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With proper support, women can turn obstacles into opportunities

BY MOSES MUGUGUNYEKI

The Covid-19 pandemic has intensified inequalities and aggravated the infringement of the rights of women and girls.

The pandemic has devastating impacts on humankind, with women being disproportionately affected.

A United Nations Women report released last year titled From Insights to Action, forecasted that the Covid-19 pandemic could push 96 million people globally into extreme poverty this year, with 47 million of them being women and girls.

This could bring the total number of women and girls living on US$1,90 or less, to 435 million.

However, 45-year-old Stella Tizirai from ward 22, Chirumhanzu district in the Midlands province has defied odds and is among a handful of rural women in Zimbabwe who share successful tales in the wake of the pandemic.

Tizirai is a beneficiary of a number of gender-responsive empowerment programmes that are meant to deal with the shocks and pressures of the Covid-19 pandemic across the country.

She runs a thriving poultry project courtesy of support from a non-governmental organisation Hand in Hand Zimbabwe under its poverty alleviation intervention component.

“When the nationwide lockdowns started, my poultry business did not do so well until I attended a Broiler Business Indaba organised by the Hand in Hand Chirumhanzu district team in November 2020,” Tizirai said.

“The Indaba enabled me to connect with buyers from local stores and master the concept of price screening.

“The business links and the knowledge I received from the Indaba really helped me and as a result, my income doubled.”

Tizirai is among a large chunk of Zimbabwean rural women farmers exposed to limitations brought about by the restrictions in movements meant to tame the spread of the coronavirus.

Despite playing a significant role in agricultural production, these women have been confined on the periphery of the agricultural value-chains.

“After the Indaba, I managed to sell 66 chickens to local shops in Chirumhanzu district, which I had connected with at the business Indaba, earning a cumulative US$408 from the sales,” Tizirai said.

“From these sales, I bought a cow from Hozheri village for US$400, as a way of converting my money into an asset.”

Tizirai plans to expand and she is building a bigger fowl run that can accommodate 200 chickens.

Hand in Hand Zimbabwe CEO Felix Tete said their intervention programmes where meant to mitigate challenges that communities face in the wake of natural disasters.

“Our intervention programmes are more of building strategies, mostly for women, against shocks caused climate church, drought, socio-economic challenges and socio-political decline, among others,” Tete said.

“We teach women how to fish, we don’t give them fish. We basically build their capacities, so we do economic empowerment for women. Most women bear the brunt of economic decline because they are left to fend for the families when their husbands are away in the cities or would have crossed borders to look for jobs.”

While Tete believes the Covid-19 pandemic could have had adverse effects on the lives of women, there have been successful stories in the wake of the pandemic.

“Women’s livelihoods were eroded by the Covid-19 lockdown and restrictions as they could not go out to do their business. Even our programmes to capacitate these women were affected, which left these women in dire situation,” he said.

“However, we are happy the lockdown has been relaxed, the women are picking up and we have started assisting them. About 65% of women whom we have capacitated now have own productive asserts. It’s quite a good feat for our intervention programmes in terms of development.

“According to our recent study about 75% of our entrepreneurs of which 80% are women now earn more than US$1,90 per day as net from their sales or businesses and its quite an impact we have had on the lives of women.”

In Binga district in Matabeleland North province, Zimbabwe Resilience Bureau Fund [ZRBF] has supported the Zambezi Valley Alliance (ZVA) to implement a layering and sequencing gender-transformative approach that evolves from improved access to resources, improvement of agricultural practices and diversification of livelihoods.

This has seen women such as Thandazile Sithole, a mother of eight children, who has been using her goat-rearing project to acquire cattle, household assets that assist with her resilience to climate shocks such as drought, droughts, floods and health disasters.

In times of crisis she has livestock assets that she can sell off to sustain her family.

Sithole also benefitted from Income Savings and Lending Schemes (ISALs) as another form of empowerment from ZVA, which provides access to funding among low-income earners.

Addressing journalists attending a women resilience building media workshop last Tuesday, UNDP country representative Georges van Montfort said ZRBF through its gender-responsive programmes was reaching out to a myriad of women across the country.

“ZRBF empowers women to become active participants in developmental issues,” Montfort said.

“It supports over one million people to cope with the effects of climate change and over 50 percent of the beneficiaries are women.”

ZRBF is operating in 18 districts across the country reaching out to 150 000 women.

UN Women and ZRBF are more convinced than ever that gender-responsive investments to expand basic infrastructure, healthcare and care services as well as economic opportunities in rural areas are critical.

The fact that women constitute 52% of the population makes empowering them to be an active part of all development initiatives in the country a compelling circumstance.

According to UN Women, empowering women in the economy and closing gender gaps in the world of work are key to achieving the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and achieving the Sustainable Development Goals, particularly Goal 5, to achieve gender equality, and Goal 8, to promote full and productive employment and decent work for all; also Goal 1 on ending poverty, Goal 2 on food security, Goal 3 on ensuring health and Goal 10 on reducing inequalities.

Self Help Development Foundation [SHDF] director, Wadzanayi Vere concurred, saying the Covid-19-induced lockdown could have also presented women, especially those in rural areas opportunities to increase their agricultural production.

“The lockdown presented women with more time to focus on agricultural production for those in the rural and farming communities. The availability of the children to help with labour also worked well especially given the good agricultural season experienced this year,” Vere said.

However, she believes women empowerment was essential for the achievement of sustainable development in all areas of life.

“It is important to equip women with a diversity of skills to allow them to survive a change in their normal life routines and also there is need to educate them on disaster risk reduction and potential hazards that exist in their localities and the alternatives that exist to mitigate these disasters,” Vere said.

“Creating community early warning and early response systems which will allow women to be pro-active, for instance, having a drill that everyone in the community knows goes a long way in building resilience among women.”

Vere said SHDF has put in place a cocktail of strategies meant to capacitate women including embarking on information dissemination programmes that seek to educate women on the pandemic and how to mitigate its effects on their lives.

She said the programmes are being aired on radio and social media platforms including on Twitter, Facebook, SMS and WhatsApp.

Sally Ncube, Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe’s national coordinator said there was need for the media to also highlight women’s celebratory stories.

“The media should desist from writing stories that demean women or dwell on stories portraying women as failures in times of crisis,” Ncube said.

“There have been successful stories of women during this time of Covid-19 that have not been reported.”

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