164 days of COVID-19 lockdown in Zimbabwe, the Ministry of Health and Child Care reported that, as at 8 September 2020, the total number of COVID-19 cases increased to 7 388. Active cases are now at 1 693, after 182 new cases were recorded. As at 8 September, the death toll stood at 218, following 8 new deaths which were recorded. A total of 5 477 recoveries have been recorded to date.
We note the briefing of Parliamentary Portfolio Committee on Justice, Legal and Parliamentary Affairs, by Zimbabwe Election Commission (ZEC) on the suspension of electoral activities and the COVID-19 Policy on Electoral Activities. We commend ZEC for putting in place measures to safeguard not only election workers and officers, but also the electorate and other stakeholders in the time of COVID-19.
We are deeply concerned regarding the public messaging on COVID-19. The continued relaxation for the restrictive measures in a bid to open up the economy coupled with messages that this is “the new normal” and “COVID-19 will be with us for a very long time” are fuelling growing predicament in regards to supporting and facilitating behaviour change to prevent the widespread contraction of COVID-19. We continue to raise the fact that not all persons are destined to have a mild version of the disease and until a vaccine is widely and easily accessible, vigilance remains a key component in safeguarding lives.
Critical Emerging Issues
Water and sanitation
Our monitoring continues to reveal that the dire situation regarding water shortages has continued to hit women hard as they are forced to access the water from unsafe sources, exposing them to untold health hazards, including COVID-19. Our networks throughout the country, especially 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 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.
- 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.
Hunger and delay in implementing social protection measures
Reports from our networks are increasingly pointing to the delays in implementing social protection measures, and the negative impact on vulnerable households, especially women-led households. It is gravely disappointing to note the lack of urgency by the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, while on the other hand, the cost of living continues to soar high due to inflation. This has raised a general sense of discontent and disgruntlement by the communities over the delays in the implementation of social protection measures by Government.
- We query policy measures put in place by Government to ensure that citizens access basic commodities in the time of COVID-19.
- We further call the State to order, particularly on its duty to ensure that citizens enjoy the progressive realisation of their fundamental right to food and water.
- We therefore call upon the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare to expedite the implementation of social protection programs to alleviate economic shocks upon vulnerable households.
- We recommend an increase in the COVID-19 relief pay-outs, and an expediated implementation of social protection programs for all vulnerable households.
Access to information and the digitalisation of COVID-19
We note the recent hikes in data and communication tariffs.
COVID-19 and the subsequent lockdown restrictions, has 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, our grassroots monitoring has revealed that digital platforms are not easily accessible to the majority of women and girls in the urban, peri-urban and rural communities throughout Zimbabwe. The reports have also revealed how the digitalisation of the COVID-19 crisis has exacerbated their lack of capacity to contribute to political and democratic processes.
Women living in rural areas and informal settlements have been excluded. The access to devices as well as the supporting costs to access and use online platforms have barred rural communities from participating in digital spaces making the need to maintain corridors of real time access to physical gatherings, meetings, trainings and transactions.
The cost of data bundles themselves, and poor connectivity have been formidable enemies for women in their diversity thus negatively impacting on women’s fundamental freedoms of expression and access to information.
Whilst the call to further ease measures and return to the new normal are notable and inevitable, the persistence of the digital divide should not be entrenched.
- We continue to call for expansion of digital frameworks, infrastructure development and deployment and the expansion of access to digital platforms to be prioritised and made a concrete part for the national development agenda and programs of Zimbabwe.
We therefore urge development and implementation of strategies to ensure that marginalized sections of society are not excluded regarding access to information in the time of COVID-19.
Source: Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe