The Dilemma of Women in Zimbabwe During the COVID-19 Lockdown
By Celia Mafu
In the Week 2 edition of Their Voices Matter Report, ZimRights documented that women in Zimbabwe are carrying the burden of national compassion as they find themselves at the forefront of the fight against COVID-19 both at the healthcare centres and at home.
Indeed, women across Zimbabwe have been the worst affected by the effects of the COVID-19 lockdown.
In the face of the growing hunger across the country, women have assumed the role of supporting their households and communities in achieving food and nutritional security and improving the general livelihoods and the overall well-being of their families.
This is not easy, as the women-who have traditionally played the care-giving rolehave to do this under an environment littered with various human rights issues and an economy that is in intensive care.
Since the lockdown began, there has been a scramble for basic commodities, mostly mealie, which has so far remained scarce.
In both urban and peri-urban areas, running water has remained unavailable, forcing many to jostle for the precious commodity at public water points such as boreholes and wells.
Women and children have made up most of these queues for both water and mealie meal, and this has not just exposed them to COVID-19 and taken away their basic dignity, but has also made their lives worse off as they have to juggle being in a queue with other traditionally ascribed roles in the household.
The situation has been made worse by the fact that government did not setup concrete plans to guarantee food security and nutrition.
This has left each family to fend for themselves and naturally, women find themselves having to step in under the most difficult circumstances.
To deal with the situation, government should have and can still ensure food is available and accessible in sufficient quantities.
Government could have done more to assist women by creating accessible convenience shops that sell basic commodities in the locality to avoid people travelling long distances and standing in queues.
Women as primary care-givers have also been affected in that there has been very little information shared especially in rural areas. A number of areas have no access to radio and television, and there are no community radio stations in many areas.
The little information is available on social media where there is the risk of fake and unverified information.
There was a need for the government to liberalise the airwaves allowing the community broadcasters to share information widely. Instead of gagging local municipalities, the government should have established local information hub centres to ensure information is available in the languages understandable to the community.
The lack of information leaves a number of women vulnerable as they are not privy to social distancing and self-quarantine concepts.
It is on record that Zimbabwe has an unemployment rate of more than 80% and the majority of those are women.
This means that the majority of informal traders are women.
The informal traders were not accorded the status of essential services and have been forced to stop operations for six weeks now, with no sign they will be allowed to. This means that COVID-19 is going to widen the inequality gap with women carrying this burden.
In addition, government has destroyed some informal sector structures across the country. This means that there is no daily income for many women who are in the informal trade.
A number of women were surviving on cross-border trading both regionally and internationally.
These operations have all been affected by the lockdown rendering both the middleand low-income traders without any income.
Yet, government has not come up with a sector specific rescue plan.
In the rural areas most women were surviving on menial jobs in surrounding farms and subsistence farming.
As a result of the lockdown there has been short term employment contracts for the three weeks.
ZimRights has interacted with women surviving on wild berry picking and caterpillar harvesting whose enterprise has now been affected as travelling is now restricted.
As the natural caregivers of children, women have been forced to travel long distances on foot as there is limited public transport to take them to health centres.
A number of women have complained that they have been turned away at roadblocks by mostly male police officers after telling the Police that they would want to go and buy sanitary pads.
In Cowdray Park, women were tortured by the police and in the process where attacked with sexual insults. There are many such stories happening across the country in the interface with the law as well as in the silence of abusive homes.
The story of COVID 19 and women is a sad story of fighting both the pandemic and its impact. Carrying all this burden while fighting an already existing legacy of harmful power relations. If policy making does not pay special attention to these stories, a grave injustice continues uninterrupted against women. It is at times like these that perhaps we expect the Zimbabwe Gender Commission to justify its existence.
Celia Mafu is a Project Officer at ZimRights. Her work involves community human rights monitoring. She has contributed to the Their Voices Matter series. Comments to this article can be sent here or to firstname.lastname@example.org