By Youth Empowerment and Transformation Trust (YETT)
INTRODUCTION AND BACKGROUND
The 2021 national lockdowns, on the 5th – 31st of January, 1st – 15th of February, and 15th February – 1st march imposed by the Government of Zimbabwe are meant to curb the spread of COVID-19 across the country. While the government is doing so, the lockdowns have an inevitable impact on young people’s lives. The lockdowns came as a response to rising COVID- 19 infections, which have seen daily infection figures rising to a peak of 36 115 as of March 1, 2021, and with indications that infection figures may continue to rise. The year 2021 does not feel different from 2020 for young people in Zimbabwe but they are staying optimistic and navigating the “New Normal”, in which the social, political, and economic aspects of young people’s lives continue to be threatened by COVID-19. YETT reached out to different young people through its 42 partner organizations across the country’s 10 provinces to gather their experiences of life under lockdown.
To gather young people’s socio-political and economic issues and experiences during the lockdown that will help in developing programmes for youth empowerment and advocacy at local, national, and regional levels.
To examine the impact of the 2021 January to March lockdown on youth in Zimbabwe.
To give recommendations on what the government and other stakeholders can do to address youth issues/challenges
In collecting the data for this compilation, YETT used online platforms like Zoom and social media platforms (Facebook, WhatsApp, and Twitter) to reach out to different young people across the country. YETT, with its network of 42 partners operating from the community to national contributed to the gathering of these “Young People’s Lived Realities” under lockdown.
Tafirei Takaedza (Gweru): “Mental health issues are very prevalent in the Covid-19 era. This is because issues such as low or no income, loss of employment, inability to sell, and the closure of the informal sector increase occurrences of mental breakdowns. 2020 saw an increase in suicides as well as violent altercations. It is therefore important to include mental health awareness issues when tackling other social issues brought forth by the pandemic such as Gender-Based Violence.”
Kudakwashe Makanda (Mutoko): “To be able to trade under these lockdowns, you need to bribe the Police. The same goes for mobility, letters are not coming easy.”
Schoolboy (Plumtree): “Young people ended up selling their property at giveaway prices in order to put food on the table.”
Sindiso Dlamini (Bulawayo): “As a young woman in Bulawayo the fears of being on my periods without water and proper sanitary wear considering we are in lockdown makes most young girls vulnerable to those that provide alternative water sources. Sextortion becomes the order of the day.”
The emerging evidence shows that young women have been immensely affected by the lockdown which has increased their vulnerability to socio-political and economic shocks; some of these shocks are increased, gender-based violence, early marriages, and sexual exploitation (UN Women 2020b). Some of the emerging issues were:
Increase in GBV cases, especially against young women and girls, with little recourse as most organisations offering services had closed as they were not considered as essential services in Mutasa District.
An increase in school dropouts due to higher rates of pregnancy amongst youth in Chipinge District.
In Plumtree, there is an increase of young women who have resorted to commercial sex work in exchange for money as a means of survival.
In areas such as Kariba and Bindura for young women to access basic services such as health, water, or public goods during the lockdowns they have to offer sexual favours to those with authority such as the Police, Doctors, and local traditional leaders.
Informal Trading and Livelihoods
According to the (YETT) Youth Situational Analysis 2019, 92% of youth in Zimbabwe work in the informal sector. The continued induced lockdowns have affected young people’s livelihoods adversely. For example:
Young men and women in Plumtree continue to cross the border illegally to Botswana to buy groceries and wares for resale.
Youth in informal businesses such as salons and those selling second-hand clothes (mabhero) are no longer able to market and sell their products at designated marketplaces like Mucheke and Rujeko in Masvingo Province due to bans on informal trading.
Many youths in Areas like Gweru, Kwekwe, and Zvishavane are resorting to mining as a means of livelihood due to unemployment rising from COVID-19 lockdown restrictions. Most of these youths have no knowledge of mining operations and are more susceptible to mining-related accidents.
Social Security and Protection
Lack of social protection or social safety nets for youth has led to the suffering of young people in the informal sector. Many vendors live by hand to mouth and do not have any savings. With the closure of the informal sector, young people have to resort to risking their lives by selling in the streets despite restrictions in their different residential areas. No sales translate to no food for most if not all young vendors.
2021 National Budget provides little support to Youth in the Informal Sector.
The criteria used for getting the Youth Relief Fund did not favour most young people, only those with registered businesses managed to access the Fund. In Mutare, most young people did not access the promised Youth Relief Fund from the government to keep their businesses afloat during this pandemic.
Due to COVID-19 and the Lockdown, the participation of young people in civic and democratic processes has been disrupted. Crucial decisions are being made for youth without the youth, thus from the ward, provincial and national COVID-19 Taskforce. For example:
Political participation disruption: there was no clear plan on sustaining participatory politics e.g. in Bill Hearings, CAB2, Parliament sittings, etc.
Due to lockdown restrictions, young people no longer have civic spaces to engage with community leaders and duty bearers.
Virtual dialogues have proven to be a challenge for young people and duty bearers, especially in the marginalised communities as a result of lack of knowledge and poor connectivity.
Access to Education
The higher and tertiary education sector has been severely impacted by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and national lockdown. The COVID-19 pandemic has created the largest disruption of education systems in history, affecting nearly 1.6 billion learners in more than 190 countries and all continents. Closures of schools and other learning spaces have impacted 94 percent of the world’s student population, and up to 99 percent in low and lower-middle-income countries.
In Zimbabwe, the crisis is exacerbating pre-existing education disparities by reducing the opportunities for many of the most vulnerable students – those living in poor or rural areas, young women, and persons with disabilities – to continue their learning. Learning losses threaten to extend beyond this generation and erase decades of progress towards educational access and retention. It is imperative that the voices of students are considered in COVID-19 response initiatives and in shaping a learning environment that works for them.
Access to Education
COVID-19 has worsened the healthcare services in Zimbabwe, and this has led to expensive and inaccessible Healthcare services for Young People.
Youth in Masvingo lack quality and equitable access to Sexual and Reproductive Health services. In Bulawayo due to lack of SRH services mainly contraceptives there has been an increase in teenage pregnancies.
In the Midlands province, it was reported that young women are idle and are now resorting to sexual activities this has caused a rise in HIV and AIDS transmissions and unwanted pregnancies.
For young women in Mashonaland East, Mutoko the lack of sanitary wear remains a major challenge.
Due to Movement restrictions patients with chronic illness are unable to adhere to their medication plans e.g. Patients with HIV/AIDS, Hypertension, Cancer, Diabetes.
CALL TO ACTION
To the COVID-19 Taskforce
There is a need for a clearly defined risk reduction plan/protocol from local to the central government which addresses the social, political and economic ramifications of COVID-19.
To CSOs and Policymakers
The Virtue of youth including Persons With Disabilities (PWDs) meaningful inclusion on issues that involve them should be upheld by the responsible players. Young people should be allowed to share their experiences, reframe and redefine their challenges in their communities .
There is need for sustainable projects as a solution to ever increasing humanitarian problems.
There is need for proper information dissemination channels on COVID-19 for Persons with Disabilities (PWDs) including young people.
With Sustainable Development Goal 3 noting to achieve “Good Health and Wellbeing”, the Government should make sure health facilities are accessible to all. More provision should be emphasized on clean water and sanitation.
There is need for government to make sure that, the allocation and access of resources especially the Youth Relief Fund and basic commodities are affordable and accessible to everyone. Humanitarian response and food relief initiatives should be nonpartisan and accessed by all in need.
The educational system should be inclusive for everyone despite their geographic location. The Government should make sure remote learning is adopted and put in place systems that are accessible to all.
With Zimbabwean youths contributing over 60 percent of the total population, their role in promoting Sustainable Development is critical to reduce the inequalities faced in the country. Youth should be appreciated and valued from community to national level and at the forefront of fighting the COVID-19 pandemic.
YETT and it partners call upon all stakeholders and duty bearer to work with the youth in fighting against COVID-19 so as to build resilience and adaptation to promote sustainable development in Zimbabwe through effective Youth participation and engagement.