Accessing safe water a challenge for women with disabilities in Zimbabwe

“It is survival of the fittest here. We have to wake up early and join the queue to get water from this borehole. If you wake up late, you may not get the water,” said Nyarai Mudavanhu (27) as she narrated how the shortage of water in her community is posing serious challenges to persons with disabilities especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Carrying a 20 litre bucket of water on her head with a walking stick in one hand to support her physically challenged leg, Nyarai walks home after spending nearly 3 hours in the queue to get water.

Many people came after her and jumped the queue to get the water. They connived with some people in front of the queue while others bribed some assistants at the borehole to get water first. For Nyarai, she does not have the money to bribe the assistants. She has to follow the slow moving queue every day and no one gives her preferential treatment despite her disability.

Nyarai is not alone in this. Many women with disabilities in the informal settlement of Hopley in Harare, Zimbabwe face similar challenges. The area does not have piped water and people have been relying on wells for water. However, because of drought, most of the water wells have dried up and residents are now forced to queue for hours at the few community boreholes.

Women and girls with disabilities in Hopley said they need improved access to clean and safe water and sanitation and hygiene (WASH) facilities to reduce the risk of exposure to COVID-19 and abuse. Some of the women and girls were trained by the Federation of Organisations of Disabled People in Zimbabwe (FODPZ) (one of the Spotlight Initiative Implementing Partners) and the UNESCO Regional Office for Southern Africa (ROSA), and became advocates for the rights of persons with disabilities, including the access to water as a basic human right.

Women with disabilities are expected to perform household chores, like other women and most of these require water which they cannot easily access due to their disabilities, further contributing to stigma and in other cases gender-based violence against them. The crowded community boreholes have become ripe places for the spread of COVID-19 as people do not exercise physical distancing and the correct wearing of masks and sanitisation.

FODPZ solicited for more information from other women and girls in the area and established that the local authority provides them with sanitisers at water points, but this is always insufficient due to the large numbers that come to fetch water. More needs to be done to improve the safety of women and girls.

Among these women engaged by FODPZ is Nyasha Shanga who has cerebral palsy who confirmed that the water situation in Hopley has become a source of stress.

“What if the assistant decides not to sanitize as they help me fetch water, it exposes me to extreme danger”, she said anxiously. It was reported that residents are charged ZWL5 per one bucket of water, which is a lot of money for them considering that most of them do not have a stable source of income.

The women said they do not feel comfortable among their counterparts without disabilities as they appear as burdensome to them. It hurts worse when one does not have money to pay assistants from the community who end up calling them derogatory names demeaning their dignity and lowering their self-esteem.

FODPZ and women with disabilities is making strides towards ensuring that the City of Harare and the department of Social Welfare address the issue of shortage of water in Hopley including advocating for drilling of more boreholes. Through such efforts, women and girls with disabilities have engaged in dialogue with the duty-bearers and local authorities to demand their rights and improve their situation.

Zimbabwe is one of the eight countries in Africa selected to deliver the EU funded Spotlight Initiative, a comprehensive programme on ending all forms of Gender-Based Violence and Harmful Practices and to promote the Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights of women and girls. The other countries include: Liberia, Nigeria, Niger, Mali, Malawi, Mozambique and Uganda.

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