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Women, girls bear brunt of ruralisation of urban areas

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Human nature and the search for greener pastures are inseparable. Although I so much cherish the days I spent in the rural areas and wish for more fascinating moments and tale-telling in retirement, my years of growing up as a rural boy under Chief Njelele in Gokwe were far from being satisfactory — at least in my thinking then.

Guest Column by Beloved Chiweshe

The urban pasture was just greener. By far my greatest motivation to excel in academia was to find an escape route from rural life. My first encounter with the city was ecstatic. It was not the tall buildings, fancy cars and departmental stores that were enthralling.

I was mesmerised by the accessibility of water from the tap and the glowing light bulbs that eliminated the rooms, corridors and the environment. The television was a plus, not least because of the electricity factor, but because there was no signal in most rural areas. This seemed such a fun life with little hassles.

As I journeyed back to the rural areas, I dreaded at what was awaiting me in the rural areas. Soot, darkness and dirt were key drivers of my desire to migrate to the city.

For a while I enjoyed my dream of the city. Water was available from the taps, electricity was the order of the day, but slowly I watched the urban area turn into a rural area and the very things I loathed with a passion had followed to haunt me to the city. City life became a nightmare I was prepared to wake up from anytime.

Fetching water from a well, using a paraffin-powered stove, scavenging for firewood, drying meat instead of refrigeration are some of the practices I was keen in forgetting, at least I had not forgotten, some of the skills became handy in an urban set-up. Some of it my mother had taken care of it in the rural areas. I never got a chance to ask my mother the challenges with those chores.

The more I thought about the challenges, the more I felt for women who have to face these challenges amid serious expectations not least from men, but from society as a whole.

As a boy who had been enlightened to appreciate and admire rural life, I have no qualms about going back to my rural roots in an urban setting. I only have to make do with knowing that my spray does not matter, paraffin from the lentern and the stove can overwhelm even the most potent of deodorants. I also have to make do with the walls of my lodgings black due to the paraffin smoke and a few other “inconveniences”, but who cares, life goes on.

Fast forward to 2013, am I leaving my dream? No. There are very few things as nauseating as the sight of a group of women in the suburbs of Harare delicately balancing all sorts of containers on their heads in the early hours of the morning in search of water, the leafier suburbs included.

Even more disturbing is when you come across a group of women scavenging for firewood from peri-urban areas and what are supposed to be green spaces and recreational parks in the suburbs. What is clear is that there is a convergence between urban and rural life. The convergence is not bad, it’s normal, what is worrying is that instead of rural life being urbanised the opposite is true.

The implications of this ruralisation of urban areas in the context of the family unit have to be interrogated with specific focus on women in general and the girl child in particular.

One of the days I offered a lift to a girl who was in search of water in Budiriro. She told me she could not go home without water no matter what. It was already getting dark. She had just returned from school. She was staying with her stepmother who was at home and her dad who she said came back late from the beerhall because he hated it when there was no electricity at home. It got me thinking.

You make the life of a young girl very difficult if you ask her to find water or firewood at all costs. In fact, you make girls and women more vulnerable to abuse when you put such conditions. What are the expectations of men with regard to the socio-economic challenges that are posed by the ruralisation of urban areas?

As we celebrate 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-Based Violence, let’s dig deeper beyond the obvious surface issues regarding domestic violence and the forms it takes. This is just one of the forms of violence at home as women and girls fail to meet the expectations of men around the home and the vulnerability of women and girls as they find substitutes to the failing social service delivery. Concentrating on the naked form of violence and abuse, while ignoring the root causes underpinning violence against women and girls will not help improve the quality of life for women and girls.

I call upon the men out there who still believe the ruralisation of urban areas can be solved by women only to think twice. No, it requires a collective effort. I know many men that I am proud of and who make their women and children very proud. Some have damaged their cars in the quest to provide clean water for their families.

Some men instead of religiously gathering with friends to watch their favourite Premiership football team play, over a glass or two of their favourite beverages instead spend their Saturday foraging the Seke forests for firewood. These men make me very proud.

You are doing the right thing; desperate situations demand desperate solutions and they have to be mapped out collectively. Our mothers and sisters have enough on their plates, let’s lend a helping hand and remember if you don’t want your sister to be going through what she is going through, he is not happy that her sister is going through the same experience.

Beloved Chiweshe is former secretary-general of the Zimbabwe National Students’ Union (Zinasu), currently working with the Crisis in Zimbabwe Coalition. He writes in his personal capacity. He can be contacted at belovedchiweshe@gmail.com

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