Lost opportunities for girls and women in Zimbabwe: The Numbers Don’t Lie

We must bridge the gap between boys and girls, says World Bank Zim country manager (GPE/ Carine Durand)

By Marjorie Mpundu, World Bank Country Manager, Zimbabwe

March 8 is celebrated worldwide as International Women’s Day. On this occasion, we reflect on the lost opportunities for girls and women in Zimbabwe with the aid of nine graphs. We also put forward solutions for how we can do better for women and girls going forward.

Girls start with an advantage in early childhood.

Girls in Zimbabwe have a lower probability than boys of dying before their fifth birthday. Girls under five years are also less likely to be malnourished as measured by their stunting and wasting rate. There is also a parity in access to early childhood education. In 2019, among children between ages of three and four, a slightly higher share of girls (29.1%) than boys (27.7%) attended early childhood education.

But the early advantage in human capital fades as girls progress through school. By late adolescence or early adulthood, a clear gap with boys emerges.

The advantage girls enjoy in early childhood persists up to the primary (age 6 – 12) and lower secondary (age 13 – 16) level where they are more likely to be in school and complete the respective level of schooling. However, the situation is reversed at the upper secondary level (age 17 – 18). Girls of upper secondary school age are significantly more likely than boys to be out of school, and they lag boys in school completion. There are various compounded barriers to school attendance and completion for girls.

A significantly higher proportion of young girls (15 – 24-year-olds) are not in employment, education, or training (the NEETs), which means they will not be accumulating human capital through any of the usual means. This has implications on their long-term employability and earnings potential.

One of the reasons for higher female dropout from upper secondary school and the labour market is early pregnancy. In 2019, 17.6% of 15–19-year-olds had a live birth and 24.1% of 20-24-year-olds had a live birth before age 18.

The disadvantage in human capital accumulation translates to poorer outcomes in adulthood

Women are less likely to participate in the labour market at all ages. Even when women have a job, they are more likely to work informally in family farms or household businesses.

Due to the inferior labour market outcomes, households with only one female earner are poorer compared to households with one male earner. The difference is explained by single male earners holding more remunerative jobs. In 2017, wages and salaries were the primary sources of income for 28.6% for single male earners, while it was so for only 13.6% of single female earners.

Considering this evidence, the policy priority should be to keep girls in school longer, at the upper secondary level and beyond, so that they can acquire the skills necessary for good jobs. To that end, programmes such as adolescent sexual and reproductive health education and conditional cash transfers may help.

For example, a recent World Bank-funded pilot in Buhera district showed that providing menstrual hygiene management kits combined with cash transfers and livelihood grants to adolescent girls and their households increased adolescent girls’ school attendance by 31%, with students not missing school increasing from 29% to 60%.

Gender-sensitive technical and vocational training connected to labor market demand is necessary to build market-relevant skills. Programmes such as on-the-job training and apprenticeships may help women transition from school to work.  Job matching services, career guidance, and work placements can also support school-to-work transitions.