The Sunday Mail
Half of the new eight-member Cotton Company of Zimbabwe (Cottco) board appointed by Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement Minister Perrance Shiri last week are women. Of note is Dr Onai Muvingi (OM), who was appointed deputy chairperson of the parastatal. Our Gender and Community Editor, Fatima Bulla (FB), spoke to her to get insights into the new developments.
FB: Congratulations on being appointed Cottco’s deputy chairperson.
OM: We are happy. Women are well represented on the board, but we have not been chosen because of gender but for what we bring to the table and our diverse backgrounds. We have heard from the minister (Perrance Shiri) that there are 54 percent women that basically benefit or are working in agriculture.
So as women we are happy not just to serve the nation but women in vulnerable communities.
We hope that other boards will take a leaf from the newly constituted Cottco board and comply with provisions of the Constitution. I think the Constitution states that it should be 50-50, so we are grateful that the Minister of Lands, Agriculture, Water and Rural Resettlement has seen it fit, first and foremost, to comply with the requirements of the Constitution to give women opportunities to contribute in this sector.
FB: Many might ask, who is Dr Onai Muvingi?
OM: I hold a Doctor of Philosophy degree and I am a public finance management expert, a researcher and consultant.
My experience has taken me to the private sector with international organisations and my strength is in accounting and developing strategy.
I am the chairperson of Women and Law in Southern Africa. As a gender activist, I believe in women empowerment. I mean, give them a project they will deliver; educate a woman, you educate a nation; give a woman a project and you have fed the nation.
I have seen women in rural areas, what they are able to do and the fact that development can be driven from there.
So I am quite happy that I can bring that zeal to the Cottco board. As a lecturer at UZ (University of Zimbabwe), I have seen girls perform. I am in the Department of Accountancy and with (the) Graduate School of Management.
FB: How would the new board help women in the sector?
OM: The fact that there are more women on the board means there are more people who understand women issues more than anyone else.
I think — off the cuff and being a newly constituted board — we do not know exactly what is on the ground at the moment, so we are going to ensure that women’s voices are heard.
We will give ourselves an opportunity to get to vulnerable areas, to speak to women and understand what their needs are. But what I can commit to is, we will, as already requested by the minister, contribute in terms of making sure that women are heard and assisted where possible. I think, resources permitting, there will be gender mainstreaming of our programmes.
We are not saying we are just going to be pro-women. Remember, with gender when it comes to Chapter Four of our Constitution, it is not just women we are talking about, but it is also youth. We will look at our programme with a gender lens. If women have been appointed to the board, it means there is hope for women in the programmes within our sector. It is our responsibility to ensure that we replicate what is in the board in management and staff appointments, as well as our programmes. Women have to be supported, and whose interests are we representing as women on the board if we do not make sure that women are supported?
FB: Women are normally at the bottom of the value chain in agriculture production. What ways can they be empowered in this important sub-sector?
OM: To be honest, sometimes we are where we are maybe because of regulations, but sometimes it is because we do not know. There is need for education for people to know where they could be in the value chain. Apart from encouraging each other I think there is need for education in terms of what is available, what is out there for women and where they can come in. As board members, we are aware that cotton has not had a board for a long time; so the starting point is to know what the situation is.
I think we need to do a baseline survey and take it up from there. But we are saying for whatever programme is available, for whatever value chains are available, we need to ask ourselves: where do we find women and where should we find them? Are they (women) there and how do we ensure they get there?
Our strategic plan should address gender issues. Whatever programme that we do we should always ask ourselves: is it gender sensitive and how should we make it gender responsive? If our strategic plan is not gender sensitive, we would have done the minister a disservice because he has seen it fit to appoint a gender-balanced board with more women than men. Even in the manner we work it should be seen that this is a gender-balanced board.
FB: Cottco is a key parastatal in dire need of revival, how exactly do you plan to restore it to its past glory?
OM: It is always a challenge. It is like a clay pot which has been broken and you are asked to mend it. We acknowledge those who moulded Cottco, they had a vision. I think in such circumstances you should actually say to yourself where did it break down; learn lessons from there. It is always difficult to critique what might have happened in the past without knowing what it is. For us to try and avoid the same mistakes we should always learn from other people’s mistakes. I think it is folly to repeat the same mistakes of the past, so Cottco is a challenge because people are watching, people know the level that Cottco can reach and they are looking at you and saying, “Is this a waste of time? Are you really going to be able to do it, are you going to manage?”
I believe we should humble ourselves as a board, seek to learn and say what was it that made Cottco tick? I think the same challenges are still there. Yes, the environment has changed, yes there are challenges as the minister said, but these challenges are all over. But we also said how have those faced with the challenges overcome them.
FB: Your parting shot?
OM: We are just asking the nation to give us a chance to deliver, to be patient with Cottco, but we promise our best.