By Daniel Chigundu
As Parliament resume sitting on December 19, mainly to pass the 2018 National Budget, female legislators have the burden to stand up for social services.
Poor social services provision in Africa, affects women and girls more than men owing to their biological make-up and societal expectations.
Zimbabwe is currently facing various social service challenges chiefly in the area of health care provision, access to water and provision of clean and safe energy among many others.
Most of these challenges carry the face of women as they are directly involved and affected, and therefore their inclusion in Parliament is seen as a positive step towards alleviation.
For example failure by Onsdale (manufacturers of Farai Sanitary Pads) and Refreshing Sanitary Pads (manufacturers of Happy Sky Sanitary Pads) to get access to foreign currency mean the prices of sanitary pads will go up as happened a few weeks ago.
Last year Honourable Priscilla Misihairabwi-Mushonga and a few other female legislators had to literally beg Finance Minister Patrick Chinamasa to scrap import duty on raw materials needed in manufacturing pads.
However, despite the scrapping of import duty, sanitary pads manufacturing companies are still finding it difficult to access the much needed foreign currency to buy the raw materials.
Sanitary pads are an important component in women’s reproductive health and it is also believed that most girls in rural areas are missing out on school due to lack of access to pads.
As Parliament debate the budget proposals, female legislators will have to stand up again to Minister Chinamasa to ensure sanitary pads manufacturing sector is given a special foreign currency priority on top of the current priority list being managed by RBZ.
Alternatively female legislators can try to arm-twist government to purchase the raw materials and then sell them to the local manufacturers.
The other area where female legislators have to flex their muscles is on the US$408 million allocated to the health sector in 2018.
For starters the figure does not confirm to the Abuja Declaration of 2001 and secondly the figure is way too low compared to the about US$1.1 billion needed to effectively provide health care services in the country.
Poor health facilities affect women more because they mostly take care of the sick in societies if they themselves are not sick.
According to Permanent Secretary in the Ministry of Health and Child Care Gerald Gwinji, government did not provide funds to rehabilitate or maintain health facilities in 2017 which explains the bad state of affairs in the health sector.
Due to poor health infrastructure, women in rural areas are forced to travel long distances seeking health services and some even give birth by the road-side on their way to hospitals and clinics.
Most Zimbabwean women live in rural areas and besides having to walk long distances to hospitals and clinics because there are no buses due to bad roads, they also have to contend with using firewood for cooking and heating and also walk long distances to sources of clean water.
Constitutionally government is mandated to give about 5 percent of its national budget to local authorities to help in provision of such services as clean water and road networks.
The onus is therefore on the female legislators especially the 60 women who got into Parliament courtesy of the Proportional Representation to take a stand for social issues that affect women.
The legislators have to demand adequate funding of the health sector, especially meeting of the Abuja Declaration, access to foreign currency by sanitary pads manufactures, allocation of 5percent of budget to local authorities, investment in clean energy such as solar and biogas and improved roads among other issues.
By Daniel Chigundu