Pragmatism and Protection: Zimbabwe Lockdown – Day 13

Today marks 13 days into the Zimbabwean 21 Day Lockdown and communities are still gravely concerned about access to water, food and social protection measures amongst other essential services in order for them to comply with the lock down and play their part in contributing to COVID-19 prevention and response initiatives. As updates from Inter-Ministerial Taskforce and Ministry of Health and Child Care unfold, concerns deepen on the efficacy and efficiency of COVID-19 Response roll out and lockdown measures enforcement in a manner that will protect Zimbabwe from both the spread of COVID-19 and violation of Human rights by lockdown enforcement agents, citizens continue to struggle with the reality of COVID-19 and socio-economic challenges presented by the lockdown. Hence, this situation report is dedicated to highlighting critical areas of concern, the grievances and challenges by women and recommendations from communities and at grassroots level.

The pandemic is deepening pre-existing inequalities and without the appropriate measures to address such inequalities, complete compliance with lockdowns will not be possible. The gaps in the Zimbabwean context arise directly from the failure of the State to particularly and pragmatically set out and update citizens the roadmap to gap-filling in a pragmatic and sustainable manner. The lockdown is blatantly exposing vulnerabilities in social, political and economic systems which in turn amplify the impacts of the COVID 19 pandemic. The development deficits of Zimbabwe do not excuse the ability of the Zimbabwean Government to address the arising shortfalls in the response mechanisms. Rather it must be business unusual.

Calling upon the attention of the Government of Zimbabwe and other relevant duty bearers to the following critical issues that require urgent redress:

1. Health

Alive to the dangers of the temptation to contain COVID-19, by diverting resources from routine sexual reproductive health services;

  • Concerned with the increased challenges which women are facing in accessing family planning pills and reproductive health services in general.
  • Noting the phenomenal increase in the cost of medication for chronic illnesses such as Diabetes and Hypertension.
  • Further concerned by reports of out-patient mental health patients who are failing to access their medications and services a result of the lockdown.
  • We reinforce our call for special attention to the supply lines and delivery services of family planning and sexual and reproductive health products and services.
  • We urge the Government and other relevant bodies to activate the protection measures to protect citizens from usurious price increases of chronic- illness medication.
  • We further call for the provision of access to services and medication for persons with mental health conditions which risk exacerbation due to the lockdown itself and failure to access support.

2. Maternal Health Services

Cognisant that Pregnant women are failing to access maternal services. Reports from communities in all 10 provinces indicate a clear and deliberate national policy inconsistency and gaps in prioritising COVID-19 readiness and treatment, to the detriment of provision of maternal health services. The failure to articulate and roll out alternative maternal services centres, to support pregnant women and provide pre and post-natal care services, whilst turning women away from clinics, hospitals and mothers shelters essentially suggests that women have been left vulnerable to COVID 19 and maternal health complications which may result in maternal and infant mortality.

A policy for COVID-19 Preparedness that results in such a context is clearly unacceptable. Women are once again facing the risks of giving birth unattended, and outside healthcare centres. In a country with a maternal mortality rate of 462 deaths for every 100 000 live births, the implications of such a policy on the lives of Zimbabwean women ought not to be treated lightly.

  • We draw attention of the Government to the invisible and unrecognised work being undertaken by community based maternal healthcare workers, who once again, are predominantly women. Community based health care service providers have faced an exponential increase in their already heightened work-loads, as they work., without State support, to fill-in the gap by servicing numerous women.
  • Despite this work, reports indicate that most community based health care workers are failing to access transport and travel permits in a clear and organized manner, just as much as they are failing to access personal protective clothing and equipment.
  • We therefore call for the explicit designation of community health care workers as part of the essential services and Furthermore, measures should be put in place, administratively to ensure that they receive the critical support they need to effectively carry out their responsibilities.
  • We also call further for reopening and support of maternal clinics and shelters to ensure that maternal services are still accessible to women.

3. Stigma and Communication

Realising that the national messaging on the mortality rate of persons infected with COVID-19 in particular the Ministry of Health and Child-Care visual updates;-the suggestive phrasing and framing of the death of COVID-19 patients, is part of the national level communication that is driving stigma and fear among our elderly populations. The message seems to suggest that those who are elderly are facing death once they are infected.

Communities and households in various platforms have raised fears that their elderly will die if they are infected with the virus. This is clearly not the resultant understanding that Zimbabwean citizens require at this point.

  • We therefore call upon the Ministry of Health and Childcare to review language in their updates and ensure , elderly persons and persons with underlying health complications are supported in non-stigma language.
  • Further, government must provide practical mechanisms and appropriate services to assist the elderly in our communities to protect themselves from the infection.

4. Food Security

Deeply concerned that to date, Government has not walked the talk on providing relief and food security to vulnerable households;

Concerned that 13 days into the lockdown, communities and vulnerable households continue to be subjected to hunger and poverty due to loss of income;

Recognising that the lockdown has posed a serious threat to women’s economic engagements, thereby increasing gender gaps in livelihoods;

Noting the imperative need for lockdown measures to be supported by relief and social protection mechanisms to vulnerable households;

  • We strongly implore the Government to urgently publicize and implement food security programs to benefit all communities throughout the country in a non-partisan manner.
  • We recommend that the registration for such programs and the selection criteria for beneficiaries must be announced clearly and specifically and timelines for delivery and implementation clearly stated.
  • Further to that, we recommend the development of women’s economic strategies to support women in recovering from the economic impact of the pandemic and to build resilience for future disasters.

5. Water and Sanitation

Women and communities across the ten provinces of Zimbabwe continue to fail to access clean safe water. The ability of communities to cooperate with the Lockdown and to maintain the standards of hygiene and personal care required by the Lockdown call for serious interventions by the central government.

The inability of communities to access safe clean bulk clean water fundamentally erodes the Lockdown gains at multiple levels. The responsibilities of central government and local authorities in this regard therefore cannot be overemphasized as articulated by our Courts. Deeply concerned that in Day 13 of the lockdown, Isolation centres have no water.

  • We therefore remind the Government the need to support the provision of safe bulk water to communities throughout Zimbabwe.
  • The delivery of water through improved schedules. Reports indicate grossly inadequate water provision in most areas in Harare, Masvingo, Manicaland, Matebeleland South, Matebeleland North and Midlands provinces.

6. Gender Based Violence

Concerned with reports of women who are currently being subjected to domestic violence and Gender Based violence during the lockdown.

Recognising that the Government policy of lockdown is a confinement policy that essentially commits women to their homes which may not be places of safety, exacerbates already existing risks of intimate partner violence, the largest form of domestic violence in Zimbabwe.

Aware that disasters such as this one, place women and girls at a higher risk of exploitation and sexual violence;

Concerned that public policing and responses to issues of GBV at this time have been significantly reduced by the policing of the COVID-19 Lockdown;

  • We reiterate calls for Gender Based Violence shelters to be designated as essential services, to be manned and provide services during this period whilst respecting rules of sanitisation, self-isolation and social distancing
  • We further recommend establishment of a Gender Based Violence National Response Hotline. We are concerned that the GBV hotline and applicable response services are still predominantly provided by Non-State who reach and efficacy is significant compounded by the Lockdown measure itself. It is crucial therefore, that the Government steps up its efforts to address GBV during this time.

7. Income and Livelihood Protection

Noting reports indicating poor administration and coordination of the issuance of sector permits, which has largely affected women in agriculture and the informal sector at large, who have to, fruitlessly, run around between the Police Stations and Local Government authorities to secure a permit. This back and forth between the authorities need to be administratively cleared up;

  • We recommend that clear parameters be publicised through which the sector permits can be issued without any hindrances. The procedural steps required in securing a permit must be widely publicised in clear terms. If sector permits are no longer being issued, we urge a clear articulation of this position in the public domain.
  • We raise attention to reports of farmers who are losing both produce and livestock due to their inability to access markets, abattoirs and veterinary services during this lockdown. This is particularly problematics as issues to access food will increase both during had after the lockdown. Further, these issues will compound the viability of agriculture-based-livelihoods, post the lockdown.

8. Access to Existing Food Distribution System

The practical distribution of the food security support to communities that were already receiving food, but those distributions were altered as a result of the lockdown needs to be articulated so as to avoid confusion in communities and with oversight mechanisms of which systems are supporting which communities under which program.

9. Expansion of Food Distribution to Vulnerable Households

A clear food distribution mechanism to persons who have been made food insecure by the Lockdown itself as opposed to persons who were already beneficiaries of the existing food distribution networks. This needs to be clearly communicated and explained.

Whilst cash transfers are commendable, the reality is that there is a scarcity of food in real terms in both urban and rural communities as a result of the lockdown the measures to address food insecurity in this regard must address the immediacy of the security food immediately as opposed.

  • We call the Government to urgently clarify confusion in the public domain particularly at provincial levels
  • Clarification of calculation food insecurity to be undertaken by household or by individual persons
  • The access points of food distribution

We raise direct issues pertaining to the lack of police deployment at Mealie Meal ques and the failure for police to service the public in this regard

  • Noting with grave concern that the Police appear to have abdicated their responsibilities to enforce social distancing in Food ques. The police have a responsibility to man queues and enforce social distancing during the queue process and ensure that citizens are able to access food whilst meeting the lockdown protocols.
  • We also draw the attention of the Police to the disadvantages that women, pregnant women, the elderly and persons living with disabilities face in seeking to exercise their rights to access food in such circumstances and remind the police of their responsibilities to provide protective policing measures during the supervision of such quest to protect the rights of the vulnerable members of the Zimbabwean society.

We urge decision makers to bear in mind that whilst the Government can enact policies for stopping the spread of the COVID-19 they need to consider that they can enact policies that citizens can follow.

The government must continue to adjust their policies so that they best secure the cooperation of citizens to ensure that the policies are met.

10. Rentals

Whilst it is acknowledged that the Government has not taken any measures on issues of rentals and real estate, such important measures however must be made public as they pertain to protect citizens from abuse in the face of the pandemic.

Reports from Communities in Harare, Mutare, Gweru, Bulawayo indicate that many households are facing eviction and are being threatened with significant rental increases as landlords seek to protect themselves from loss of income.

  • We therefore recommend that the Government sets out a clear policy position such as it will not support evictions during the COVID19 Lockdown and that these will be considered unlawful.
  • Furthermore, a public statement on this matter will alleviate significant turmoil and anxiety in communities on this matter.

11. Safety and Security

Concerned with reports of alleged abuse of citizens by enforcement officers in areas such Hopley, Chitungwiza and Kuwadzana.

Further concerned with reports of citizens being barred from travelling from one area to another, even for genuine reasons exempted under the containment regulations,

Concerned that ZUPCO buses with passengers who are travelling for legitimate reasons and persons who have permit to travel are being asked to get off the buses and are being told to go back home. Such enforcement inconsistencies undermine the articulation of policy at national levels. In light of this, we ask the Government to explain why such policing is occurring.

  • Deeply disturbed with the growing number of unlawful unrests of persons, in particular the arrests of persons who were in food markets and food stores at point of arrests.
  • We call for the protection of citizens, particularly women, during the Lockdown and emphasize the need for the State and its institutions, to protect and observe fundamental human rights and freedoms even in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. Every citizen has the right to life, personal security, and dignity. These rights are not negotiable and cannot be tampered with. Thus, we remind enforcement agents that beatings, forcibly singing songs and jogging /dancing are not acceptable forms of punishment under any law.
  • We further call upon our Members of Parliament and the applicable Chapter 12 Institutions to remain vigilant in this regard.

12. Returning Residents, Travellers and Kazungula Border Post

We call the Government of Zimbabwe to investigate problematic reports emanating from Kazungula Border Post regarding Truck drivers in particular Zimbabwean truck drivers, who are being forcibly injected with unknown substances as they exit Zimbabwe.

We further call upon the detailed explanation of measures being taken in regards to ensuring the adherence of the lockdown by persons using private charter flights and private jets.

Calling upon the Government to urgently build confidence in the COVID-19 prevention measures by reporting on the extent of the monitoring of the over 13 000 persons who had recently travelled to high risk places and, in particular, to test those persons.

The Government must roll out mass testing to this class of persons to strengthen the detection of infected persons who may indeed be asymptomatic, and yet are possibly carriers of the infections. Research has proven that asymptomatic patients can still transmit the virus to others. This matter therefore cannot be resolved without clinical testing.

13. Rampant Price Hikes

Deeply concerned by the growing reports of rampant price hikes for basic commodities whose affordability and accessibility are critical to secure the cooperation and tangible support of citizenry during the 21 day lockdown.

Understanding how unwarranted price hikes have largely impacted on women and other vulnerable groups who are surviving with no income at all.

Noting lack of implementation or enforcement of promised interventions to curb price hikes in this regard and awaiting the applicable enforcement mechanisms to be activated:

  • We reiterate our call for the intervention of the Government by announcing recourse and remedies available to citizens, indicating, in particular, where citizens can report such profiteering.
  • Noting that immediately prior to the inception of lockdown there was an increase in the costs of electricity, data, and fuel. We continue to await the ameliorative economic measures that the Government will undertake to address the increasing strain on households and citizens in this regard.

Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ)