When political, economic and social conflict erupts, it is mainly the women who end up taking care of the young, the elderly and the infirm.
In Zimbabwe today political instability and violence has left women and girls vulnerable. Armed militias and war veterans have targeted women and girls whom they force to attend political meetings and all night vigils.
In these erected political bases young girls are more vulnerable to rape and other gender-based forms of violence.
When violence broke in rural communities after the 29 March harmonized elections most of the men associated to opposition politics fled to urban areas leaving women taking care of the homes. For those whose houses were destroyed, wholesome families had to seek sanctuary in the cities.
According to Zimbabwe association of Doctors for HumanRights (ZADHR), women bear the brunt of political violence. ZADHR reported that one third of the patients they have attended to, as victims of politically motivated violence were women, including pregnant ones.
And because of the economic hardships facing families, women groups have been confronting government through demonstrations. In the process hundreds of women, some with babies have been arrested and detained by the police.
While most women supplement their family income by purchasing goods from neighbouring countries for resale in their country because runaway inflation has put consumer items beyond the reach of the average buyer, government destroyed their selling stalls during Operation Murambtsvina.
Land redistribution and the subsequent Operation Murambatsvina have distorted family systems. Hundreds were forced to move to different areas and families were forced to separate. In the separation, it is the women who have remained with the children.
Women are failing to take children to hospitals because of the high fees charged. Health care, which used to be free is now out of reach for ordinary people. At Parirenyatwa Hospital, one of the biggest state hospital in Harare the consultation fee is pegged at $5million if a patient has been referred by a clinic while a sick person coming from home has to pay $680 million.
The average life expectancy for women in Zimbabwe, who are the backbone of the family, is now 34 years – one of the lowest in the world. Life expectancy at birth which had increased to 60 years in 1980 and to 66 years in 1997 plunged to 35 in 2003.
Women are also at risk of HIV/Aids. The number of people living with the disease was estimated at 1.8 million (UNAIDS, 2007) while 3000 people were dying every week (Ministry of Health and Child Welfare, 2005).
Most students are dropping out of universities and other institutions of tertiary education since their parents cannot afford the outrageous tuition and residence fees. Unfortunately for most female students, the spirit of education for all has been dampened. The situation has forced the girl-child who might be forced to go back home andassist with household chores. The few female students left in the institutes of higher learning might be exposed to prostitution in order to supplement their tuition fees.
Of the 3.1 million Zimbabweans who have fled the country, women form the bulk of them and thanks to the female migrants who send money back home to raise families.
By Rhodah Mashavave
Photo by: babasteve
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