Access to sanitary products, girl-friendly facilities, and the right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma, is fundamental to girls’ and women’s dignity and bodily integrity. Unfortunately, for many girls and women in Zimbabwe, this is not a reality. SNV Zimbabwe survey found that, 72% of menstruating girls don’t have access to sanitary products – 45% use old cloth & rags, 29% cotton and 3% newspapers. Due to economic crisis and high inflation, they do not afford the costs of sanitary products. As a result, girls and women use unhygienic methods which expose them to health risks such as Reproductive & Urinary Tract Infections, as well as bruises and discomfort. They also experience sexual harassment and stigma as they leak menstrual blood, mess the clothes and be laughed at – “period shaming”.
Statistically, SNV survey established that: 54% had experienced mocking/stigmatization, 26% isolation and 13% reported that boys call them names. As a result, according to SNV Zimbabwe, 62% girls miss school every month due to lack of sanitary products. On another note, girls and women are barred from participating in economic opportunities since menstruating girls and women are regarded as unclean, reinforcing gender inequality. “We cannot just fold our hands whilst this gender injustice prevailing”, instead, that’s why we work with girls and women, boys and men, community leaders, schools, churches and government departments & ministries to help end “Period Poverty”. In doing so, we support girls and women through distribution of sanitary products – with the long term goal to train them to make cheap, reusable sanitary pads and provide Menstrual Health Management (MHM) education engaging boys and men. We also advocate for the government of Zimbabwe to make menstruation a priority including in its Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) budgets, plans and policies. We call for the government to ensure their policies are gender inclusive and to come up with a Sanitary Dignity Policy Framework which will go a long way to protect the bodily integrity and fundamental human rights of girls and women.
“Neither a girl or woman including Persons Living with Disabilities should be held back due to her period, we want a just and inclusive society”.
TYDT is currently responding to the COVID-19 pandemic as it hits Zimbabwe, overburdening the already burdened country in terms of economic crisis. As COVID-19 worsened economic crisis in Zimbabwe, vulnerable populations are facing a catastrophe of immense proportions. Therefore, TYDT is on the frontline of the crisis helping to stop the spread and save lives, including by distributing of sanitary products to girls and women including those living with disabilities – to “Leave-no-one-behind” so that we can safeguard their dignity & bodily integrity and participate equally in all life opportunities.
Zimbabwe is one of the least developed countries in the world. According to UNDP (2019), Zimbabwe ranks 156/189 in the Human Development Index (0.535). 70.5% of its 14.4 million total population live on less than US$1.25 a day and 40.9% are extremely poor (Poverty, Income, Consumption and Expenditure Survey, 2017). It is also one of the most disaster- affected countries (Integrated Food Security Phase Classification, 2019). The 2019 Zimbabwe Vulnerability Assessment Committee (ZimVAC, 2019) estimated that 5.5 million rural Zimbabweans are in need of food assistance due to recurrent droughts and cyclone Idai which devastated the agriculture sector.
Consequently, poverty and food insecurity is forcing people particularly youth to adopt negative coping mechanisms. Youth, who formulate 62% of the total population (Population Census, 2012), are adopting sex work – there are 44,500 females sex workers in Zimbabwe (UNAIDS, 2019), child/early marriage – pegged at 34% of those marriage before 18 and 5% before 15 (Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 2019) and drug abuse, among other negative coping strategies. These strategies are exposing young people to STIs including HIV/AIDS, pegged at 12.7% (UNDP, 2018), maternal mortality rate i.e. 614 deaths per 100,000 live births (UNFPA) and other SRHR risks. Therefore, we implement resilient livelihood projects to contribute to the reduction of poverty and build climate change resilience among young people and their households. To achieve this, we engage households in value chain small livestock and crop production using climate-smart agriculture. We also train communities in Disaster Risk Management (DRM), Integrated Crop Pest and Disease Management (IPDM) andmarketing. Our aim is to build resilience of young people and their households to external shocks and stresses which help them to avoid negative coping mechanisms that expose our future generation to SRHR risks. Studies show that household and youth poverty leads to poor SRHR outcomes (Multiple Indicators Cluster Survey, 2019; Zimbabwe Demographic Health Survey, 2015) and standalone SRHR projects fall short. Therefore, we use a multi-sectoral approach, which integrates resilient livelihoods to promote positive SRHR outcomes and gender equality.
The education system in Zimbabwe, particularly in rural area is characterized by a chain poverty. As a result, children especially the girl child fail to complete school which ameliorate their lives. Due to patriarchal norms and values, the education of the girl child is not valued particularly in emergencies. This perpetuates gender inequality as uneducated girls and women cannot compete equally in all sectors. The girl child with proper education, can bring a cycle of positive change not only to the family, but the nation as a whole. Therefore, we work to promote equal access to education by supporting the girl child with school materials, tuition fees and stationery. We also advocate and mobilize communities to support the education of the girl child.
Zimbabwe has one of the highest rates of child marriage in Africa, with 34% girls married before their 18th birthday and 5% before 15 (Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey, 2019). CEFM is mainly rooted in gender inequality and poverty. Girls are not valued as boys and are seen as source of income particularly during humanitarian crisis. Yet, CEFM is a gross human rights violation and a multifaceted phenomenon that is affecting not only individuals, but also the community at large. Firstly, at the individual level, CEFM is affecting the human capital development, as it is resulting in early motherhood, forcing girls to drop out of school, thus denting the social, intellectual, economic development and quality of their life.
In addition, child brides are at risk of obstetric fistulas due to early child bearing, maternal death and exposed to all forms of Violence against Women and Girls (VAWG), have high risk of being infected with STIs including HIV, and are at risk of chronic anaemia and obesity. Secondly, at the societal level, it is manifesting in the form of unhealthy, poorly educated community members and a workforce that is trapped in a vicious inter-generational poverty cycle characterized by low productivity – low earnings – low consumption – low productivity. This results in Zimbabwe populated by members who cannot contribute meaningfully to the socio-economic development of their communities. This injustice must end! It must stop now! We are working to create real change in people’s attitudes toward girls and young women, to enable these individuals to exercise their rights and to have the potential to be more than just a wife or mother. To do this, we engage the support of decision-makers and strive to change the mind of those in charge. We also work with wider community members, boys and men, using a gender transformative approach to stop this injustice.
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