The national lockdown has affected millions of Zimbabweans in the informal sector especially women and girls who are the major players in the sector.
Statistics reveal that the Zimbabwean economy is predominantly informal with economic renewal policies still to bear fruit. The informal economy has been the most active providing income for the majority families. Access to disposable income is a daily quest to ensure that food is available among the mostly daily wage-earners dependent on vending and other forms.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission Chief Executive Officer Virginia Muwanigwa said the laborious processes of identifying, vetting and approving needy people to receive cash transfer, mean delays in access to these cushions.
“Destruction of the vegetable market stalls by local authorities across the country, while commendable from a formalization perspective, may lead to unequal access by poor and vulnerable groups, come end of lockdown, further worsening poverty,” said Muwanigwa.
She said the lockdown has presented a challenge on food security and nutrition among many families in Zimbabwe.
“Without reliable livelihood options, some sections of the population have become extremely vulnerable to hunger and starvation. Even though some shops and supermarkets have been opening at scheduled intervals, the pushing and shoving for access to affordable commodities is so physical that some groups which include women, children, the elderly and Persons With Disabilities cannot cope,” said Muwanigwa.
She said female and child headed families still cannot afford the subsidized mealie meal, when it is available. In the absence of a robust social protection mechanism, food security situation worsens.
Muwanigwa said the physical distancing requirement has necessitated the shutting down of non-essential government services.
“While limited services remain, the reduced access affects women and men differently depending on their needs. Access to water and sanitation largely remains inadequate. Energy too, especially wood fuels, remain in short supply for those without electricity,” she said.
Muwanigwa said prolonged periods outside school is a threat to the envisaged outcomes of that calendar year for schools.
“Even though home schooling is being encouraged, the scope is relatively new and further increases the multiple roles of women, already over-burdened by household chores. Online education, as an alternative, increases gap among those with and without access to the required technology, leaving others, mainly from poor and rural communities behind,” Muwanigwa said.
“Spending more time online also exposes children to cyberbulling, sex-predators, pornographic material and all other online vices. Reports show that out of school students, particularly girls, are in a more precarious situation as they risk falling pregnant and dropping out of school indefinitely”.
Muwanigwa said women are functionally providers of health care at household and professional level.
“Other than constituting a bigger percentage of professional health care practitioners in Zimbabwe, cultural practices largely give women and girls the responsibility of providing health care to sick family members. The pandemic has added another layer of responsibility on women and girls from a prevention, protection and care perspective,” said Muwanigwa.
She said when a country is faced with a health pandemic to the scale of COVID-19, other health issues become secondary as shortages in Sexual and Reproductive Health Services including contraceptives are being experienced. This has dire consequences of unplanned pregnancies post-COVID-19.
Muwanigwa said media and reports by institutions such as Musasa and Padare show an unprecedented increase in GBV namely domestic violence manifesting in physical, sexual, psychological and economic abuse among family members.
“Musasa, for example, reports that they have attended to more than 1200 reports at the end of April, more than double the usual per month. Padare, the Men’s Forum on Gender Equality, reports that during the same period, they had received more than 50 reports of domestic violence on men since the lockdown started, a stark increase. While the ZRP registered a reduced number of reports since the lockdown, they acknowledged that this might be due to lack of mobility for survivors,” she said.
The situation for survivors, mainly women and girls, becomes desperate, as abusers are locked-up with their victims while limited mobility reduces the usual access to external assistance. Children are also trapped in this vicious cycle of violence as witnesses and/or victims. Women and girls are the worst affected in these circumstances. While schools generally provide safe shelter for children, these have been closed indefinitely further locking them within homes.
A lot of effort to provide information has been made by government and other stakeholders. Physical distancing has shut down the traditional ways of communication, through schools, traditional and other leaders, extended family among others. Television and radio stations have carried relevant messages consistently and continuously. Some groups have however reported inadequate access to the information due to lack of access to the ICT used in information sharing.
The Zimbabwe Gender Commission through reports from partners, government and other stakeholders says there is a Gender Crisis within the COVID-19 Pandemic.
Muwanigwa said they are calling for enhanced respective social protection systems – through robust safety nets – with a deliberate emphasis on giving preference to the vulnerable members of the society, which includes women, children, elderly and persons with disabilities, among other groups.
“Ensure that economic recovery plans also target women who are the majority in the informal economy. Include key populations such as children living on the streets, prisoners and sex workers, among other groups, in respective response mechanisms. When nations are faced with such a serious life-threatening emergency like COVID-19, they often overlook the needs of key populations such as sex workers” she said.
The Zimbabwe Gender is mandated informed by the government to monitor issues concerning Gender Equality under Section 246 of the Constitution.