A year ago, Tsitsi had her hands full, working 12 hour days as a waitress in a restaurant in town and raising five children in an impoverished settlement in Epworth, until in June when her boss told her that he could no longer afford to keep her.
Tsitsi thought she could land a new job relatively quickly, given her five years’ experience, but the weeks crept by and all she could find was sporadic work, cleaning houses and doing laundry, but nothing stable, hence started bearing the brunt of the deteriorating Zimbabwe economy.
“I lost my job in June and from then that’s when I started to realise that life can be so hard. I am not employed, I have a family I must provide for, and there is no water, no electricity. I sometimes find jobs to do laundry, but now it’s rarely because there is no water. Life is not easy for me as a woman; I think we are suffering the most in this economy than men,” she said.
The economic crisis in Zimbabwe is manifesting itself in deepening levels of poverty, the faces of children begging in the streets, thousands of small businesses shutting their doors and those that stay afloat, to keep pace with the Zimdollar’s plunging value against the United States dollar.
It is often women – the most precarious segment of the workforce – who endure the greatest hardships in times of economic crisis. Usually, women face higher levels of unemployment than men and the few employed women earn less than men, due to working fewer hours outside of the home and ingrained biases that devalue sectors of the economy dominated by men.
The recession of the economy is also evidenced by water shortages, which directly affect women as they are the ones responsible for finding water for drinking, cooking, sanitation and hygiene. In their efforts to get water they often face an impossible choice that is certain death without water or possible death due to illness from dirty water so they end up standing in lines or walking high distances to collect water.
Water scarcity has serious implications on women’s health. When school fails to provide adequate water and sanitation facilities, one of the reasons girls drop out is the difficulty in maintaining menstrual hygiene. When their homes do not provide access either, girls and women often limit their water usage which might affect their health.
“The economic crisis is affecting us as women, especially during our period days. Despite that we no longer afford buying pads, after using the cloth, we do not have water to wash the cloth and bath ourselves regularly hence resulting in various diseases,” said a mother, Tariro Chaza.
“The water crisis also is a personal problem to us as women as it is us who will have to make sure the family gets water, sometimes risking our lives walking long distances and late hours looking for water,” said another woman Rudo Madira.
The economic situation keeps on hurting women through the continuous power cuts. Chipo Madyira (32) is a mother of four young children. By the time lights come on at her modest home in Marbelreign, they are all fast asleep and she has a few hours to complete the household chores.
Madyira begins her nocturnal routine by fetching water from an electric powered borehole for use for the next day. By 10pm, the line of women and children stretches more than 50 metres.
She then converts her small coffee table into an ironing board and start pressing the children’s uniforms for school the next morning.
“Our lives have become unbearable, we are always tired now, but what can we do?” said Madyira.
While child headed families in Zimbabwe are also among the most affected, it should be noted that most of these families are headed by girls hence the burden remains on the women side.
An Epworth resident, Shylette Tarwirei (14), said that child-headed families are most vulnerable and at risk because they do not have material and personal resources to cope with the problems they encountered.
“I lost my parents when was very young and as for now no one takes about us. As the economy continues to tank I am now feeling the pinch as most of the time l slept without eating. What l can say is we don’t have food for me and my siblings and I don’t know where to start. What is left is to die,” she said.
She also said that her colleagues are now engaging in drug abuse, prostitution which led to STIs and early deaths.
“My colleagues are now engaging in sexual activities to earn a living. I told myself that l will not do such things because l wants a better future though l doesn’t have anywhere to start but l believes that God will open doors for me,” said Tarwirei.
By Rutendo Bamu and Success Majaramhepo