The extended lockdown presents several challenges for women that need the attention of relevant stakeholders in government and civil society. Silveira House conducted review meetings on the Socio-economic Impact of Covid-19 Restrictions on Rural Communities. Findings from discussions with women from selected wards of Mutoko, Goromonzi Gwanda and Zvishavane in the month of May and June 2020 reveal gross violations of human rights, particularly women’s rights. The Mutoko ward 5 advocacy group followed up on some of the cases reported the following.
Challenges of Access to Healthcare During Lockdown in Mutoko
At Nyamuganhu, Mutoko some shared that expecting mothers walk approximately 10km to the nearest antenatal clinic for checkups and for delivery. This was not the case before the lockdown as transport was readily available. One of the stories demonstrated negligence or lack of agency by staff at the clinic can be. A woman due for delivery was turned away because she did not have a pair of gloves, cotton wool, and seemed to present complications which warranted that she be transferred to the bigger general hospital. She walked back another 11km and was gladly received by a traditional midwife who helped her to deliver safely. Sadly, when she returned some three days later to the clinic with her newborn for BCG immunization, she was penalized for not delivering at a clinic or hospital. She alleged that she was denied free services by the nurses refused and was instructed to pay ZWL200.00. She only managed to raise ZWL 100.00 after selling some honey and got her baby the BCG a week later. However, the baby’s immunization card was withheld until she could pay the balance. Fortunately, she got a donation of ZWL200.00 from a well-wisher but still could not get the card as they had run out of stock.
This and many other cases prompted the women to take initiative and advocate for better treatment from the clinic authorities. Issues raised include a waiver some laws they agreed upon at community level given the difficulties marginalized groups are facing during the COVI9-19 pandemic. This calls for reiteration of the fact that ‘Women’s’ rights are human rights and are non-negotiable even during the Covid-19 lockdown.’ The advocacy group is yet to furnish us with outcome of their initiative.
Challenges Faced by Women in Alluvial Gold Panning
The Silveira House research team that visited Nyaguwe and Nhora rivers in Goromonzi on 29 and 30 June 2020 made the following observations. Although women venturing in artisanal mining make a living especially in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic and indefinite lockdown, they are experiencing untold hardships. It’s a struggle for survival as they eke out a living from the muddy rivers alongside men. The enterprise involves hard and intensive labor, lifting big boulders from the river, scooping out the precious tiny bits of gold which takes 3 days to raise a ‘point’, earns one US$3.50. Commitment, patience, and teamwork are key to getting something meaningful from the river.
It is unfortunate that when droughts hit, families starve, and lose their livelihoods, hence, resort to panning for survival. The resultant land degradation affects other economic activities, breeding conflict. For instance, market gardening has severely been affected coupled with the travelling restrictions. Conflict between farmers and gold the small-scale miners ensue as water regimes are disturbed.
One touching story involves a 67-year-old woman participating in the gold panning activities. She works with four others. In her own words she said, “I have children and grandchildren who need to eat. With proceeds from the river I have managed to buy a 20l bucket of maize for mealie –meal and this has sustained us this far.” Nonetheless, representatives from the local authorities accompanying Silveira House on the visits reminded the women about by laws and emphasized the need to care for the environment.
Violence: The Risk Paused by Machete Gangs to Women in Artisanal in the Mining
One of the risks in the small-scale mining industry is the violence caused by usurpers, who take advantage of the defenseless. A group of small-scale miners in Gwanda demonstrated strong teamwork in a fight against suspected bhambadzi or machete gangs. In response to the call by government to regularize and comply with Covid-19 lockdown regulations, confusion has beset the industry. As law enforcement clamps down on most mines in Gwanda and Matabeleland at large robbers, machete gangs masquerading as law enforcement agents take advantage to plunder the exploits of alluvial miners.
Silveira House facilitated a dialogue meeting at Gwanda RDC , where miners shared their challenges with stakeholders from the District Development office, RDC, Ministry of Mines and Development the ZRP. Participants were drawn from among women and Youth in mining, and some men. Police raids, violence at the mines, and other challenges were some of the issues discussed at this platform. The dialogue raised awareness of the Extractive Industry Transparency Initiative, which generated themes for debate on problems caused by lack of transparency and accountability. The ZRP assured miners support and encouraged them to report any form of violence, or anomaly at their mines to the nearest police Station.