The United Nations Secretary-General Antonio Guterres declared the 21st century of the women’s equality. He also spoke of how the problems affecting the world cannot be solved without achieving gender parity. As we commemorate International Women`s Day, I am reminded of some of these problems and how they affect women in Zimbabwe.
Zimbabwe faces many challenges – from high inflation rates (bread prices have gone up by 700% in just a year, from 3 Zimbabwean dollars a loaf to 21 Zimbabwe dollars) and overall shortage of cash, to severe water shortages, power black outs, and shortages of commodities like fuel and mealie meal (for the staple food –sadza), resulting in long queues. Other commodities can only be accessed on the black market. Understandably these issues affect Zimbabweans of all walks of life- with the exception of few- mainly the high income. However, sadly women bear the brunt of the crisis in the country. For example, with the water shortages women have to fetch water at communal boreholes during odd hours- which leaves them vulnerable to sexual and other forms of violence.
There are already social and structural barriers that hinder women from enjoying their full sexual and reproductive health (SRH). Now to add on to these existing issues, the situation has been worsened by the recent gazetting of new user fees by the government at public hospitals, including new maternity fees for antenatal care. With a significant number of women being unable to raise the required user fees, it hinders their access to SRH services such as cervical cancer screening and antenatal care. Furthermore the user fees hinder women’s access to contraceptives especially those that require repeat administration such as injectables. This increases the risk for unplanned pregnancy. Some may face violence when they ask their partners to use condoms, the most widely accessible form of protection. With unplanned pregnancies some women may feel they have no option but to resort to backstreet abortions which puts their life at risk. Some pregnant women may be unable to access comprehensive antenatal care, including prevention of mother to child transmission of HIV (PMTCT). Public health facilities also continue to be under-resourced and short-staffed, which, in addition to poor remuneration for healthcare workers, has led to prolonged industrial action. The industrial action has seen some women needing urgent maternal health care, such as those in labour or needing emergency care being turned away from hospital.
Whilst great strides have been made in addressing some of these challenges, for example the Women`s Coalition of Zimbabwe protesting maternal deaths, efforts to scrap maternal user fees and other issues, more needs to be done to address these issues. I agree with the UN Secretary-General that achieving gender parity will also aid in solving some of these challenges. As we celebrate #IWD2020 let the theme #EachForEqual be a call heeded by everyone for a gender-equal society.