Zimbabwe’s continued economic meltdown has affected women more than their male counterparts, particularly in the areas of health, employment, and home life. While the dire economy affects us all, women have been dealt a double blow as they are faced with the burden of earning a living and at the same time maintaining the family home.
For many women, pregnancy and child birth are only the beginning. Families have to be raised while at the same time balancing careers and personal aspirations. Being statistically the most affected by HIV and AIDS women need to manage their own health while at the same time caring for family members. Balancing being a wife, mother, entrepreneur or employee with the daily household chores takes its toll.
Daily power cuts severely disrupt routines. For the working woman this means waking up very early to cope with the blackouts or resorting to alternative sources of energy for the evening meal. Chores such as ironing and cooking must be slotted into the erratic ZESA timetable which might mean working late into the night or resorting to costly alternative energy sources.
The capital has seen an explosion of unregulated commerce in recent times attributed to high unemployment. The recent move to ban imports of second hand clothes will have a direct impact on women as they constitute the highest number of people in the trade.
Dorcas Hove, a 27-year-old woman with two children, survives through vending. “I never imagined myself to be a vendor. My husband used to prohibit me from working but things have changed. It’s now necessary for both of us to provide for our children,” she said. Hove wakes up at 5am to prepare the eldest child for school, and after completing her household duties, she sets off with her infant to the market place where she sells second-hand clothes. “I need to make sure that I sell enough early in the day so I have enough time to return home before my husband and prepare a meal for the family,” she said.
The challenges are not limited to women in the informal sector, even those who have good jobs face difficulties. When asked if her position as SAFAIDS Head of Communications and Knowledge Management exempted her from the trials faced by a low-income woman, Tariro Makanga spoke about the importance of excelling at work, and the need to juggle many things at once. “It has become so competitive. If you sit on your laurels you will be overtaken,” she said. “Working for a regional organisation means regular travel outside the country. At the same time, I still have the role of being a mother to my daughter and I have missed some of her school activities. Her father has to fill the gap,” said Makanga.
Women in the arts industry have not been spared and have found that generally it is not possible to solely rely on an acting or singing career. Zimbabweans love entertainment but these days residents cannot afford to part with their hard-earned money. Singer Cindy Munyavi has since diversified into the fashion industry, turning her love of fashion into a trendy boutique. Between managing her singing career, her fashion business and being a mother, her plate is full.
Although times are tough women always seem to find a way to maintain their beauty regimes. In fact, the beauty industry has been flooded with beauticians. Some are professionally trained, others are semi-skilled working in their backyards or appealing to customers on the street, offering lower prices. Chipo Sabeta, who rents a chair at a local salon, says business is slow these days because of the competition.” I now rely on my loyal customers acquired over time. I even go to their homes to do their hair and factor in travelling costs,” said Sabeta.
We are all facing challenges in maintaining sustainable livelihoods in the worst time in our city’s history. Within this framework, women face unique challenges and increased responsibility. But every day, Harare women wake up to uncertainty and the hope for a better tomorrow