Women exposed to GBV during COVID-19 lockdown.

By Nhau Mangirazi

As Zimbabwe gears itself in critical winter season that has seen high rates of COVID-19 infections, women remain victims of gender based violence amid renewable energy challenges.

Wellington Madumira, a climate change officer with Zero Environment organization said women are at high risk of exposure to gender based violence (GBV) while procuring cooking fuels, particularly in humanitarian and fragile settings.

He noted that it is essential to ensure women’s access to communication tools such as solar radios and mobile phone chargers.

Madumira said, ‘Women need to be able to stay informed about protection messaging and mitigation,”

Zimbabwe Gender Commission chairperson, Margaret Mukahanana-Sangarwe recently said the COVID 19 pandemic has added another layer of responsibility on women and girls from a prevention, protection and care perspective.

She said, ‘’While both men and women are vulnerable to infection, increased exposure also comes from expected roles and responsibilities in addition to access to personal protective equipment. When a country is faced with a health pandemic to the scale of COVID-19, other health issues become secondary as reports shortages in sexual and reproductive health services including contraceptives. This has dire consequences of unplanned pregnancies post-COVID-19.’

However, Madumira said household air pollution from traditional biomass cooking in Africa and South Asia increases one’s susceptibility to respiratory infections and could lead to higher mortality rates for women with COVID-19.

Only 28% of healthcare facilities in Sub-Saharan Africa benefit from reliable electricity.

He noted that lockdowns could indirectly create health crises. Madumira added, ‘Women of reproductive age and children are particularly vulnerable: pregnant women may find it difficult to access ante- and post-natal care or get to functioning health posts for delivery; vaccine coverage rates are likely to fall acutely; and children with acute nonCOVID-19 illnesses may be kept at home instead of taken to health centers.

He called on governments and their development partners to fast-track electricity access for healthcare facilities, noting that mini-grids and off-grid systems such as modular solar with battery energy storage systems can be deployed quickly to underserved and rural health clinics to improve reliability or provide new access.

Globally, almost 3 billion people rely on open fires or inefficient stoves to cook their food, with exposure to smoke particularly high among women and children.