By Regis Nhumba
The early drying up of streams in the Fort Rixon area in Matabeleland region, Zimbabwe is affecting the lives of women and girls in the village who have to walk long distances to fetch water, risking violence and disruption of their academic and social life.
Maria Masona (31) is one of the villagers who has struggled with the water challenges and she alleges that women were being sexually exploited by the few borehole owners in the village. She says the men would demand sexual favours in exchange for water.
“I know for sure that several women are forced into sex in exchange for water. The nearest communal water sources are more than 10 kilometres away and for those of us who not have scotch carts, life is unbearable. Our children come back from school late and they then have to go to fetch water. It is a daily struggle for us,” says Maria.
Maria says the rainfall pattern in the area has changed. She says the area used to receive rains from late October to late May the following year. She says the long rainfall season would allow for water infiltration and the water sources would last the whole year. She says the situation has drastically changed and they only receive intense cyclone induced rains briefly.
“Water bodies in our community dry up as early as February or March. After that we have to walk the long distances to fetch water. We have made appeals to responsible authorities but up to now we have not received any positive feedback,” says Maria.
Maria says one of the incidents that shed light into the water crisis is the case where one of the young women in the village was coerced into sexual activities by an elderly man. The elderly man owned a borehole at his homestead and some neighbours would depend on him for water. Maria reveals that people who could not afford to pay for the water would be asked to do some household chores in exchange for water.
“Rumours started to spread in the village that there was a young married woman who was engaging in sex in exchange for water. The case came to light when the woman got a sexually transferred infection (STI) which she in turn passed on to her husband. The husband got furious and confronted his wife,” says Maria.
Maria says such cases are rampant in the community and that it is women who are worst affected.
“The water crisis is a women’s crisis. Men are not much affected because traditionally, fetching water is a woman’s role. Maybe that is the reason why the water crisis is not receiving much attention. Most community decisions are made by men because of their leadership roles. There are few women who are decision makers. It is important to have more women in decisions making roles so that such issues as the water crisis are given adequate attention,” says Maria.