Makonde – Migration in Zimbabwe, Zambia and other southern African countries is proving to be still a male dominated trend, although women are now moving from one place to another in their own right.
By Lazarus Sauti
According to the recent Labor Force Survey, women constitute 40 percent of the population that left Zimbabwe since June 2009.
“Sadly, women who stay at home are paying a high price as they bear emotional stress, pain and suffering – part and parcel of secreted costs of men-out migration,” validated the International Organisation for Migrants (IOM).
The intergovernmental organisation, which acts with its partners in the international community to advance understanding of migration issues and encourage socio-economic progress through migration, added that men’s out-migration has led to an increase in the number of women-headed households.
In Gwanda, a district in Matabeleland South Province, for instance, 42 percent of households are female-headed.
Sihle Ndhlovu, a smallholder farmer from Manama village in the province, is a de-facto head of her household, thanks to men-out migration and she is bearing its brunt.
“My husband migrated to Botswana in 2015 and it is difficult to run my household due to different social and economic problems,” she told 263Chat, on the side-line of the 4th Rural Women’s Assembly at Ozana Primary School in Makonde District, Mashonaland West Province recently.
The meeting, organised by Women and Land in Zimbabwe, was held under the theme, “Women’s Land Rights Movement for Equal Access to Natural Resources and Opportunities.”
Liliosa Mano, another de-facto family head from Nyamupamira village in Makonde District, also said her husband migrated to South Africa in 2012 and has since never returned.
“He is not communicating nor supporting me and our two children,” she said. “I suspect he is now living with another woman there and that matter has resulted in severe stress.”
Mano also said most women like her as well as the elderly and widows in Makonde and other parts of Mashonaland West Province are at greater risk of displacement since they have no security of land tenure.
The International Organisation for Migration-Zimbabwe (2016) report noted that 1 398 individuals were displaced in Mashonaland West Province in 2015.
Sharon Chipunza, a Lobby and Advocacy Programme’s Officer for Women and Land in Zimbabwe said the current economic situation in the country has forced men to migrate mostly to neighboring countries seeking greener pastures.
“Women are left with the responsibility of looking after families,” she said, adding: “Sadly, some of these women are not only supported, but sidelined when it comes to land control and ownership. This is putting them at risk of displacement.”
Chipunza added: “Men-out migration and lack of access to land are not only burdening these women, but also perpetrating violence against children as they are forced to drop out of school to work and support their mothers.”
“This,” she said, “triggered her organisation to count the costs of migration, as well as help women in rural areas to lessen the burden of men-out migration.”
Women and Land in Zimbabwe is capacitating women like Ndhlovu, Mano and others in Makonde, Wedza, Makoni, Gwanda and Bubi by strengthening their land tenure rights as well as assisting them with small gardening projects that would transform their lives.
“We assisted women from Ruzave, Goneso and other marginalised areas to establish two to 2.5 hectare gardens to enable them to be self-reliant and increase their food and nutrition security,” Chipunza said.
“Here in Makonde, we encouraged women to join Internal Saving and Lending (ISL) groups. We are giving each group US$250 seed money, which they borrow and use it to start small projects like gardening and livestock rearing.”
She added that her organisation is in the process of establishing a garden near Kachara Dam in Makonde where 40 to 60 households are expected to benefit.
Suzan Chilala, Rural Women’s Assembly-Zambia executive secretary, said men-out migration is also inflicting damage on personal wellbeing and family life in her country, but RWA-Zambia is strengthening tenure rights for women to use land, over and above empowering them to fight some of the challenges caused by men-out migration.
“We are giving our women indigenous small livestock such as African goat and free range chicken to help them escape poverty and lessen the burden of men-out migration on their families,” she said.
Norah Dhliwayo, Mashonaland West’s Principal Land Officer in the Ministry of Lands and Rural Settlements urged women in rural settlements to continue lobbying for land, be productive and build permanent structures if they want to receive A1 permits, as provided by Statutory Instrument 53 of 2014.
She also encouraged other organisations to partner Women and Land in Zimbabwe and Rural Women’s Assembly (RWA) in empowering rural women with life skills that not only improve access to basic social services like health and education for migration-affected communities, but lessen their socio-economic burdens, as granted by the revised Southern African Development Community (SADC) Protocol on Gender and Development, which provides for the empowerment of women.
As for Thompson Makhalima, councilor for ward 19 in Gwanda, the government and its development partners should integrate gender issues into migration programming as well as prioritize empowerment programmes to curb all challenges caused by men-out migration.
“Zimbabwe and other regional countries,” he warned, “should transform their economies or else women and girls will continue to face numerous challenges caused by men-out migration.”