Every day, Ashlar, a 32 year-old mother of two from Ngwazani Village in Buhera North, walks three hours in the scorching heat to fetch water for cooking, cleaning, bathing, washing, food production and waste disposal.
“When it comes to water, we face many challenges here. We wake up before sunrise and travel many kilometres to fetch water from unprotected wells,” she said.
Like most villages in Buhera, the area’s rainfall level is relatively low and erratic. It is also characterised by frequent droughts. Other factors affecting water supply in the area and most parts of the country include, poor resource management, inadequate infrastructure and inefficient use of water resources. Sadly, Ashlar and the other women in rural and urban Zimbabwe bear the brunt of water shortages and are exposed to water-borne illnesses due to social and cultural inequality.
The Multiple Indicator Cluster Survey (2014) says that access to safe drinking water may be particularly important for women and children who bear the primary responsibility for carrying water in rural areas, often for long distances. Officially opening the Water Resources and Infrastructure Investment Summit in Harare last month, Vice-President Emmerson Mnangagwa lamented the lack of access to clean and potable water for the most vulnerable groups in the country.
“Women and children walk long distances in search of water and this is affecting children’s learning,” he said, adding that this has seen people in urban areas, for instance, going for days and even weeks without water and at times, relying on unsafe water sources.
James Mhlanga, Ashlar’s Councilor in Ward 12 says women and girls in his area bear the burden and hard work of water collection. “Culturally, it is the role of girls and women to fetch water. Because of this, women bear the brunt of this water scarcity,” he said. Mhlanga adds that walking more kilometres to the closest clean water source subjects girls and women to a greater risk of harassment and sexual assault.
“Walking a few more kilometres to the closest clean water source not only exposes women and girls to physical and sexual abuse, but it also give young people, especially girls, a chance to indulge in sexual activities and the end results are unwanted pregnancies, early marriages and increases in sexually transmitted infections.Remember, some parents send their children to fetch water in the evening and no one will be monitoring them,” he said.
Human rights researcher Simbarashe Namusi, says the problem emanates from the ‘feminisation of poverty’. “There is no concerted effort to deal with issues directly affecting the well-being of girls and women such as the provision of potable water and sanitation.”
He therefore urges the government to immediately adopt new plans, strategies and policies to solve all issues that affect women more than men. “The National Water Policy (2013) specifies that water for primary needs is a right for all Zimbabweans which shall be given the first and highest priority in the provision of services. Consequently, the government should work with rural councils as well as generous development partners to develop and implement plans as well as strategies that would ensure the delivery of quality and safe water,” he said.
Community development expert, Essau Souza concurs:
“Section 77a of the Constitution of Zimbabwe recognises the right to safe, clean and potable water. The government, through the Ministry of Environment, Water and Climate should adhere to this constitutional provision simply by harmonising water legislation – policies and regulations – with the Constitution.”
Souza said water should also be found in the immediate vicinity of households, and for this to be realised, the government should service broken down boreholes as well as drill new ones for the convenience of rural dwellers. “Further, the long-term solution to water woes facing rural societies lies in the construction as well as rehabilitation of community dams.” Souza added that water must be harvested during rain seasons, and situations where clean water is used to water gardens should be stopped.
Sharon Magodyo, also a community development expert, believes dealing with cultural practices that burden girls and women is a long-term solution. She added that improving gender equality, women’s livelihoods and the life chances of girls is critically dependent on making progress in water supply and sanitation. “Strategies to address gender imbalances in the country must therefore properly consider and address water and sanitation linkages,” she said.
Gender activist Violet Nkathazo argues that women should be involved in the planning of water projects. “Although women have the main responsibility for water provision in the country, they are often overlooked in the planning and implementation of infrastructure as well as water projects,” she said.
Access to safe and clean drinking water is a basic right and essential for achieving gender equality and sustainable development over and above poverty alleviation. Government sectors, development partners and concerned citizens must therefore help women and girls to overcome the barriers they face by providing access to clean water in schools and villages across the country. With safe water nearby, women are free to pursue new opportunities as well as improve their families’ lives.
This article was written by Lazarus Sauti for Her Zimbabwe. Lazarus is a researcher, blogger and journalist.
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