Like many nations, Zimbabwe is experiencing a severe food insecurity crisis that has been exacerbated by the impacts of COVID-19.
In a 2020 report released by the Global Network Against Food Crises, the country’s food crisis was rated as being among the most critical in the world. The report estimates that 4.3 million rural Zimbabweans – including many children – are in urgent need of access to safe, nutritious food, and that less than 20 per cent of children between six and 23 months of age receive a minimally adequate diet.
The crisis is being driven by numerous and complex challenges, including hyperinflation, currency shortages, and widespread poverty exacerbated by the economic crisis as well as crop shortages and drought due to climate change.
“Millions of Zimbabweans are struggling to put food on the table due to economic hardships,” says Edwick Madzimure of WILPF Zimbabwe. “Teachers, for example, have had their salaries reduced from the equivalent of $540 US dollars to about $100 US dollars per month, and this is reflective of the experiences of most civil servants and private sector workers in the country.”
Madzimure says that workers demanding fair wages and highlighting poor working conditions have been arrested and jailed for speaking up.
“Section 65 of Zimbabwe’s Constitution states that every person has the right to fair and safe labour practices and standards, and to be paid a fair and reasonable wage, while Section 59 guarantees the right to demonstrate and petition,” she says. “Yet these rights are not being recognised and workers are being imprisoned for demanding access to living wages so they can feed their families.”
WILPF Zimbabwe steps in and steps up
To help address the food crisis, in the summer of 2020 WILPF Zimbabwe distributed food hampers to 100 families with support from WILPF’s Solidarity Care Fund – a short-term funding resource launched to help WILPFers around the world address local challenges that have emerged or deepened as a result of COVID-19.
“We focused on distributing food to particularly vulnerable homes, such as those headed by elderly individuals or children,” says Madzimure. “We also provided hand sanitisers and masks to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.”
WILPF Zimbabwe has also been working to address growing rates of gender-based violence in the country, which are directly linked to the food insecurity crisis.
“The food crisis has led to greater conflict within homes, resulting in more cases of domestic violence, and victims have been unable to escape their abusers during lockdown,” says Madzimure. “At the same time, in many rural areas parents and guardians are accepting money for the marriage of their young daughters to older men so that they can buy food for the rest of the family. And there have been many instances of young girls exchanging sex for food or money.”
To help raise awareness of these issues and support victims of gender-based violence, WILPF Zimbabwe created a Facebook group where women can connect with one another and share information and resources. The Section has also been engaging residents and local village leaders in rural communities to educate them about the negative impacts of gender-based violence.
Persisting against all odds
Although the Section has been working hard to create impact in Zimbabwe’s most vulnerable communities, Madzimure points out that WILPF Zimbabwe’s own members are not immune to the challenges facing the country.
“Just like the people we’re helping to support, many of our members are finding it difficult to feed their families,” she says. “One of our executive members has five children and cannot afford to buy basic necessities or essential food items like maize.”
Despite the obstacles they face, the members of WILPF Zimbabwe continue to persist in their efforts to help those hardest hit by the food insecurity crisis in their country.
“We volunteer our time to do this work because we believe deeply in the rights of women, girls, and other community members facing socioeconomic challenges to access the resources they need to thrive,” says Madzimure.
WILPF Zimbabwe officially became a WILPF Section in 2018. Learn more about how it all started by reading this interview with WILPF Zimbabwe’s President Edwick Madzimure.