Egalité homme-femme et développement

Case study: Advancing gender equality and women’s empowerment - the experience of the Women’s Coalition in Zimbabwe


In Zimbabwe, efforts have been made by DFID and UNIFEM (later joined by other donors) to establish a cohesive, co-ordinated agenda for gender equality. UNIFEM (now part of UN Women) is also working closely with the Women’s Coalition – an umbrella body of women’s organisations. An initial gender scoping study, undertaken to map key players, networks and gaps in the country, has been followed by an Inception Phase aiming to ensure that the gender equality and women’s empowerment sector has clear strategic plans and priority areas, to maintain the momentum for greater co-ordination and co-operation, and to test UNIFEM’s capacity to act as Fund Manager and catalyser for the sector.


The Inception Phase greatly invigorated dialogue on gender equality amongst different sectors and established donor co-ordination mechanisms. It enjoyed good participation of previously excluded groups such as people living with disabilities and young women. The key output of the Inception Phase was the National Gender and Women’s Empowerment Strategy and Action Plan 2008-2011.


There were also several challenges during the Inception Phase. At its formative stages the gender scoping study was donor driven and excluded civil society, creating mistrust. Another challenge related to the socio-political and economic environment. The contestation over leadership of the process also proved challenging. There was real fear that civil society organisations would lose control of resources and free access to their traditional and new donor partners. There was also fear that the co-ordinated funding mechanisms would create an overbearing and bloated UNIFEM at the expense of development programmes on the ground.


While commitment to real ownership and participation has been time-consuming, and pressure from donors for quick results has had to be resisted, the process has been positive in establishing open and effective communication between all stakeholders.


Lessons learned:

  • Co-ordination among various stakeholders is critical, and there is a need to draw up clear terms of references for joint secretariats.
  • New policies and laws that promote gender equality need to be enforced and implemented through a results-based framework that is monitored in a participatory manner.
  • Adequate contingency plans need to be put into place and, when operating in fluid political and economic environments, risk analyses should be infused in project documents and agreements.


In particular, this case study shows that even where government buy-in is difficult, it is important to find a way to involve the state. Organisations such as UNIFEM can act as a broker to engage stakeholders, including CSOs, in determining and “owning” the agenda for gender equality.


Long-term development results are yet to be concretely achieved in Zimbabwe. In the interim, UNIFEM together with the Women’s Coalition have taken leadership in the Constitutional Reform Process. Plans are underway to increase women’s meaningful participation in the process through an awareness campaign. At a more technical level, the campaign will challenge gender and women’s rights shortcomings of the current Constitution.

“Women constitute 52% of Zimbabwe’s population; women are the backbone of the family; women are the majority of small scale farmers that produce the most food in Zimbabwe; women are the custodians of culture and women are the majority of voters… how come women are the least represented in all the decision-making bodies in the country?”
- Honourable Thokozani Khupe, Deputy Prime Minister in the Zimbabwe Government of National Unity.


The original version of this case study was included in the report “Key messages and case studies for the Third High Level Forum”, from the workshop on “Strengthening the development results and impacts of the Paris Declaration on aid effectiveness through work on gender equality, social exclusion and human rights”, London, 12-13 March 2008.


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