By Joyce Mukucha
HARARE – Amidst the mounting fears surrounding a Gender-Based Violence (GBV) shadow pandemic, since the beginning of Covid-19 epidemic in 2019, the Zimbabwe Young Positives(ZY+) through the support from Her Fund Voice(HFV)is making concerted efforts to ensure that accelerating GBV challenges being faced by Adolescent and Young People Living with HIV (A&YPLHIV) are curbed whilst ensuring AGYW’ access to Sexual and Reproductive Sexual Rights (SRHR).
This comes after the organisation has realised how the Covid-19 lockdown period has negatively impacted individuals, communities, and socities across the world including Adolescent Girls and Young Women(AGYW) as the pandemic has been fueling Gender-Based Violence (GBV).
As the country coordinator of HVF, ZY+ is working tirelessly to consolidate advocacy issues into national advocacy priorities guaranteeing that the levels of GBV do not continue to escalate.
Speaking during a media engagement in Harare on the 31st of July 2021, ZY+ Programs Officer, Gladys Gumbo said AGYW have been negatively affected especially on access to SRHR services during the lockdown period.
“The Covid-19 imposed lockdown period has resulted in far-reaching economic and social impacts with devastating effects on AGYW. They have been negatively affected especially on access to sexual and reproductive health services, food, income and security among others and gender based violence has been on the rise due to issues like income and food insecurities and limited mobility. ZY+ is therefore concerned about the rise in gender based violence cases during the lockdown period that has been reported by AGYW.
She indicated that a rise in gender violence during lockdown period was being fuelled by stress of losing jobs, food, and financial insecurities and most of the times especially those who depend on hand- to-mouth and AGYW were forced to be in the same space with the perpetrators of violence.
Recently, Gumbo added, ZY+ has been conducting advocacy activities to ensure that AGWY present their priorities as well as making sure that they have a voice when it comes to SRHR issues.
In various districts, Gumbo pointed out that ZY+ found out that AGYW were encountering challenges such as failure to access tertiary education which as a result force them to get married and depend on men which increases their vulnerability to GBV.
“AGWY from Plumtree highlighted that due to closure of the cross- border business that had been keeping them busy, they have been struggling to earn a living and this forced most of them into sex work and subsequently gender-based violence.
“Charlotte one of the AGWY who had been interviewed highlighted that most AGWY in Plumtree did not make it to tertiary education partly because there are no tertiary institutions in Plumtree and due to financial income, parents cannot afford to send their children to other cities like Bulawayo where they will start from paying rentals,fees and buying food.
“She therefore stressed that after finishing secondary school, AGYW are forced to be at home doing nothing and the possible options they have include getting married and depend on men which increases their vulnerability to men or being involved into sex work especially at the border post where most men in transit require those services,” Gumbo said.
One of the AGYW who participated during the engagement who identified herself as Rose mentioned the issue of unintended pregnancies due to failure to access SRHR services leading to early marriages and because of that, GBV has been on the rise. She also highlighted the issue of living under the same roof with the perpetrators of violence as a major challenge being faced by AGYW.
“Cases of GBV are increasing especially during this period of lockdown because most of us are forced to live with the perpetrators of violence especially family members and we are therefore at a higher risk of being subjected to multiple counts of violence and having no choice but to remain in the same space with the perpetrators,” said Mitchie.
Another AGYW who identified herself as Mitchie pointed out that when they want to access services like family planning they are being judged by health providers and they end up not going to access SRHR services.
“When it comes to accessing SRHR services, we are facing va lot of challenges at health facilities. We are facing humiliation at health centres where our health status is being accidentally or involuntarily disclosed either by health service providers or other staff around the facilities. Due to failure of accessing these essential SRHR services such as psychological support, treatment literacy, family planning services among others, STIs and unwanted pregnancies will continue to increase as well as cases of GBV because people end up living with the partners they do not love because of unwanted pregnancies.”
Chido Katsiga, Communications and Advocacy Assistant with ZY+ said it was of paramount importance to ensure that AGYW have a voice to enunciate their experiences and to end the culture of silence in as much as SRHR is concerned.
She emphasised that there was need to identify existing gaps in areas of prevention and diagnostics, treatment and care and the bottlenecks within the HIV.
She stressed the need to strengthen the level of access to services and information to ensure that change, rights-based approaches to development and comprehensive service delivery is achieved.
“Access to SRHR services and information by AGYW has been limited due to issues like restrictive policies for instance the Age of Consent which restricts adolescents below 16 years from accessing these services without the consent from the guardian.
“Though the Civil Society Organisations resorted to the use of online spaces to disseminate sexual reproductive information, a lot still need to be done because the gap still remain considering that not everyone owns a mobile phone and internet data has been a challenge especially during this lockdown,” said Katsiga.
Pertaining the intervention through the HFV, ZY+ managed to support in amplifying voices of AGYW through the collection, consolidation, and presentation of their advocacy priorities to the decision and policy makers.
The movement also supported Regional Network of Children and Young People living with HIV in hosting a breakfast meeting with the parliamentarians in Harare where AGYW were given the platform to discuss issues concerning access to SRHR services of AGWY and accountability on the implimentation of the National Health Policies regarding young people and their SRH.
ZY+ also supported on of the grantees YES Trust in training and mentoring AGYW in policy and advocacy work as well as engaging media and provided AGWY with the platform to present their priorities.
ZY+ is a youth-led network that advocates for the needs of A&YPLHIV which was established in 2013. It seeks to identify existing gaps in areas of prevention and diagnostics, treatment and care and the bottlenecks within the HIV.
The HFV was created to support the meaningful engagement and leadership of AGYW and communitt-based organisations who are serving AGYW, within Global Fund and other related national processes in 13 countries.
In Zimbabwe, HVF has been empowering AGYW to participate in advocacy activities through its Grantees and ZY+ has been coordinating these grantees.
By Joyce Mukucha