|Quiet Mountain Essays
||Copyright ©, 2006
Scholars have researched extensively on gender issues to clearly and conclusively demonstrate that
there are fewer girls in schools, and that there are more males than females at tertiary level (Barnes, T.
2005). However, as these scholars retire, after attainment of superficial solutions, the problems
emanating from gender disparities and inequalities conspicuously show their ugly heads. Attempts
at addressing the gender issues have been registered, the government has implemented policies that
are geared at balancing up and harmonizing the relationship between men and women, in that a
quota system for women representation in parliament was introduced and a gender policy was
drafted and adopted. But despite these moves, gender-based problems are on the increase and more
challenges are emerging, strongly dictating maximum participation of women in all spheres of
This paper contends that the problem pertaining to gender inequalities within the family, the
community at large, religion, politics, industry and commerce, and education, depict the
superstructure of the marginalised and paralysed position of women. Solutions sought to rectify this
complex and institutionalised imbalance are merely fleeting in tenure, because they do not address
the core sources of the anomalies. Consequently, the same problems recur because the base remains
intact, churning out the imbalances generation after generation. This is especially true whenever
gender issue activists retire, causing the momentum of change towards gender equity and equality to
subside. Hence the need to address the pillars upon which gender inequalities rest - the education
system being one of them.
It has generally been believed that education is the gateway to success, the way to the emancipation
of the women folk, but literature on the experiences of some educated women points up the misery,
and the lack of peace and happiness, amongst some educated female citizens. In fact, the
Zimbabwean education system appeared to create a prison, of sorts, to the female folk. Despite their
education most women still find themselves "trapped in the oppressive traditional notions of
respectable women and indeed …most female students and academics strive for such a label, lest
they risk being labeled unrespectable and therefore unmarriageable." (Barnes, T. 2005) Hence the
tendency by most female academics and students to sacrifice their academic pursuits, so as to
safeguard their marriages and relationships. As such, one is found questioning the emancipating
capacity of the education system that we have in Zimbabwe.
Gender equality and equity are not goals in themselves, they are a means of reducing poverty and
promoting sustainable development, and are a mechanism for creating a smart partnership between
men and women, and boys and girls, in the fight against various challenges of life, some of which are
the devastating HIV/AIDS scourge. This partnership will remain a dream, however, as long as the
frameworks from which imbalances emanate are not tackled. The education system is such a
framework. There is need for action now, to create gender responsive policies.
The crucial task that gender sensitive educators have is not just to research and write papers on
gender issues for presentation at workshops (most of which is done for promotion purposes and never
translated into action), but to intervene, and to facilitate the implementation of intervention strategies
which will socialize, sensitize, and re-enculturate people to make them gender sensitive and gender
responsive in all their life activities. Another crucial task is policy formation
The Zimbabwean Education Policy
The Zimbabwe Education Act (Chapter 25: 04), and its subsequent revised versions, are gender blind
(Education Act 1980; 1996, Circular Minute Number 14 of 2004). While the government’s stance on
the language question and health in schools has been clearly laid down, the documents are silent on
gender issues in schools. The Education Act places all children into a single category, suggesting, as it
were, that the education system is a gender-neutral space through which the girl child can freely sail.
The girl children, in fact, belong to a category of their own, they have their own needs that must be
accommodated, which, if not acknowledged at policy formulation level, might not be addressed at
policy implementation level. The Education Act (1986) stipulates that:
Every child in Zimbabwe shall have the right to school education
And on another note it declares that: No child in Zimbabwe shall be refused admission to any school on
the grounds of race, tribe, colour, religion, place of origin, political opinion or the social status of his/her
The general argument pertaining to this policy statement has been that on the eve of the attainment
of independence, the impetus of the nationalist education policy was to "bring the African people into
the ambit of citizenship, into a position of rights and responsibilities within the organs of the post
colonial state". The school set-up thus became the "premier site of production of an informed, critical,
and participating citizenry as academic knowledge could be shared amongst a new nation's diverse
population." (Barnes, T. 2005) This notion probably accounts for the bunching of all children into one
category and the deliberate assumption that all children, boys and girls, are operating from a level
ground. The Education Act does not take cognisance of the fact that by the time these children go to
school, they would have already been socialized into unequal positions. Gender differences are
already inculcated into the children and instead of coming in to balance up the anomaly, the Act
deliberately chooses to assume all children are equal, and that all they need is equal access to
education. Gender as a fertile ground for discrimination is overlooked.
As a result, at the points of implementing this policy/Act, facilities or modalities to cater for the
specific needs of the disadvantaged girl child are found wanting. And the failure to recognize girl
children as a category distinct from the boys', has in the long run, hindered attempts at seriously
addressing gender issues in the early stages of the education system, at the primary and pre-school
level. Because of that, the Zimbabwean curriculum has largely remained gender insensitive and the
society gender blind.
Even some of the current minute circulars, such as the Circular number 14 of 2004, the policy
guideline on the implementation of the 1999 Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Education and
training, continue to ignore the distinct nature of the girl child category and fail to prepare for girls'
needs. Instead, the policy circular places emphasis on the need to promote the philosophy of
unhu/ubuntu [African concept of humanity or humaneness], throughout the various stages of
education, from Early Childhood Education and Care to secondary school. The policy minute
circular suggests that:
It is during this period that the learner should be exposed to all experiences and afforded an opportunity
to discover him/herself in terms of his or her intellectual ability, aptitude and interest...
One wonders how the girl child would discover herself and excel in an educational system that is not
user-friendly to her. It appears the policy-makers are so worried about unhu/ubuntu, national
identity and national languages, that gender sensitivity has no room in their discourse. The concern is
on the shared historical experiences of the Zimbabweans and not individual group experiences. One
wonders why the gender policy was drafted and adopted at all, if it is not finding expression in the
education policy circulars. Another interesting thing is that this commission of inquiry was set up in a
bid to reposition national systems for development in the new millennium, and so the silence on
gender issues makes the researcher question if gender concerns are/were not crucial in this attempted
repositioning of the national systems.
|In 1999, an intervention was introduced to the Education policy which provides opportunity for
re-entry of pregnant female student dropouts (Circular Minute Policy 35 of October 1999). However,
what is rather painful is that this change comes up in a policy circular that is specifically meant for
disciplinary issues. Teenage pregnancy is not a disciplinary issue; it is part and parcel of the
challenges that accompany maturation. It comes as a result of the crisis that characterises the
adolescence stage of human development. This is the time in the human cycle of life when hormonal
changes are taking place, and with very limited support systems to guide youths through the
challenges (including schools providing only lip-service, or adopting silence, to sex education; and
parents off-loading the responsibility onto teachers), the adolescents find themselves failing to control
their sexual drives. In addition to this, society should also note that sexual decisions are not made like
most common decisions are, they are hormone driven and hormonal levels differ from one individual
to another. Thus the need to understand rather than stigmatise teenage pregnancy, especially when
society is offering nothing to assist the youths to overcome the traumatic experience they go through
at this "strange" stage of life.
In fact, the appearance of this curriculum change in a disciplinary issues circular minute is enough
evidence that the policy-makers are gender blind. While they thought they were bailing the girls out
of problems, they were actually stigmatising and blaming the teenagers for falling pregnant. The
circular minute explains that in the event that a female pupil gets pregnant, the school is expected to
provide a conducive environment for safe completion of her studies. However, the successful
implementation of such a mandate is questionable. Normally the girl is never empathized with,
society at large views teenage pregnancy as resulting from deviance, and immorality. Teenage
pregnancy is condemned, and in reality, this condemnation by no means affects men. Uusually the
males who have impregnated the girls are generations older than their victims, and have used their
financial muscle to lure the girls, whose innocent and trusting minds they abuse. Only the teenage
Even though the policy accords the pregnant teenager the right to continue with her education until
she completes her courses, the girl is auststracized and castigated for allowing herself to be abused.
She really goes through hell with all the jeering, laughing, and giggling from fellow students who are
further attracted to her situation by the administrators viewing her as a disciplinary case. The
treatment the expecting teenager-mother receives at the institution nullifies the good intentions of the
mandate, worsening the predicament of the victim. In short, the ordeal she goes through is indicative
of the passive/agressive resistance to the idea of retaining pregnant pupils within their schools.
So degrading, torturing, frustrating, and de-motivating is such a girl's experience, expecting young
mother students are bound to fail to perform well in their examinations. The girl pays for the hostility
felt towards changing what society members perceive as the norm, when the attempt is made to
accommodate an innovation that caters to the needs of girls. This causes anxiety in the girl, and blurs
the teenager's creative thinking, narrowing the range of solutions she sees for her predicament. In
actual fact, she may think of never rejoining the education system.
|The above scenario reflects the need for sensitization across the whole spectrum of the school
community - the students, teachers, the administration, non-teaching staff and the community at
large. According to Huberman and Miles, as quoted in Elmore and McDonnell (1987), successful
implementation of mandates (rules and regulations or orders governing the actions of individuals and
agencies which are intended to produce compliance) require some administrative pressure, lack of
serious local resistance and levels of assistance adequate to bring about stabilised use of the innovation
by a large percentage of the eligible users. Furthermore, the exhibition of the negative reactions
(feeling) also indicate that this policy intervention is not accompanied by any psycho-social
counseling services for all the stake-holders and the community at large; which would be the
impregnated student, the student body of the affected school, the administrators, teaching and
non-teaching staff. Of course the circular indicates that counseling services, at school level, have to be
provided to the victim, but this has largely remained on paper and never put into practice, since the
schools lack the expertise to carry out such duties.
The African experience with matters pertaining to policy formulation and implementation reflect the
indisputable fact that policy-making can be subject to hypocritical posturing, and that policy-makers
may espouse a high-minded position to the public, but behave differently in the face of the need to
enforce it. In the case of the intervention under discussion [pregnant girls returning to school], lack of
enforcing instruments (other than the mere policy itself) that buttress the implementation of the
change, makes this researcher question the sincerity of the makers of this policy.
The Way Forward.
There is great need for consciousness-raising and re-enculturating at all levels in the society.
Re-enculturation, according to Fullan (1999: 66; 2001 226) transforms the habits, skills and practice of
people towards greater professional community. The legislators, through workshops, should be
sensitized (and have their consciousness' raised) so that they introduce gender sensitive legislation in
the field of education.
Gender insensitivity has been translated into the curriculum at all levels of the education system, right
up to the university level, posing a very big challenge to curriculum planners. This challenge is the
need to design courses that contextualise gender issues. Curriculum planners should be cognizant of
the interests and needs of the female students, and create courses which address gender discrepancies.
New innovations have to work towards democratizing the learning environment, such that the
content, methods, and everything else will contribute equitably towards catering to the needs of all
Curriculum planners must also ensure that there is an attempt at equitable representation of models
within textbooks and among authors, and other resource materials. Currently there is no balance
between male and female models in instructional materials. The textbooks that are used are mostly, if
not all, male authored. The theories or philosophies that are quoted and made reference to are male
centered. Cementing, as it were, the idea that women should be "academically subordinate to men"
(Gaudelli, B. 2001). This leaves one questioning whether proponents of these new education
philosophies and theories ever consider the female perspective of the world. Right across the
education levels, coursework which exclusively emphasizes male thinkers has made the female
students hero-worship males, thus raising men to the position of think tank for society, because the
men own the theories that permeate all the institutions and structures in society. This situation has
resulted in the disempowering of women and the perpetuation of a dependent-on-men syndrome. It
is, therefore, the responsibility of curriculum planners to ensure that, where female thinkers have
made contributions to scholarship, their works are added to the list of sources for instructional
material, in order to provide the missing female input.
This missing female input in scholarship has made the male-tailored society question the intellect of
the female members of the society. Because female characters where missing on the scene, academic
discourse and scholarship became male dominated, thus giving the impression that the generation of
knowledge and grappling with inventions and discoveries is a male preserve - not for females.
Inclusion of the female models will help female students realise that it is possible to have that
independence of mind which is demanded for in higher levels of productive thinking. Possibly such a
new curricula would cultivate and nurture the active, dominant and independen, qualities of the
female intellectual, and dispel fears of being labelled masculine, unrespectable and unmarriageable.
To be assured of producing these female models, there is need to address gender issues at university
level. Generally there is a belief that women from the highest institutions of learning are the most
emancipated, yet the contrary is the truth. At university level, the campus provides the platform from
which constraints upon female intellect conspicuously manifest themselves. Conventions concerning
what is appropriate for the female sex - that is, conventions informed, shaped and propelled by the
patriarchal ideology - clearly surface, and the female students find themselves subjected to a variety of
pressures. Some of these pressures force them to become easy sexual prey of men in return for short
term benefits such as fashionable clothes, cosmetics, mobile phones, cash and food. While it boosts
the ego of the concerned men, this situation is degrading to the female students and adversely affects
their academic activities. It leads to a truncated and stunted intellectual growth amongst women.
This shocking reality demands that society call for an intervention that will encourage girl children to
look beyond short-term or immediate goals. There should be a demand for an innovation that would
produce a motivated, career-focused and goal oriented female citizen; a woman who can easily marry
her intellectual activity - the dominance and aggression that is required in academic endeavours -
with whatever aspects of femininity that are compatible with an analytic quality of mind. This way
the nation is assured of producing future role models for female students
Book publishers should also play a very crucial part in this process of addressing gender issues in the
education system. They should encourage women to write textbooks and novels, not only so that
female students will have role models, but so that female authors and authority figures will then be
featured and quoted in the written works of students. The book publishers have to extensively
advertise textbooks and novels written by female writers through publicity workshops, radio, TVs,
magazines, newspapers and other various media. A movement like this would fill in the missing
female input in scholarship
On the eve of the independence of Zimbabwe, the main educational concern was the reversal of the
education policies that characterised the colonial system. Hence the education policy that was
crystalised in the Education Act of 1980. It was informed, shaped and given impetus by the
nationalist philosophy of life, whose crux were the issues of national identities and shared historical
experiences of the Zimbabwean populace. The philosophy failed to accommodate the reality that, in
addition to the common experiences of the Zimbabweans, there were and still are also individual
group experiences that equally deserve the attention of policy-makers, if a progressive nation was to
be realized. The nationalists also ignored the fact that: African women, in the context of colonial
history, have generally not had equal access to modern education, which has further contributed to
the feminization of poverty in sub-Saharan Africa. (Gaudelli, B. 2001)
Although one would not dispute the fact that some women have benefited from the free education
that was introduced soon after independence, the truth is that these women are a minority. In most
cases, they sacrificed the "respectable status " of womanhood and, in fact, despite sacrificing social
respect and recognition, they occupy the peripheries of the intellectual sphere. They find the
academic space unwilling to genuinely embrace them, or accord them the respect that is given to their
male counterparts. And, finally, instead of fully empowering the women, the academic system
continues to fail to provide a platform from which they can effectively engage in critical-minded
academic debates without fear of being labelled negatively. Thus, the truncated and stunted
intellectual growth among women in Zimbabwe.
Barnes, T. (2005) "The Politics of the Mind and Body. Gender and Institutional Culture in African
Carter, D. and O'Neill, M. (1995) International on Perspectives Educational Reform and Policy
Implementation, London: Flamer Press.
Education Act (1986) (Chapter 25: 4)
Fullan, M. (1999) Change Forces: The Sequel, London: Falmer Press.
Gaudelli, B. (2001) "African women education opportunities and the dynamic change:
Megara, D. M. (ed) Images of Africa: Stereotypes and Reality: Eritrea, African World Press
Hord, S. M. (1995) "From policy to classroom practice: Beyond the Mandate" In Carter, D. and
O'Neill, M. International Perspectives on educational form and policy implementation, London:
Leithwood, K. A (1981) "The dimensions of curriculum Innovation". Journal of
Curriculum Studies 13 (1)
Maccoby, E. (1977) "Women's Intellect". In Farber, S. M. and Wilson, R.H.L. (Eds)
The potential of Women, New York: McGraw-Hill.
McDonnell, L. M. and Elmore, R. F. (1987) " Getting the job done: Alternative to policy instruments"
Educational Innovation and Policy Analysis. Vol. 19 (2)
Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture. Circular Minute Number 14 of 2004 on the
Implementation of the 1999 Presidential Commission of Inquiry into Education and Training.
Ministry of Education, Sport and Culture. Circular Minute Policy 35 of October 1999
|Chipo Chirimuuta is a lecturer of African Languages and Culture at Midlands State University
(Zimbabwe). Modules she has taught include: Trends in Contemporary African Poetry; Trends in
Contemporary African Novel; Culture and Counselling Studies; HIV/AIDS and Culture. Ms.
Chirimuuta is currently researching these issues: gender and nationalism in Africa; subaltern voices:
children and nationalism; and, indigenous knowledge systems and development in Africa.
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