Special Edition – Lockdown Day 100: WCoZ Situation Report

Tuesday 7 July, 2020 marks the 100th day since Zimbabwe went into lockdown. WCoZ presents a special edition of the situational analysis report of the 100 days under lockdown.  In this special edition, we uncover what life has been like for women during these last 100 days, by interrogating the socio-economic impact of the pandemic on women and girls. Lastly, we highlight recommendations on ensuring that the Covid-19 crisis does not become a gender equality crisis.

Women’s participation in the Covid-19 Provincial and District Taskforces 

Early in March, as part of the Covid-19 National Preparedness and Response Plan, Government set up a Covid-19 taskforce team. The taskforce system was cascaded to Provincial and District levels in order to ensure enhanced response at these levels. However, our survey and reports reveal a big structural gender imbalance problem within the taskforce structures.

Reports indicate that very few women have been included in the emergency response leadership structures. We shall refer to the Mutare case, in this discussion. The statistics for the Mutare Provincial Coordinating Taskforce Sub-Taskforce indicate a composition of 11 members: 1 female and 10 males. The Mutare Provincial Informational and Public Sub-Taskforce is constituted by 3 females and 11 males. The Mutare Provincial Infrastructure and Maintenance Sub-Taskforce does not have female representatives. The Mutare Provincial Resource Mobilization Sub-Taskforce is constituted by 2 females and 4 males. The Mutare Provincial Human Resources Sub-Taskforce is constituted by males only, with no female representatives. The Mutare Provincial Lockdown Enforcement Sub-Taskforce is constituted by males only with no female representatives. The Mutare Emergency Reaction Sub-Taskforce has 2 females and 8 males. Lastly, the Social Welfare Sub-Taskforce is constituted by 2 females and 7 males. 

This begs the question: If women are not adequately represented in the taskforce teams, then who is taking their seat at the table to negotiate on their behalf and to ensure that women’s rights are appropriately addressed and prioritised? These statistics point to an even bigger gender equality crisis which requires urgent redress.  

The Digitalisation of Covid-19 

Covid-19 and the subsequent lockdown restrictions, have seen countless communications and opportunities migrating to the internet and social media platforms. Business and communities in general, have, for example had to learn how to utilise applications such as ZOOM, Skype, Twitter for access to information. The Ministry of Health and Child-Care has also heavily relied on platforms such as Twitter to disseminate information and statistics on Covid-19. As much as these platforms are convenient modes of communication, it is a settled position that the platforms are not easily accessible to the majority of women and girls in the urban, peri-urban and rural communities throughout Zimbabwe. Reports from our networks, have revealed how the digitalisation of the Covid-19 crisis has exacerbated their lack of capacity to contribute to political and democratic processes. Rural women have been hit hard, and life has not been easy in the 100 days, by the use of online platforms as alternatives to physical gatherings, meetings, trainings and transactions. 

The cost of data bundles itself, and poor connectivity have been a formidable enemy for the women constituency, thus negatively impacting on women’s fundamental freedoms of expression and the freedom of media. 

  • Aware of the report that POTRAZ raised over $120 million from the Universal Service Fund since its inception back in 2009, which funds were meant to facilitate the provision of telecommunication services to under-served rural areas of Zimbabwe, we raise concern over the accountability of the funds. Further we remind Government of its obligation to ensure the fulfilment and enjoyment of 4th Generation rights. 

The Right of Access to information 

Section 62 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution provides for the protection of the right to access to information. This constitutional right seeks to set a strong and clear foundation for the engagement, interaction, information exchange and accessibility amongst citizens and also between the State and its citizens. This relationship has been lately, brought to the fore in a very unique manner, during the Covid-19 lockdown. The communications exchanged within communities and

also engagements with Government have become of paramount importance during the lockdown. Time and again, communities have bemoaned the lack of information disseminated by Government and its departments. Of key note, is the fast manner in which Statutory Instruments have been published and gazetted, with little effort to conscientize women on the implications of the same, especially considering most of the Regulations carry a penal provision for non-compliance.  Guidance notes on operations of certain sectors, e.g. church gatherings were not published. This left women vulnerable at the mercy of enforcing officers who have been given a very wide discretion in determining whether or not one is in compliance with the containment regulations. This has raised significant questions regarding the ability of the public to access information, raise voices, without fear and express their concerns on the quality of data, information and communication exchanged between the State and citizens.

The Rise in GBV Cases and Access to Justice

Following the lockdown and containment regulations, we witnessed the Judicial Service Commission, issuing numerous practice directions in compliance with the lockdown regulations. Of importance to note was the Practice Direction advising that only urgent matters would be prioritised by the Courts. This came as a blow, particularly at a time when the Nation was experiencing a rise in cases of Gender Based Violence.

It is important to note that during the first and second phases of the lockdown, GBV shelters were not identified as essential services. Musasa Project, reported that it had recorded 764 cases of gender-based violence (GBV) between the start of the lockdown on March 30 2020 and April 9 2020. Normally, it receives 500 to 600 cases per month. In May, the Zimbabwe Republic Police (ZRP) Kwekwe decried the spike in domestic violence cases in the district during the lockdown period.

Women during this period failed to timeously access justice due to the constraints presented by the lockdown, this included access to justice for cases seeking Maintenance Orders. While, the Covid-19 situation presented some unprecedented challenges, it is recommended that moving forward our Courts must consider and invest towards digitalisation of the Courts and remote working to ensure that citizens continue to access justice, uninterrupted by any calamities and unforeseen challenges. 

The Right to Water

Water and sanitisation play an indispensable role in curbing the spread of Covid-19 and have thus remained critical in the past 100 days.  However, the dire situation on water shortages has forced women to access the water from unsafe sources, exposing them to untold health hazards. In Harare, our networks reported that on 5 May 2020, in Warren Park, ward 15, a bucket of water was being sold for ZWL $15. Our networks in Bulawayo, have reported lack of sustainable means to access water, due to rationing schemes by Council. While in April, the High Court of Zimbabwe made a ruling on ensuring access to water by residents, there has been little compliance with the judgement. While initiatives such as bowser water delivery only provide temporary relief, such measures are not the panacea to the problem as they are unsustainable in the long run. The right to water is a constitutional right guaranteed by section 77 of the Constitution:

  • It is recommended that the Ministry of Local Government, Public Works and National Housing, and all local authorities in their respective districts, ensure adequate provision of water, through the implementation of short and long-term strategies.
  • We further urge the critical need for the rapid escalation of medium- and long-term water solutions as part of the Covid-19 response actions.

Rights of Women and Access to Pre-Natal Care

During the early phases of the lockdown, women reported to have experienced challenges in accessing health facilities.  On the 24th of April, a group of four women from Gwanda urban, Ward 4 visited the Phakama clinic to access health care for their infants as there were due for immunization. On their arrival at the clinic there were all advised to go back home and return back to clinic after the lockdown had been lifted, as the clinic has no adequate PPE to be attending to patients on the verge of Covid 19. These challenges were not restricted to Gwanda alone, but continued to manifest in other parts of the country as well, as reported by our networks, indicating that hospitals are not keen on attending to pregnant women. These impediments compelled desperate pregnant women to resort to home deliveries, which in certain circumstances may not have been safe.

  • We recommend implementation of measures to support women and ensure that they access pre and post-natal care, and reproductive health care services without any impediments due to Covid-19.

Women in Quarantine and Isolation Centres

Statistics released by the Ministry of Health and Childcare as at 22 June 2020, reveal a cumulative total of 2,019 quarantined persons nationwide. Of these, 1,025 are women, 858 are men and 136 are children. It is important to note that women constitute the highest percentage of quarantined persons. This opens up reflections on gender-specific issues such as sexual abuse, violence and hygiene.

The absence of gendered responsiveness and preparedness within the centres, have left women and children vulnerable.  In order to ensure security and safeguarding of women and children, who are the most vulnerable sections of the population, there are critical measures that need to be established and implemented. This calls for accelerated safeguarding frameworks within the centres through the integration of SGBV into the Quarantine Centres Management, including training of staff on how to properly service different genders. We further recommend establishment of protection guidelines and dissemination of information in the 14 National Languages, on sexual violence within the centres and the help available. It is also recommended that Government enhances the provision of: 

  • Access to applicable and supportive ameliorative services for women, the elderly, children, and persons living with disabilities in quarantine. 
  • Access to services, including adequate sexual and reproductive health services, to both men and women without stigma.
  • Appropriate and adequate provision of water and sanitization.

Education and Radio Lessons

In the past 100 days, we have witnessed the roll-out of the radio lessons programmes by the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education. While commending this move as critical in ensuring that pupils do not lag behind, the initiative has shown some gaps regarding inclusivity. Of concern, is the plight of the girl-child and the extending burden of unpaid care-work in light of Covid-19, worsened by the fact that the girl child is currently spending more time at home than in school. These factors, if not addressed may lead to unequal opportunities amongst pupils, and aggravate already existing inequalities by marginalizing rural pupils, the girl child and those with disabilities.  We therefore recommend setting in place monitoring and evaluation strategies to measure the success and practicability of the radio programme and online lessons initiative. We further recommend that the Ministry of Primary and Secondary Education continuously collect disaggregated data and update the Nation on pupils’ access and attendance to the radio lessons. The data must be gender disaggregated, in order to ensure that girls attend the lessons, and are not consumed with the burden of unpaid care work, within the household.

Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe