Bulawayo female waste pickers are exposed to high physical and economic abuse perpetrated by their male counterparts, waste buyers and council workers.
Away from the comfort of her home, Moreen Katerere can be seen sifting through piles of rubbish at the city’s Richmond landfill popularly known as Ngozi mine.
Her earnings are modest, she can earn from $15 to $20 on a good week to support her family.
“Many of us female waste pickers are the heads of our families and it’s important for us to support our families,” Katerere says. “We don’t have to depend on anyone, and to think otherwise is a mistake.”
Katerere is not alone at Ngozi mine in waste picking.
For several other women including the youth, waste picking is providing an economic lifeline in the face of high unemployment in the country.
“But it’s not easy,” Katerere adds.
“We face too many challenges including sexual harassment. There is too much competition now unlike a few years ago.”
In a latest report, the Matabeleland Institute for Human Rights (MIHR) says waste pickers face numerous challenges including lack of legal recognition, social safety nets, unsafe working conditions, poor remuneration, stigma and discrimination and gender based violence.
The worst affected are female waste pickers, the MIHR says in its baseline survey titled: ‘Challenges Faced by Female Waste Pickers.’
The MIHR says it commissioned a study on November 19, 2021 to ascertain the challenges facing waste pickers in the city.
The survey seeks to support MIHR’s Bulawayo Women’s Waste Café project to transform the waste enterprise sector to be gender inclusive and human rights based.
Of the total respondents that were surveyed, 53% were youths between 18 and 35 years whilst 47% were above 36 years.
“The majority of female waste pickers interviewed, 63% said they were in waste picking due to poverty, whilst 37% said because there was no other employment they could do,” the report says.
The report says the majority of the waste pickers make less than US$10 per week, with only 7% getting up to US$20 from the business.
“The study established that for most of the female waste pickers, waste picking is their only sole income source (89%) whilst a paltry 11% have other alternative sources of income. The dependency on one sole source of income which does not meet their basic financial needs further exposes the female waste pickers to adverse poverty and worsens their vulnerability to human rights violations,” the report says.
Alternative sources of income include hairdressing (3%), selling beer (3%), selling vegetables (1%), selling chicken cuts (1%), selling chips and drinks (1%) and running a small tuckshop (1%).
In 2019, MIHR launched a project to empower slum dwellers to recycle waste dumped in the area.
While waste picking is helping many to put food on the table, there is a dearth of knowledge on where to report human rights’ violations targeting women in the sector.
“The results mean that about 36% of the human rights abuses happening within the waste picking sector may be going unreported as the victims are not aware of where to make reports,” the report notes.
Gender based violence and economic exploitation are the most witnessed compared to sexual exploitation.
“This could also be attributed to ignorance of what sexual exploitation entails as well as the secretive nature of sexual exploitation especially where there is consent,” the report notes.
Source: The Citizen Bulletin