Campaigners fight to end street life for women

The commission says women and girls living on the streets are often not prioritised in programming related to education and reproductive health rights.

ORGANISATIONS campaigning for women’s rights said this week they were concerned about the state of women living in the streets.

Citing a plethora of dangers confronting these women, the organisations said it was important to deal with the crisis before it escalates.

Their concerns added to fears of sexual abused against women living on the streets already shared by other organisations including the Zimbabwe Gender Commission.

The commission says women and girls living on the streets are often not prioritised in programming related to education and reproductive health rights.

Along with the commission’s concerns, experts say attaining sustainable and equitable development goals would require that women and girls are empowered to exercise control over their sexual and reproductive health rights regardless of their status.

Women and girls on the streets face many problems including rape, exposure to HIV and Aids and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

In an interview with the Zimbabwe Independent, Esnara Kativhu, programmes lead at Shamwari Yemwanasikana, confirmed the growing concerns.

“Shamwari Yemwanasikana has been reaching out to girls below the age of 18 living on the streets. We are concerned about their safety and wellbeing. Through a number of cases that we received, the reasons (for living on the streets) vary. There is poverty, gender-based violence, juvenile delinquency and trafficking,” Kativhu said.

“There are girls who are taken from remote areas like Muzarabani. They are then promised work, but upon arriving in Harare, they are dumped on the streets with nothing. We have been working towards reunification of these victims with their families. Through the referral pathway we have ensured that the girls get safe shelters for protection.

“We have also reached out to the 18+ age group. Two out of three girls of this age group that we have interacted with are already sexually active. Therefore, we ensure that they have sexual and reproductive health and rights information and services to protect them from unintended pregnancies, STIs and HIV,” she added.

Patricia Muganhiri, programmes coordinator at Women and Law in Southern Africa (WLSA), said the organisation was providing free legal aid.

“We receive these cases every day, some of the girls come physically to our offices, some are referred by partners in the referral pathway or stakeholders while some come through the toll-free numbers.  We also operate a help desk at the magistrates court on Tuesdays and Thursdays to support indigent women and men by offering free legal aid,” Muganhiri said.

“We can support them by providing free legal aid and access to justice to get justice for the gender-based violence (GBV). Since we are not a profit organisation, we are part of the referral pathway and we refer women and girls who have suffered from GBV who need shelter, to our partners, such as Musasa Project, which has safe shelter.

“WLSA’s vision is just a society where women and girls claim and enjoy their rights. Our main goal is making the law work for women and girls. We do this through organising and supporting evidence-based action research to question and challenge laws and policies that discriminate against women and girls in the socio- political, economic and cultural spheres,” she added.

On the streets, young girls and women sleep on pavements in groups to avoid being attacked or raped.

One organisation quoted a 20-year-old homeless woman who said she was moved from the streets to a safe facility by the government when the COVID-19 lockdown began and temporarily housed at the National Training Centre for Rural Women in Harare.

Period poverty is pushing women in Zimbabwe to desperate measures and the homeless are bearing the brunt of the crisis, according to experts.

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