In this blog we want to share how the CARE team, supported by Power Up! funds from Comic Relief, navigated the multiple crises faced by Zimbabwean women in 2020.
Zimbabwe is not new to crisis. Even before COVID 19, Zimbabweans were facing food shortages(opens in new window) and drought(opens in new window) linked to economic and political crises. These have led to high unemployment and increased risk of sexual and financial exploitation as women seek other means of income. COVID 19 has added additional burdens for women who face high incidences of violence in the home during lockdown, lack of access to reproductive services and lost income as informal trading has been moved off the streets.
As Womankind has documented, women’s movements often come together in times of crises(opens in new window) to improve the situation directly faced by women in ways that draw upon their existing skills, relationships, structures and networks. During 2020, the CARE Team demonstrated how women’s movements are adaptable in times of crises, continue to be effective and keep collective care at the centre.
When COVID 19 arrived, WCoZ quickly created a COVID 19 Response Working Group with its membership across the country to address relevant issues for women including violence, livelihoods, access to food and sexual and reproductive health. The group has three roles: to support members to develop their own local emergency response plans, to manage the rapid flow of data on emerging issues for women and turn this into situational reports for use in advocacy.
The working group has been successful in reaching key stakeholders with its messages, but has also been an opportunity to strengthen the women’s movement:
Intersectionality and inclusion – The working group has deliberately showcased issues faced by the most marginalised women and this process has deepened understanding and solidarity across and between different women. WCoZ established an Access Fund to ensure the most marginalised women, such as women with disabilities, could join advocacy discussions and COVID 19 health messages were translated into local languages.
Sharing power in feminist leadership – The reach of the working group to the local communities has enabled new leadership and action to respond to COVID 19. For example, in Chinhoyi district, the relationship fostered with the Government by local women has resulted in water being provided to homes in the area. Access to water has reduced the work burden on women and the risk of contracting COVID 19 at water points. Women MPs and councillors also took risks as COVID 19 frontline responders in their communities and were able to forge strong relationships with women volunteers from community-based structures.
Individual and collective care – WCoZ has provided a self-care and wellness sessions for its members in the last year as a deliberate strategy that acknowledges the additional burdens on women caused by COVID 19, in addition to the constant backlash faced by women’s rights activists as they speak out for women’s rights. Women have been supported to reflect on their personal circumstances in safe spaces, given tips and ideas to integrate into their lives and supported to develop personal wellness plans.
Responding to COVID 19 in a country already facing economic and political crises remains an ongoing challenge for the CARE Team. CARE’s situational reports are well received by the Government, but financial resources do not match the needs presented. However, the women’s movement is demonstrating that it can be creative in reacting swiftly and effectively to crisis. CARE has learnt that by making maximum use of existing multi-thematic relationships, structures and networks, nurturing leadership capacities of women and sharing power, it can make an impact on the immediate crises at hand and deepen collective strength.
The CARE Team are the Women’s Coalition of Zimbabwe (WCoZ) https://www.wcoz.org (opens in new window) , the Women in Politics Support Unit (WiPSU) https://www.wipsu.co.zw(opens in new window) and Womankind Worldwide https://www.womankind.org.uk(opens in new window). WCoZ is the central network for women’s rights organisations within the Zimbabwe women’s movement, mobilising women and advocating for their rights. WIPSU focuses on enhancing women’s engagement in political leadership. Womankind Worldwide works in solidarity with women’s rights organisations in the global south. ‘CARE’ stands for ‘Collective Action to Realise Equality: Feminist Movement Building in Zimbabwe’.