By Makhosi Sibanda and Busi Bhebhe
Bulawayo residents this week entered a third round of a water rationing regime imposed by the city’s council to reduce consumption and try to stretch dam supplies longer. This has as usual imposed a heavy burden on women and girls whose default role is to find alternatives when such basic necessities run short.
Currently water is being cut twice a week, a collective duration of over 60 hours per area. This means for households with no capacity to store water for the long periods, many have to look for alternative sources like boreholes, bowsers and at times from relatives who will be off shedding period.
In an interview about the impact of such drastic measures on women and girls, acting coordinator of the Bulawayo Progressive Residents Association, Emmanuel Ndlovu said most women are exposed to violent crimes that come with their pursuit of essential family needs such as water and firewood.
“There have been reports of women being raped while looking for firewood or water in townships such as Cowdray Park,” said Ndlovu.
He said in some instances women walk long hours to fetch water and other essentials.
“As the water crisis seems to have no possible solution in sight and the tight water rationing regime having been introduced, women and girls are most affected,” said Ndlovu.
Care giving, a role mostly given to women has become a burden as most females have to ensure that their households have adequate water.
At boreholes spread around the city, most of the people in queues are women and girls — with the only other option being to dig shallow wells often springing with dirty or contaminated water.
The delay in full implementation of century old projects like the Matabeleland Zambezi Water Project (MZWP) have only served to worsen an already dire situation as the city’s population has continued to grow tremendously due to rural-urban migration and reproduction.
This has been worsened by shortcomings in other sectors like the increase in the costs of fuel and energy, forcing women to seek alternative cooking methods like firewood. Strikes and a general rise in medical related costs in the health sector have also led to women having the extra burden of caring for the sick longer than usual as they are turned away from hospitals when there are no Drs or nurses on duty.
Recently children have been turned away from schools as teacher embark on yet another industrial action to push Government for salary hikes. This has forced many informally employed women to stay at home looking after children who should otherwise spend a large part of their day at school.
Ndlovu said the local authority has to ensure they enact policies that protect the rights of women and girls in order to protect them from harsh realities of poor service delivery in future.
Calls for clinics to open 24hours a day and on public holidays remain sticking points between residents and the city fathers for example. This means women have to step in giving unmonitored care to the sick until such a time as the nearest health facilities are open to the public. Most city council clinics are open from 0800hrs to 1530hrs.
“Council clinics are meant to open at 0730 hrs to 1530hrs, but you find that they will only start work after 8am and if you go there after 1pm they will ask you what you were waiting for until that late, as if one chooses when to fall ill” says Khumbulani Maphosa, an advocate who is currently fronting the campaign for city clinics to open longer.
Concerns have arisen in the past that women and girls get overburdened by physically-charged chores and for girls, it is worse because they are vulnerable to being taken advantage of if they cannot help themselves to fetch the water and carry it.
These burdens also impact on girls’ education as they are often too tired by the time they get to school and in the evenings unable to effectively do their homework after such chores.
Researchers have found that the search for clean water and other essentials for the family reduces women’s time to rest and renders them incapable of pursuing other productive endeavours such as education, businesses and self-empowerment exploits.