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The Vulnerability of Women in Times of Crisis

By Proud Nyakuni and Cosmas Sunguro

Financial, economic, health and other crises and measures put in place impact men and women differently, and yet the effects of austerity measures on women and girls are rarely considered. Globally, women are more vulnerable to these economic shocks. During times of crisis, global likely to be taken out of school and are more likely to sell sex in order to survive. The mothers usually have a double burden as they do both paid work and unpaid care work in a bid to provide a decent lifestyle for their families. This leaves them more vulnerable because usually the male counterparts that should be protecting and providing for them either shun their duty to protect or they became the perpetrators of some crises they face. Having a specific attention in the Extractive mining industry and communities, there are a number of challenges being faced, with the threat of Coronavirus in the crowded mining workplaces where there is sometimes lack of safe and clean water. This negatively impacts everyone’s health.

Challenges

1. Exposure to risks of mining and lack of proper time to rest.

Working in the mines is not a walk in the park, as difficult as it is to men, what more to a woman, who is usually biologically regarded as a weaker sex . Mining is very energy sapping coupled with spending the day under the heat of the sun, yet, we have women enduring working in the mining be it formal or informal mining sector(chikorokoza). For those in informal artisanal mining, they spend the majority of their time standing in rivers. In Odzi and Penhalonga some of them use the hazardous mercury to search for gold, thereby exposing themselves to skin diseases and miscarriages.

One might ask why exposing themselves to the risks, the answer is very simple, because they are mothers. They cannot afford to let the family suffer.The family has so much hope in the mother, especially the children, hope that the mother have a solution for them, be it hunger, they believe she will bring food on the table. It is because of this that these mothers have to take the risk that will leave them fighting for their health. Following a hard day at the mine, either mining or selling, a woman has household chores waiting for her (unpaid care work) cooking, laundry,fetching water and firewood as well as conjugal rights she is obliged to fulfil lest there will be no peace in the marriage and family. Thus, she has to endure to maintain the family fabric intact.

2. Lack of adequate and convenient source of energy.

This means that the mother who is also a worker needs to walk more than 10 km to fetch firewood. Sometimes with a baby strapped on her back. Like in informal mining there is also risk of being prosecuted by officials from Forestry commission for cutting down trees. In areas like Arda Transau women are walking for more than 5 kilometres to sell firewood in Odzi location. After selling they then buy some groceries to feed the family. This is just unpaid carework which is often overlooked. There are also health effects that come with these roles such as heart and back ache problems due to heavy loads of firewood carried on a daily basis. In the recently held Manicaland Local Economic and Social Development on Diamonds Indaba (LESDD), women from Arda Transau requested the authorities to consider electrification of the area for energy but the request was not taken seriously. This points to another challenge faced by women where sometimes their grievances are ignored. Section 60 and 61 of Zimbabwe Constitution provides for freedom of Conscience and of expression. This may mean the problem is far from being addressed unless the champions of women rights continue to advocate for the realisation of these rights.

3. Lack of safe and clean water

According to section 77 of the Constitution, every citizen has a right to safe, clean and potable water. Women in mining areas instead face a challenge in trying to fulfil that fundamental right as they have to walk distances to fetch it. One of basic requirements of water is that it must be affordable and accessible. For areas like Arda Transau and Penhalonga it remains a pipe dream. Mining companies like the Zimbabwe Consolidated Diamonds Company (ZCDC) and Redwing mine are not helping the plight of the women and children. More often they end up using dirty water from unprotected wells and Odzi River for example, for drinking and other household activities, with this pandemic of Coronavirus (Covid-19) confirmed in Zimbabwe and continous encouragement to exercise hygiene, you wonder how this is possible. Below is a message from a concerned resident in Arda Transau asking, “Pamusoroi hama dzangu. With this prevailing situation what can be done about having running tap water? Will we survive this challenge without water in the community?Our elders let us hear from you”. This is a question that has no one to answer and a mother has to improvise for the safety of the family, the question is,How? Therefore, with the challenge of having no safe and clean water comes other challenges of health, diseases such as diarrhoea, dysentery and the recent coronavirus pandemic.

4. Lack of access to health care

The nightmare is that, being exposed to all these risks that affects her and her family’s health, the clinics are more than 10 kilometres away and there are no medications at the clinics. One visits the clinic without receiving any proper treatment because there is no medication, one get a prescription that he does not have money for, worse still the medication is being sold in united states dollars or at a higher rate in the local currency.

Our health system has failed, there is no medication in the local clinics and hospital, even a simple pain killer such as paracetamol.

In light of the above, we can all agree that health system is strained to cater for people and with confirmed cases of Corona virus one wonders how women are going to survive.
Firstly, the mines where they and their husbands work, there is more than hundred people allowed to gather, ZCDC has more than a thousand workers, more than five people sharing rooms, if they are to contract the virus, a woman as the immediate care giver is most likely to get it as well.


Secondly, with encouragement of self-quarantine, exercise hygiene and avoiding public areas with more than hundred people, how can a woman who wants to go more than 10km to fetch firewood to cook for the family, to sell to buy food for the family quarantine herself, who will take care of the family?


How can a woman who does not have running tap or borehole water at her house quarantine herself when she needs to go and fetch water as well as do laundry at the nearest river?
How does she stock food for two weeks and quarantine herself, while she is working hand to mouth, everyday she has to carry firewood to the market place or sell food items to miners to get money to buy food for her family.


How can she quarantine herself, who will do all these chores for her, who will carry her burden?
Being a woman means standing in the firing line, defending the family from all ends, being a shock absorber, at the expense of your own health, independence and career growth, devoting more time to unpaid care work.

What Can Be Done to Ease the Burden?

*Men need to help the women in reducing unpaid care work so that they also concentrate more on paid care work for the economic growth of the family, community and country at large.

*Our Government needs to fulfil its constitutional obligation to promote the rights to health care, safe and clean water, environment, education and right to equality and non – discrimination.

*Economic emancipation and empowerment of women should be treated as a priority.

*Development partners must facilitate trainings for women to adapt and being able to provide first aid to their families, and take care of the sick especially in times of unprecedented outbreaks of diseases such as the prevailing Corona virus (Covid -19).

ZIDAWU
Email: zzidawu@gmail.com

A member of Publish What You Pay (Zimbabwe).

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