GROWING incidences of early marriages and Early Unintended Pregnancies (EUPs) that have also been exacerbated by the prevailing COVID-19 health emergency, have thrown girls and young women in an abyss of poverty, further making them vulnerable to various forms of abuse, the Ministry of Health and Child Care (MoHCC) has warned.
By Michael Gwarisa recently in Bindura
According to statistics, there have been increased cases of teenage pregnancies during the COVID-19 induced lockdown period in Zimbabwe owing to a myriad of factors chief among them being the alarming rates of sexual abuse.
Giving her key note address at the International Women’s Day Commemoration in Bindura recently, Mashonaland Central Provincial Nursing Officer in the MoHCC, Anna Chinyemba said the COVID-19 has affected women and girls the most.
The theme of this year’s IWD is “Women in leadership: Achieving an equal future in a CVID-19 world”. It is clear to everyone that COVID-19 has had a huge impact in our lives and women and girls have been affected the most by the pandemic.
“We experienced a sharp increase in cases of violence against women and girls including child marriages and teenage pregnancies during the first and second lockdown. Reports indicate that over 1,000 girls got into child marriages and 5,000 cases of teenage pregnancies were recorded in a space of three months,” said Chinyemba.
She added that the pandemic had widened the gap to accessing life opportunities between the boy and girl child.
“These alarming statics present clear evidence of the need to all take action to end violence against women and girls. We cannot achieve an equal future if the life of the girl child continues to be affected by child marriages and teenage pregnancies.
“Most of these girls fail to continue with their education whilst the boy child continues their education. The gap of inequalities between girls and boys continues to widen due to sexual and gender-based violence. What kind of future are we creating for our girls if we continue to let this happen?”
She also said there was need to continue fighting for the rights of women and girls and called on women role models to mentor and groom young female leaders in a bid to create inter-generational legal in the history of women leadership in Zimbabwe.
Ministry of Women Affairs Community, Small and Medium Enterprise Development, Bindura District Development Officer, Elizabeth Nkoma said government had intensified efforts to empower women and she called on women to occupy positions of power so as to influence policy and decisions that affect women.
“Our goal as ministry is to coordinate activities of empowering women and communities so as to reduce incidences of Gender Based Violence (GBV). If both men and women are empowered, these cases will surely go down. Even these rape cases we hear of men raping their daughters will also be a thing of the past.
“We coordinate gender issues, teaching our communities on why they should shun GBV. Empowerment of women in positions of power is key. Women should occupy leading positions In society and in government. Because our government is working to empower women, you can see that women are now occupying leadership positions. By empowering women, we will also be empowering an entire community,” said Nkoma.
Meanwhile, the Women Action Group under the Spotlight Initiative in Zimbabwe is working on developing Standard Operating Procedures for the management and coordination of the Termination of Pregnancy Act (1977) in partnership with the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) under pillar number 2 on strengthening institutional capacity so as to strengthen the policy framework inorder to protect and promote women and girls health rights.
Mrs Edinha Masiyiwa the Women’s Action Group’s (WAG) Executive Director called on government to prioritize women’s health at grassroots level so to improve access to health services for women and girls.
“We are looking at a national level to push for the allocation of 15% of the national budget to the Ministry of Health and Child Care. We are also hopeful that the devolution process, women’s health will also be prioritized at district and provincial levels because women are the biggest consumers of healthcare services.
“Our programs as WAG mainly focus on issues to do with women’s health and girls especially Sexual and Reproductive Health (SRH). We are also looking at how girls are surviving in the communities. I think you can also agree with me that the issue of early marriages is a cause for concern. We also look at the Sexual and Gender Based Violence (SGBV). Young Women and Girls are being raped and at times we are not saying anything about it,” said Mrs Masyiwa.
WAG also held a Road Show around Bindura’s High-Density suburbs to raise awareness on GBV. WAG is also implementing another project under the Amplify Change called, “Unlocking spaces for Comprehensive SRHR, safe and legal abortions for women and adolescent girls in Zimbabwe (USSCLAZ).”