Social commentary: HIV: Glimmer of hope for informal sector

The report shows that 93% of the world’s informal employment is in emerging and developing countries. In Zimbabwe the informal workforce comprises 85% of the total workforce.

By Moses Mugugunyeki

Senator Fafitera is among hordes of workers that have lost their jobs in the local manufacturing industry over the last two decades.

He, however, found solace in welding and set up a shop at the popular Magaba Home Industries (Siya-so) in Harare where he produces garden tools, door and window frames, scotch carts, wheelbarrows as well as many other metal products.

With a staff compliment of four, including his two cousins, Fafitera became a household name at this heterogeneous market where all sorts of products are manufactured.

He made money enough to buy a residential stand in Retreat, a sprouting suburb adjacent to Waterfalls. He paid his workers on time and enrolled his children in good schools.

“We made money, especially around the time when the government introduced the use of multiple currencies,” Fafitera said.

“I had lost my job in 2005 and it was difficult to join the informal sector just after Operation Murambatsvina (Restore Order) as most of the structures at home industries had been destroyed.

“I joined the other guys at Magaba in 2008 having tried to work from my place of residence for three years.”

Joining the informal sector and mingling with others at very popular markets like Magaba was the only way to go for Fafitera.

According to a 2018 International Labour Organisation report titled Women and men in the informal economy: A statistical picture (Third edition), two billion people — more than 61% of the world’s employed population — make their living in the informal economy.

The report shows that 93% of the world’s informal employment is in emerging and developing countries. In Zimbabwe the informal workforce comprises 85% of the total workforce.

Despite making up the bulk of employment and contributing 40% of the country’s gross domestic product before the Covid-19 pandemic in 2020, the informal sector lags behind and it’s not recognised.

Thousands of workers in the informal economy are not recognised, registered, regulated or protected under labour legislation and social protection; hence miss a lot on a number of government programmes, including HIV and Aids intervention.

“When I joined the informal sector everything was done haphazardly and still today we are not registered, regulated or under social protection,” said Fafitera.

“Many of our colleagues died of HIV-related illnesses as a result of lack of knowledge and many other factors.

“Informal sector workers cannot access health facilities or social protection benefits like what we used when we were working in the formal industry.”

Most of my colleagues at some point had to close shop after they fell ill as their work dependents on their labour.

“Their absence led to loss of income and subsequent closure of the business,” said Fafitera.

With the little knowledge on HIV and Aids that Fafitera had, he managed to share with it to a handful of colleagues at Magaba Home Industries.

“I had seen colleagues die of Aids, so I wanted to share that little information with my relatives and colleagues in the informal sector,” he said.

“However, that was not enough as mainstream intervention programmes eluded us.”

Women are more exposed to informal employment and are more often found in the most vulnerable situations.

Tinashe Zimba, a single mother of two, said she started vending in Harare city centre following the death of her husband in 2018.

“My husband was employed in the informal sector in Highfield and when he died, I had no option but to join the vending band wagon,” said Zimba.

“I started vending outside our rented home in St Mary’s in Chitungwiza, but business was low and I moved to the Harare CBD.

“We are engaged in cat and mouse games with authorities, but we have no choice.”

According to the Zimbabwe Chamber of Informal Economy Associations (ZCIEA), around 70% of street vendors in the country are women, most of them divorced, widowed, disabled or homeless.

Zimba said due to her vulnerability sometimes, she gives in to demands of law enforcement agents to continue trading on the city’s undesignated points.

“Some of the police officers might demand bribes and other favours to allow you to work,” she said.

Zimba said at some point, she had unprotected sex with some men to augment the measly income she realised from street vending.

“It’s not easy selling wares on the streets of Harare. There are days when it is difficult to work, especially when there are police operations,” she said.

“Because of desperation you end up soliciting for sex so that you can take a few dollars home.”

Lorraine Sibanda, president of the ZCIEA while speaking at the launch of the Zimbabwe HIV and Aids Strategy for the Informal Economy (2022-2025) recently said efforts to tame HIV and Aids within the informal sector have been done in the past following the high HIV prevalence in the sector.

“In 2017, Zimbabwe was the only country to have developed an informal economy strategy on HIV and Aids,” Sibanda said.

“All this was motivated by the rising HIV and Aids statistics within the informal economy.”

“The informal economy has hordes of challenges, including exposure to biological hazards, HIV included.”

Sibanda said the development of the HIV and Aids Informal Economy Strategy was a conscious decision to compliment government efforts in handling the epidemic.

“We commit to strive to meet the 95-95-95 set targets,” she said.

“Deliberate efforts will be channelled towards encouraging informal economy workers to get tested, adhere to treatment as well as keep their viral loads under suppression.

“Behaviour change is another key issue that we need to continually address and encourage as our working environment is mostly characterised by stress, fatigue and long working hours.

“This may lead to risky behaviour as people seek to distress.”

She said issues of mental health, therefore, could not be ignored in the world of work, of which the informal economy is an integral part.

NAC CEO Bernard Madzima said the HIV and Aids Strategy for the Informal Economy was a blueprint worth pursuing if Zimbabwe was to continue with its HIV success story.

“The HIV and Aids Strategy for the Informal Economy sets forth opportunities and guidance for redoubling the country’s efforts to stem the number of new HIV infections” Madzima said.

“The vision builds on that of the multi-sectoral Zimbabwe National HIV and Aids Strategy (ZNASP1V).

“A national Informal Economy HIV and Aids Council has already been established to spearhead coordination and implementation of the strategy.

“The National Aids Council appeals to all stakeholders to support the implementation of the strategy, and make the reduction of new HIV infections a historic success, involving all Zimbabweans, adults and young people, married and unmarried, HIV positive or HIV negative.”

Madzima said NAC was committed to work together and monitor progress through the regular reviews.

“We believe that with the implementation of this strategy, the informal economy will be able to contribute to the global targets of zero new infections, zero stigma and discrimination and zero deaths from HIV and Aids,” he said.

“By December 2025, the country aims at reaching the 95-95-95 targets whereby 95% of all PLHIV know their status, 95% of those are on treatment and 95% of people on treatment are virally suppressed.”

Women Affairs, Community, Small and Medium Enterprises Development minister Sithembiso Nyoni expressed her gratitude over the launch of a national blueprint that is specifically targeted at the informal economy.

“Over the years the informal economy has been lagging behind in the HIV response yet it now constitutes the majority of employment and with most of people being exposed to HIV due to the nature of their jobs,” Nyoni said.

“It is indeed gratifying to note that the new strategy has recognised the role of the informal economy in economic growth and aims at ensuring access to HIV services and commodities to employees within the sector.

“Despite remarkable progress, if we do not continue to commit ourselves, there is a danger the epidemic will rebound.”

Nyoni said the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development affirms the global commitment to ending Aids by 2030, which she said calls for radical change within the next five years.

“I, therefore call on the National Aids Council to reinforce and expand the unique interventions and the multi-sector approach,” she said.

“It means continued advocacy to the most vulnerable groups and approaches that promote gender equality and empower women.

“It means leaving no one behind and that everyone affected must have access to comprehensive HIV services without discrimination.”

ILO specialist on informal economy Annamarie Kiaga said her organisation supports local blueprints on HIV and Aids.

“The ILO, in its draft Decent Work Country Programme, 2022-2026 prioritises the development of national, sectoral and enterprise level HIV and Aids workplace policies and the implementation of workplace programmes in line with Recommendation 200 on HIV and Aids,” Kiaga said.

“Most importantly, this strategy is in line with the international labour standard on HIV and Aids, adopted back in 2010.

“The standard is aimed at strengthening the contribution of the world of work to universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and contains provisions on potentially life-saving prevention programmes and antidiscrimination measures at national and workplace levels.

“It also emphasises the importance of employment and income-generating activities for workers and people living with HIV, particularly in terms of continuing treatment.”

She said among other things, ILO’s Recommendation No. 200 on HIV and AIDS and the World of Work emphasizes the need to pay particular attention to the protection of workers in occupations that are particularly exposed to the risk of HIV transmission like those working in the informal economy.

Kiaga said in the spirit of ‘leaving no one behind’, the Zimbabwe HIV and AIDS strategy for the informal economy 2022-2025 ensures the protection of workers through ending inequalities, reducing new infections, and ending Aids.

Both Fafitera and Zimba said if HIV and Aids services are available on their doorsteps, they would be the first to access them.

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