The Impact of Covid-19 on Socio-Economic Rights in Zimbabwe

Executive Summary

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far reaching impact on the socio-economic livelihoods and well-being of a large section of the population in Zimbabwe. The Zimbabwe Peace Project commissioned a research study to establish the manner and extent to which socio-economic rights were impacted on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The government announced a raft of measures to contain the spread of the virus, to cushion businesses, and to provide social protection to vulnerable groups affected socially and economically. This study report shows that the measures, which have not been fully implemented except for lockdowns, have not successfully mitigated the impact of COVID-19 on socio-economic livelihoods and well-being of many people. The report covers the right to education, the right to health, the right to decent work (formal and informal), the right to food, child rights and women’s rights.

The COVID-19 pandemic has had far-reaching effects on the right to education and social well-being of children. According to a ZIMSTATS PICES report (2020), a majority of children as of July 2020 were not able to engage in online or distance learning and the worst affected were those in rural areas where only one quarter of children engaged in distance learning. This has the risk of widening the emerging and growing inequalities in education. Closure of schools during lockdown took away the protective sanctuary for children offered by schools, leaving them exposed to sexual exploitation and abuse, including drug abuse, and there was reportedly an increase in child marriages during the lockdown.

The impact of COVID-19 on the health delivery system, which was already underfunded and dilapidated, undermined the right to health for many people. Public health facilities faced several challenges which affected their capacity to provide basic and emergency healthcare during the pandemic, for example, the lack of equipment, limited intensive care unit beds and ventilators, lack of PPE, staff shortages, poor remuneration and working conditions for frontline health workers, among many other challenges. Some health facilities were closed after COVID-19 infections were reported, such that several people failed to access critical health services such as maternity services for pregnant women, access to life-saving support in case of emergencies, and access to medication to chronic patients suffering from HIV/AIDS or Tuberculosis.

COVID-19 affected millions of people dependent on the informal economy and contract and casual workers in the formal sectors, with women being the worst affected. Closure of informal economy businesses, marketplaces and vending sites deprived them of their sources of livelihoods and incomes. Vendors and small-scale food producers reported disruptions in the supply chains, low sales, high rates of produce leftovers and spoilages (for those selling perishable goods) which threatened profits, and a decline in number of customers visiting vending sites or informal markets.

There were high job losses in the retail and other service sectors, as well as reduction or disappearance of wages for most contract and casual workers. COVID-19 also affected food consumption and food and nutrition security as households lost incomes, while food prices went up due to the inflationary shocks induced by the pandemic. Thus, the right to food and food security was severely undermined. More than half of urban households and two thirds of rural respondents surveyed by ZIMSTAT between March and July 2020 reported that they had to skip meals because of lack of resources to obtain food.

COVID-19 disproportionately affected women, as cases of gender-based violence were reported to have increased exponentially from the onset of the lockdown. Women’s access to sexual and reproductive health services, access to pre and post-natal care, neonatal care, among other healthcare services unique to their needs, was significantly disrupted. Some women failed to access family planning services, leading to unplanned pregnancies. Unpaid domestic and care work increased exponentially during the lockdown, as women and girls were confined at home and were expected to take up more responsibilities of maintaining the home and providing care to the rest of the family.

The Zimbabwe Peace Project recommends a number of bold and urgent actions to be taken by the Government, development agencies and Civil Society Organizations to ensure that socio-economic rights are restored, and service delivery and social protection systems are built back better and equitably in the aftermath of the COVID-19 pandemic. These include urgently releasing funds earmarked for social protection; strengthening systems and mechanisms for detecting and preventing Gender Based Violence and child abuse; disbursing financial rescue packages to the informal economy; implementing an education rescue plan; expanding food assistance programmes so that they can reach excluded groups; organizing vulnerable and marginalized groups so that they can claim their socio-economic rights by engaging authorities and in some cases through public interest litigation; and monitoring and reporting violations of socio-economic rights during the period of lockdowns and thereafter.

Read the full report here(3MB PDF)

Source: Zimbabwe Peace Project

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