Covid-19 border closures hit Zimbabwe’s women traders hard - The Mail & Guardian

The past 18 months have been tough for women cross-border traders, who saw their income vanish when borders closed.

2021-10-16 09:00:00 PM

Covid-19 border closures hit Zimbabwe’s women traders hard - The past 18 months have been tough for women cross-border traders, who saw their income vanish when borders closed

The past 18 months have been tough for women cross-border traders, who saw their income vanish when borders closed.

This is a story 37-year-old Nokuthaba Hadebe is only too familiar with. A married mother of three, Hadebe worked as an informal cross-border trader and, with her business largely driven by stable foreign currency that guaranteed a steady income, she was the de facto breadwinner, while her husband worked as a commuter omnibus driver. 

But when the public transport was shut down, and borders closed, the family was suddenly left without any source of income. “I have applied for a restraining order for my husband because of emotional and physical abuse,” she said. “We are always arguing about money. While I want to save the little we have, he wants to go out and drink,” Hadebe said, telling a story that features regularly in Bulawayo’s magistrate’s courts.

Industry officials say it has been particularly tough for informal cross-border traders who earned a regular income, but saw their incomes disappear overnight after borders closed.“Women informal cross-border traders support some of the most fragile and impoverished communities, and so any threat to [them] poses a threat to the most vulnerable and least resilient,” said Fadzai Nyamande-Pangeti,

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International Organisation for Immigration — Zimbabwespokesperson.“Besides a marked increase in gender-based violence, Covid-19 has affected women significantly more than men, especially through widening existing financial inequality between men and women,” Nyamande-Pangeti said. 

Despite official statistics showing that51% of Zimbabwe’s population are women, the unemployment rate is still tipped against women, according to local labour unions, who also note that even more women are burdened with unpaid work.Perhaps even more alarmingly, the Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions said it is pushing for the increase of the proportion of informal-sector workers covered under the Occupational Safety and Health Services from “

zero to 20% by 2025”.This could, however, prove a daunting task: there are no projections from global health experts regarding the end of Covid-19 that would allow informal traders a full-time return to their work. Local researchershave mapped the psychological effects of Covid-19 on women living in the country’s high-density suburbs, noting that it worsened the social and economic conditions of already disadvantaged and vulnerable women.

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Even after Covid-19, women’s rights campaigners say African governments will have to do more to ensure social and economic protection of women, because the majority of them remain stuck “in low-wage, low-skill and often insecure jobs”, said Tsitsi Matekaire, global lead at

Equality Now.“The Covid-19 pandemic exposed already existing structural problems and the lack of social protection for women is not a new thing,” Matekaire said. 

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