protect her marriage and family.
Men can use household income for their campaign, women cannot, so there is a lot of disparity within that area.
We are trying to put a greater responsibility on the actual political parties to field women. There are interesting statistics about women councillors, especially the fact that they are less likely to be corrupt. It is actually statistically proven that if you look at the prison population and the general population, you would expect 52 percent of the prison population to be women. But, it is very low, less than 10 percent, and that is because of the gender perspective.
Q: So, you are saying this really makes it a good case for women to stand?
A: I am not saying women are not corrupt, they are, but even if you look at the statistics of councillors that had to be disciplined, a tiny minority are women. And so for me as a voter, I will be interested in having a woman because she thinks of the things that affect me – the timing of water and power shedding, the removal of rubbish, sewer, the provision of health services, schools, libraries and safe playing zones for my children. There is some good reason to vote for women, but of course, it is something we cannot influence.
But, if the women do not stand, people are not going to think about it.
Q: How impactful is mainstreaming gender in the Integrated Results-Based Management (IRBM), which is a solution- and target-based system to measure performance?
A: The best thing is, the higher you put accountability, the greater the results. I was able to do a lot of what I was able to do because I was a director. And directors receive due respect, so when a director says to junior officers, you are not to make lewd jokes about women anymore, that carries weight. I was able also to talk to the permanent secretary and convince him that this was the right way to go and he listened to me.
So, he was happy to issue circulars in his signature. He even got the minister in some cases to issue directives.
If you start to put some gender results into the performance contract of a permanent secretary, director, chief executive officer or town clerk, the end of year score can be seriously affected if they do nothing. So, IRBM is a useful tool for enforcing Government policies where people may not take it as their core business.
Because if you are in the Ministry of Local Government, you think the gender core business is for the Ministry of Gender, but it is not, it is everybody’s business, just like HIV and Aids is. So that becomes a key result area.
Q: Do local authorities now grasp that when you have a gender-sensitive approach it tags development along?
A: They definitely do, and you actually see councillors starting to be proud of their gender projects because they realise that if you leave out half the population, it is not democracy, it is not development, you have to take both halves along. And also the fact that gender is not threatening because we live in the same world, we use the same services and if you make it easy for your wife to collect water, you are the beneficiary as well, and we have not taken anything away from you. It does not mean to say that women have to be in council at the expense of men. Let the best councillor win and a gender-sensitive councillor – whether a man or woman – is the best councillor.
Q: What are some of the changes you cherish the most?
A: At independence the then Prime Minister (Robert Mugabe) requested white civil servants to remain and build the country. Immediately, I got a pay rise because the Government of Zimbabwe never allowed discrimination between men and women. And there was no ceiling for women, it was just a matter of working hard and improving your qualifications. So, the first woman district administrator was appointed in 1984 and in 1991 two of us were added. I was the first woman provincial administrator. Now, there are women provincial administrators in Bulawayo, Harare, Mashonaland West and Matabeleland South.
Q: What are some of your milestones?
A: One of the biggest issues is gender policing. It is surprising now how people are being wary about gender issues, you find that very few councillors now refer to chairman, now everybody is a chairperson.
We had some gender champions that are really outstanding among men.
And the fact that I can now sit back and there are others who are taking the baton up makes it sustainable, because the army of gender champions has grown from a handful to brigade level, as opposed to patrol group.
Q: How much influence have you had beyond the country’s borders?
A: When I was gender focal person, there was an annual Sadc conference and there was a category for Government departments.
As a ministry, we made a presentation of what we were doing and we won in the Sadc region. It was interesting because we were competing with some ministries of gender and we still won. It was good because our process was published and people could learn from us.