As we celebrate and commemorate sixteen days of activism against gender violence, it is important to note the effect turmoil in Zimbabwe is having on the most vulnerable groups – women and children.
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By Tendaishe Tlou
Zimbabweans are no longer strangers to economic hardship, with inflation having risen to a high of 231 million percent and many thousands having migrated. The situation briefly improved following the formation of a Government of National Unity in 2009, but regressed in 2013 after the July elections. The country has been immersed in a deep-seated liquidity crisis and pervasive company closures, as in 2008 when the situation in Zimbabwe reached its zenith. In 2008 people had money, but the grocery shops were empty. Now the shops are full but people do not have money. In the absence of a comprehensive economic strategy to tackle economic degeneration, economic instability will continue to take a drastic toll on women and children.
As we celebrate and commemorate sixteen days of activism, it is important to note the effect turmoil in Zimbabwe is having on the most vulnerable groups – women and children. Zimbabwe is caught between a hard place and a rock. The post-election era has been the subject of a plethora of interpretations. One important one that is missing is the fact that whilst industries and companies have closed down, women have assumed the position of bread winners. Women – who are mostly teachers, till operators, clerks, merchandisers, cleaners, cross boarder traders, amongst the other few remaining jobs in Zimbabwe – are the main source of income; a responsibility which they have accepted either by default or choice. Zimbabwe has experienced changes in its economic history and the years of buoyancy wherein men were the bread winners.
Women in Zimbabwe have demonstrated great resilience, especially in sustaining their families. On the basis of qualitative preliminary research, at least two out of ten men in my community are formally-employed, whilst the rest were affected by the massive retrenchment scheme their employees embarked upon since last year. Whilst Kwekwe is an industrial and mining city, it is saddening to learn that only a handful of a group of industries function. The projects or informal jobs, such as illegal mining, that men acquire are unsustainable and ill-paid; leaving their wives as the main source of income for rentals, food, tuition and other basics. This has demonstrated that women are able and capable to lead, and to provide for and protect their families and the nation at large.
This marks a new low in the Zimbabwean economy, which calls for extensive and intensive women economic empowerment. During the recent budget presentation, finance minister, Patrick Chinamasa, warned that if the South African government remained reluctant to bail out Zimbabwe the former would risk an exponential influx of economic refugees in the near future (The Herald 2014); illuminating the extent of the economic crisis in Zimababwe. However,women remain marginalized in terms of access, control and ownership of economic resources; thereby preventing them from expanding their economic capabilities and responsibilities.
With respect to marriages, the long suffering of most Zimbabweans has caused trauma and emotional instability. This often translates into situations where the victims become the victimisers. In tandem with the campaign against gender-based violence this December; Zimbabweans must be pragmatic in assessing the domestic plight facing men and women. There have been many cases where women have inflicted violence – whether direct, emotional or psychological harm – upon their husbands, particularly in instances where the husband fails to provide for the family. On the other hand, in such situations men often become violent, particularly due to alcohol abuse as a means of suppressing the trauma. If the economy of Zimbabwe continues to disintegrate, record high levels of divorce will be recorded.
In such dire economic conditions, children are the most affected. More often than not they are exploited sexually and disadvantaged educationally. Girls are increasingly a victim of rape, particularly given the salience of child marriages in Zimbabwe in the fashion of Wasilat Tasi’u and Umari Sani in Nigeria. Children as young as fourteen years of age are increasingly being married to older men for economic expediency. Although some people deny such occurrences, they should be concerned about what happens elsewhere as injustice anywhere is a threat to injustice everywhere” (Martin Luther King Jr. 1963). Statutory rape, sexual abuse and under age prostitution might assume the status of the next biggest issue in Zimbabwe due to economic hardship.
According to Heymann (2014) “When exceptions such as parental consent are included, only 49% of all countries in the world protect girls from early marriage despite the fact that 88% of countries have set a minimum age of 18 or older in their constitutions.” Watkins (2014) ups the ante by arguing that around 150 million girls, mostly in Africa, still marry before the age of 15. Children in Zimbabwe might well end up being the main currency or medium of exchange between adults. This, in part, explains why girls in Nigeria and Iraq are being abducted by Boko Haram and the Islamic State respectively, for ransom and other draconian purposes.
Whilst UNICEF emphasizes the right of children to attend school without compromise, poverty has stolen the dream for many, thereby explaining the failure of the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). In light of spiralling economic hardship in Zimbabwe, record high levels of school drop-outs in both primary and secondary schools are likely to be recorded between 2014 and 2018. There is a high correlation between rising poverty and school drop outs, especially in rural areas. By 2018, the high literacy rates the Zimbabwean government currently boasts about will drastically decline due to relative deprivation. Hence, the international community must match promises with funding to safeguard children’s rights (Chonghaile, 2014). Unfortunately psychological trauma takes a lifetime to heal, thus it is everyone’s responsibility to play a part in exonerating children in Zimbabwe from their plight. The time to act is now.
In some worst cases children are working in jobs that endanger their health and safety, inclusive of mining, factories and as vendors, since as mentioned earlier, Kwekwe is a mining town. The situation has degenerated so badly that everyone in the household is expected to contribute something to the table. For example, in other mining towns such as Shamva and Bindura, it is very rare for children to commence or complete their studies; others start mining and drinking beer at a very tender age. The situation might get out of control if it continues unchecked. More research – both quantitative and qualitative – is require, especially in more difficult to reach parts of the country. Furthermore, combining findings will the formulation of collaborative solutions, thus making the situation better for women and children in Zimbabwe.
Tendaishe Tlou is a freelance researcher and writer specialising in human rights, environmental security, peace and governance issues. He holds a BSc (Honours) Degree in Peace and Governance with Bindura University of Science Education and a Post-graduate Certificate in Applied Conflict Transformation. He works with various NGOs and Government Ministries in Zimbabwe and South Africa. However, these are his personal views; no authors, NGOs, Universities or any other Institution must be held accountable for the arguments in this article.
- Chonghaile, C (2014) “Children’s rights being Violated with Impunity,” The Guardian, Thursday, 20 November, 2014.
- Heymann, J (2014) Online Resource Bank, World Policy Analysis Centre, United States.
- Martin Luther Jr (1963)”; Letter from Birmingham Jail, “King, Martin Luther Jr”, The Martin Luther Jr Research and Education Institute, United States of America.
- The Herald (2014) “, Chinamasa Presents 4.1 Billion Budget,” The Herald, 29 November, 2014.
- Watkins, K (2014) “,The Convention is being Widely and Systematically in Near Total Impunity,” Overseas Development Institute,USA/UK.