Vendors Initiative for Social and Economic Transformation (VISET), yesterday Friday the 20th of August 2021, launched the Informal Economy Women’s Hub (INEWOH) that aims to help address the challenges women traders face in the marketplaces, within greater society and at home. Speakers at the launch included Zimbabwe Coalition on Debt and Development (ZIMCODD) Executive Director Ms. Janet Zhou, Deaf Zimbabwe Trust Executive Director Ms. Barbara Nyangairi, Economic Justice for Women Project (EJWP) Director Ms. Margaret Mutsamvi and VISET Board Vice Chairperson Ms. Rosemary Mudzamiri.
Ms. Janet Zhou was the first speaker, focusing on Gendered Corruption in the informal economy, which she said largely manifested itself in sex extortion known colloquially as ‘sextortion’ by those in power such as municipal police. Janet said that women were vulnerable to this form of corruption owing to archaic by-laws that discriminate against informal economy work. She said there is a need to repeal such laws and bring them in conformity with the national constitution. Janet also said that women are also more susceptible to paying monetary bribes due to fear of being arrested or losing their wares. In some instances, women also face horizontal corruption where they are forced to pay money for better trading places or just for the market space from space barons.
Deaf Zimbabwe Trust Executive Director Ms. Barbara Nyangairi gave a presentation on Development of an Inclusive Gender Policy for the Informal Economy saying women living with disabilities face twice as much abuse than their able bodied counterparts in the informal economy. Barbara said due to lack of access to education for children living with disabilities, with some estimates saying 90 percent of them lack basic education, leaving them with only the option to eke a living through the informal economy. Barbara said women with disabilities in the informal economy face attitudinal, communication and educational barriers. Much as sign language is recognized as an official language, Barbara said their organisation is often called to assist at police stations when their members are arrested owing to lack of interpreters. Barbara said much as the Disabilities Act is outdated, it speaks well to inclusion but that the problem lies in lack of implementation. People with disabilities are also facing digital poverty owing to lack of enabling gadgets, particularly in light of the strict Covid-19 lockdown rules where they had no access to information.
Margaret Mutsamvi Executive Director EJWP welcomed the launch of the Women’s Hub saying that the majority of perpetrators of gender based violence in the informal sector were law enforcement agents, citing the heavy handed approach to policing. Margaret said women faced double jeopardy where they are subject to abuse in the home over flimsy reasons such as not bringing enough money from sales or allegations of coming home late. Women traders were also vulnerable to sexual assault from criminal gangs and being robbed of their wares. Much as the 2013 Constitution is progressive and calling for equity and speaking against gender based violence as well as the Gender Commission however there is lack of political will to implement and enforce.
VISET Board Vice Chairperson Ms. Rosemary Mudzamiri said female vendors face challenges with regards sexual reproduction as their husbands can dictate how many children to have yet they then face the burden for providing for the family. This may lead to children being forced to join their mothers and not attaining their full potential owing to lack of funds. There is also no maternity leave for the informal economy unlike the formally employed, leaving them vulnerable to abuse even when heavily pregnant. There is also lack of medical aid for the sector making it difficult to access basic health services. Rosemary said she recommends government to embark on projects for the female informal traders so that they indulge in less demanding jobs during times when they are breastfeeding so as to shield children from the harsh operating environment.
Janet Zhou said much as we have institutions such as the Gender Commission and the Anti-Corruption Commission, she said the greater challenge confronting female traders is that of discrimination and that this must be tackled at the broader societal level if the fight against gender based violence in all its various manifestations was to be won. Janet said there was an urgent need for the enactment of gender sensitive anti-corruption policies. She urged for the formalisation and decriminalization of informal work in tandem with SDG 8.3 so as to protect women from the various forms of abuse.
Janet commended VISET for being proactive and assertive, calling on other members of civil society to take a leaf from VISET in order to continue holding those in authority to account. Of particular note, Janet said through the creation of this Hub, VISET had managed to decouple the various needs of women and that ZIMCODD would work closely with VISET to make sure there was outputs that would then formulate alternate policies that would be lobbied to solution holders.
Margaret Mutsamvi also commended VISET for standing up for the rights of their members as well as empowering women with information on the forms of abuse as well as avenues of recourse.
VISET Executive Director Mr. Samuel Wadzai thanked the organisations represented at the launch saying VISET valued their invaluable support and for always standing in solidarity with VISET. He also revealed that the Hub will be an information sharing platform not only for VISET members but for other partner organisations in order to confront the unique challenges that women informal traders who are the majority in the country face. Samuel saluted the hard working women in the informal economy for the multiple roles they play in society and the home and said the Hub was part of VISET’s contribution in acknowledging these efforts and pledged that through it, the organisation and its partners would ensure that the battle for gender equality in the informal economy was achieved.