By Julia Ndlela
Zimbabwe has experienced some notable natural disasters such as droughts, flooding and pandemics such as HIV and the current Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. These natural disasters have exposed the vulnerability of women and girls compared to men.
Matron Ncube (17) is a girl who resides in the dusty streets of Thorngroove, a Bulawayo city western suburb. She lives with her parents and three young brothers. She is doing her Form Four at a local school. Matron says before the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic, her daily routine included going to school and doing household chores. She says she had limited time to study because of this. When COVID-19 broke out, Matron says household chores multiplied because her father and brothers were always at home demanding attention.
“It is not easy for me as a girl to concentrate on my studies. My family expects me to wake up early in the morning, clean the house, prepare breakfast and clean the dishes. I am the only girl in the family. My brothers do not do domestic chores because they say it women’s work,” says Matron.
Matron says the advent of virtual learning has worsened her situation. She says communication hardware are predominantly owned and controlled by her father and brothers.
“When we are at home the television remote will be in the hands of either my father or my little brothers. Even if I want to watch an educational channel I am not given a chance. On top of that at our home it is only my father who has a mobile smartphone. He freely gives it to my young brothers but is not comfortable if I ask for it. I struggle to convince him to let me use the phone for my studies,” says Matron.
Matron says virtual learning is an advantage to boys because they have more access to communication hardware and they do not have much work at home.
“I cannot concentrate on my studies. Each time I try to sit down to study, I am called to do one thing or another. The situation was better before COVID-19 because I would study at school without disturbances,” says Matron.
Nkosinothando Dewa (21) is another young girl who has found the going tough when it comes to virtual learning. Thando, as she is affectionately known is a third year media student at a local university. Thando fears that the shift towards online learning is a barrier for her. She says virtual learning requires self-discipline because one has to create time and space at home, something which is not easy for girls considering the roles. She also says virtual learning comes with a lot of financial constraints.
“First and foremost, virtual learning requires a good smartphone with a long lasting battery or power backup. Then there is need for data bundles to access zoom lectures and Google lectures. There is also need for lengthy online research. This is proving to be a challenge for many girls,” says Thando.
Thando says she struggles to create a conducive environment for learning at home because everyone will be making noise. Her brothers would be watching the television and making noise. The best time for studying for her is at night but she would be too tired to concentrate.
While Matron and Thando are facing nightmares with their studies, there are indications that schools and colleges will re-open. This may bring an end to virtual learning and allow girls to focus on their studies rather than domestic chores.
This article was written as part of the Creative Centre for Communication and Development (CCCD) project that seeks to strengthen the voices of women and girls, especially under the grim impact of the Coronavirus (COVID 19). CCCD has used the WhatsApp mobile application to train women and girls so that they express their voices on what is happening in their communities.