Why is crucial for Faith-Based organizations to work on the intersections of economic and gender justice

A blog post by Simagaliso Hove,  Lutheran Development Service  (Zimbabwe) and ACT Governing Board member

Why is crucial for Faith-Based organizations to work on the intersections of economic and gender justice?

Economic inequality and injustice remain one of the major obstacles to gender justice as women in most countries continue to be disproportionately disadvantaged when it comes to equitable access and distribution of economic and financial resources and privileges. Therefore, economic gender justice issues are part of fundamental human rights.  By their nature, Faith Based Organizations are in a better position to influence traditions and norms in most communities as religion plays an important role in most people’s everyday lives.  FBOs are also respected by governments and other duty-bearers and participate in platforms where they can influence necessary changes in policies that continue to perpetuate discrimination. A lot of work is already happening with FBOs raising awareness and working towards the prevention of GBV, child marriages, gender pay gaps, and unjust legislation among many others.  However, to be able to achieve more sustainable results, FBOs should start focusing on where gender justice and economic justice intersect rather than continue with fragmentation or compartmentalization.

What are the main learnings on this intersection, that you can share from your work in Zimbabwe?

  • A lot of women will continue to suffer from gender-based violence and young girls forced into early marriages if they do not have economic and financial means to survive daily. Women need to have livelihood options that provide income security to enable them to make decisions about their lives, and their bodies and escape from domestic violent relationships. Traditionally, women in Zimbabwe take more responsibility for childcare and household chores than their male partners.  This may mean that mothers take less-paying or less stressful jobs than they are qualified for.  Attaining their career goals is delayed due to these family responsibilities that they are neither paid for nor can they include in their curriculum vitae.  In Zimbabwe paid maternity leave is 90 days only and one has to return to work and leave the child with a paid carer, at times this is someone the family doesn’t even know and as a mother it is in our nature to worry about the safety and quality of care your child gets in your absence.   Women of childbearing age with young children may not perform as well as their colleagues, male or female, who have nothing to worry about hence these women may not move up the ladder as fast as their colleagues.  There is a need to have programs (employer-led or government-led) to help women reach their potential and not be limited should they choose to be mothers.
  • Women need income to take care of their special needs like sexual and reproductive health necessities like contraceptives, menstrual hygiene, and other well-being needs. Medical care is very expensive in the country and medical insurance is a luxury that can be accessed by a privileged few.  There is a need for special allowances or allocations for women either through income tax reduction (being gender-responsive in the national budget) or employer-assisted allocation or even family budget allocations for these special needs.
  • In rural Zimbabwe, women earn their incomes from farming activities. This implies that they need access to land. Most Zimbabwean rural women are discriminated against in land ownership, particularly, in rural areas due to customary restrictions and patriarchal culture.   Although rural women work tirelessly in their fields, they are aware they may lose it once their husbands marry another wife or divorce them.  Gender equality and economic justice are at the centre of land ownership for these women, it is not an either-or case but both, for them, there is a seamless connection with the land as a major economic resource and gender-inclusive laws in its allocation and ownership.  If they do not own the land, they work they will continue to be under the control and influence of sometimes abusive partners or guardians.

What this has taught us is that there cannot be a real struggle for gender justice without addressing issues of economic justice.

What are the main challenges?

  • Inconsistencies in the law and practice; in the cities, land ownership is through title deeds and anyone (regardless of gender) can buy land, whereas in rural areas most women have access to land through their husbands, husbands’ families or their own families as land is communal owned. In rural areas, land ownership is traditionally a male privilege.
  • The national budgets are not gender-responsive as nothing is providing for special needs for women and girls.
  • Women and girls remain marginalized both in church and society as there are still practices that discriminate against their access to resources, and decision-making positions (positions of power and influence) as well as blocking their appointment to higher offices.

How economic justice and gender justice are grounded in faith, from a diaconal perspective?

The current LDS Strategy 2019 – 2023 is titled “And by our actions, we demonstrate our faith”.  Faith influences a lot of the diaconal actions we do, it influences how we engage with communities and duty-bearers.  It moves us into action.

Our actions are motivated by the fact that ‘every being is created in God’s image’ and is therefore equal in the eyes of the Creator.  If all are equal, no one should be discriminated against in accessing opportunities and protection.  Our environment should be able to listen to all voices without discrimination or preference.  This is how our actions can demonstrate our faith.  It is the practice of our faith through diaconal initiatives that transform us to achieving the “leaving no one behind” commitment.  Our diaconal activities are supposed to work hard in promoting equal opportunities for economic empowerment – an economy where no one is left behind, responding and preventing GBV – an economy where if one member is injured all work together to repair and get rid of the hurting, empowering women to rise to higher decision-making positions (in the church, in society and in politics) – an economy where all voices are equally important, as well as advocating for more caring and inclusive economic systems that do not discriminate against gender.