BY LORRAINE MUROMO
WOMEN all over the world are said to have been the worst affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Shamwari YeMwanasikana national director Ekenia Chifamba said there were many factors that contributed to the tribulations that women faced during the COVID-19 lockdown period, which included failure to access justice and maternity services among many other services.
Chifamba (EC) told NewsDay (ND) reporter Lorraine Muromo that the situation could have been corrected if efforts were made to ensure women’s protection in the midst of the deadly pandemic.
ND: Since the COVID-19 pandemic affected the country, women are said to have faced dire situations. What is your general view?
EC: Women’s rights and well-being have been impinged during the COVID-19 pandemic. This has been taken for granted over the time but it has affected their health, mental wellness, physiological and emotional wellbeing. Life became difficult for women during the COVID-19-induced lockdowns since it was an uncommon situation for all people. They were forced to stay at home, hence the burden of unpaid care work increased as they had no chance to go out and fend for their families. Most women were exposed to gender-based violence (GBV) as they were abused by their male partners due to inability to fend for the family.
To add on to that, women also found it difficult to cater for the needs of the families due to job losses. As soon as the COVID-19 pandemic started, people went under strict shutdown which led to the closure of many companies and businesses. A number of women lost their jobs due to COVID-19. Additionally, women are the largest number in the informal sector, hence they lost their businesses and struggled to get back on their feet. Some women, who were vendors, were removed from the streets and every aspect of life just ground to a halt.
ND: What are the major challenges that women faced in accessing medical and legal services during the lockdown period?
EC: One of the challenges was the inability to travel to the hospitals and clinics for medical attention because of the national shut-down. Women could not travel because they were afraid of being arrested by the police if seen moving around. In addition, some women who lived far away from medical facilities and legal offices could not find transport to travel to such offices as kombis had been banned and most of them did not have exemption letters.
ND: How has the COVID-19 pandemic impacted women-led households in terms of economic wellbeing?
EC: The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted the living conditions for households that are women-led as they were not able to take care of all the family needs. Women-led families could not afford to buy the basic commodities needed in a household like mealie-meal, sugar, salt and cooking oil because the prices had shot into the sky. Hence life became very difficult during the lockdown period. Most females are vendors, cross-border traders, and hair dressers among other occupations which were not regarded as essential. Life for children and those women from women-led households became difficult. It was also evidenced through the discussions we held with women that a number of women were affected by stress as they had nothing and no one to rely on, hence these families were hit the most by the pandemic.
ND: What can be done to enhance the full participation in the economy and protection from GBV?
EC: There is a huge need to educate people and communities on the importance of reducing violence against women. Furthermore, there is the urgent need for proper implementation and monitoring of laws that protect the rights of women and protect them and strengthen legislative measures set aside to protect women in various communities so that perpetrators can be arrested.
Crucial action should be taken against perpetrators so that it can send a clear message to them to desist from violating women. There can also be advocacy for justice for all women who have been violated so that people can acknowledge the seriousness of protection of women in communities and empowerment campaigns can be embarked on to women to stand up for themselves and others.
ND: Are there any instances where your organisation has had to offer assistance to women affected by COVID-19 effects on society?
EC: Yes, the organisation has received cases of violence on women and has managed to offer psychosocial support to those women as well as referring them to other organisations that deal with women issues.
ND: Given the economic impacts of COVID-19 on society, have you set aside projects to assist members of your constituency to counter the effects?
EC: As a starting point, through our US embassy project, the organisation has assisted women in Murewa with poultry and horticultural projects to assist them in recovering from the COVID-19 economic disaster.
ND: Are you making any efforts to address challenges faced by women at water points across the country?
EC: Yes, we have held several water-point campaigns advocating for an end to gender-based violence against women and girls at public water collection points in Chitungwiza and Hatcliffe. We have also engaged stakeholders in a bid to address challenges faced by women and girls at boreholes, and also engaged the media in raising awareness on ending GBV and sexual violations at water collection points.
ND: What do you think can be done to alleviate issues of health service delivery affecting women, particularly maternity services during COVID-19?
EC: There is need to create more facilities where maternity services can be offered to women so that they do not have to wait in long queues and fail to get assistance. The government needs to assist in improving the maternity services offered to women by providing adequate equipment and deploying more staff that can effectively assist the women in accessing services. To add on to that, women should be given free maternity medical services.
ND: What other issues are affecting women and young girls who seek services at your organisation?
EC: The issues include child marriages, teen pregnancy, unavailability of sanitary ware and failure to get money for school fees.
ND: Issues of child marriages and gender-based violence have been rampant, what are your thoughts?
EC: Strict measures should be put in place to arrest perpetrators in the cases of GBV and child marriages. Furthermore, the communities should also be educated continuously in terms of these issues so that they know how to deal with them if they occur in the areas they live. People should always be alert on the dangers caused by GBV and child marriages as well as their effects on the lives of women and girls. The existing policies should be strengthened, implemented and monitored.
ND: What is your advice to young girls and women in society in terms of self-empowerment?
EC: Our advice to young girls and women in society in terms of self-empowerment is that they should focus on getting education first so that they have wisdom and knowledge as it can assist them in the future. In addition, women and girls should have the courage to grab opportunities in different fields so that they obtain more certificates and qualifications that help them to sustain their lives later. The mindset of getting married at tender ages should be discarded as it is not an achievement. They should pursue their goals and dreams before marriage. Furthermore, women and girls should partake in business activities to earn income so that they can sustain themselves without having to lean on anyone. They should also take part in empowerment initiatives that will help them in personal and professional development.
- Follow Lorraine on Twitter @lorrainemuromo