Rumbidzayi Zinyuke Senior Health Reporter
Zimbabwe needs collective effort to close the gaps that have affected women and girls’ access to sexual and reproductive health services because of repressive cultural beliefs that have been exacerbated by the Covid-19 pandemic and resulted in significant increase in sexual gender based violence.
According to the State of the World Population (SWOP) report launched yesterday by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFP) and other partners, more than half of the women in 57 developing countries are denied power to make decisions over their bodies.
The SWOP is a report, which analyses developments and trends in world population and demographics and this year, it focused on bodily autonomy.
The report was launched during the official commemoration of the World Population Day.
In Zimbabwe, gender-based violence is one of the most problematic issues affecting women and girls.
The most recent case of 14-year old girl who died while giving birth at a shrine in Marange recently is one of the many incidences where women and girls have been denied the right over their bodies.
Minister of Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development Dr Sithembiso Nyoni said child marriages were a violation of multiple rights of the girl child that exposed them to gender-based violence, HIV and other health related conditions.
“The Covid-19 pandemic has shown that it is affecting everyone, everywhere, but the effects are not equal. It is not a secret that the pandemic is deepening existing inequalities and vulnerabilities, particularly for women and girls. It is disturbing to note that we still have pockets of our communities that are denying these rights to women and girls,.
She said the case serves as a reminder of the scourge of teenage pregnancies and child marriage that continue to affect the lives of thousands of girls in the communities.
“Marrying- off our girls before attaining age of marriage also denies the communities where they live and the nation at large of their contribution to national development. It is for these and various other reasons that we should join hands to vehemently condemn and declare our aspiration for a nation with zero tolerance to child marriages. The Constitution, the supreme law of the country, outlaws child marriage and clearly puts the age of marriage at 18 years. We continue to urge and encourage people from diverse backgrounds including religions and cultures to respect this Constitutional provision,” said Dr Nyoni.
Health and Child Care Deputy Minister Dr John Mangwiro said the collaborative efforts from various partners to help government improve the availability of SRH and SGBV services at levels of care had made a significant impact. He said efforts must be made to ensure that everyone, particularly those in marginalised communities had access to SRH and GBV services.
“Our adolescents continue to face a myriad of sexual and reproductive health challenges including high rates of unplanned pregnancies, early child bearing and transmission of STIs including HIV. As we commemorate World Population Day we are reminded of the marginalised and the challenges they are facing in accessing SRH and SGBV services that are age appropriate, safe, equitable, affordable and accessible. Sadly we also remember thousands of young people who are morbid and have died due to avoidable and preventable Sexual Reproductive Health and GBV related cases,” he said.
UNFPA country representative Dr Esther Muia said harmful practices were mostly rooted in gender inequality and arose from discriminatory gender norms that perpetuate inequality.