GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa Conference Opens in Harare

By Chief K.Masimba Biriwashs | iZiviso Global Editor At Large

HARARE, Zimbabwe – Women parliamentarians, leading African women entrepreneurs, civil society leaders, and development partners from Africa are meeting in Harare over the next two days for the inauguration and launch of the GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa.

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The conference, being attended by approximately 300 participants, is aimed at providing a strategic political platform to accelerate game changing approaches to HIV prevention and sexual and reproductive health and rights responses for women and girls. The idea to create an Africa-specific GlobalPOWER Women Network stemmed fom a September 2010 meeting in Washington DC that saw prominent female decision makers come together alongside their US peers to discuss how to accelerate the implementation of the UNAIDS Agenda for Women and Girls.

Participants at the conference are expected to address the key issues affecting girls and women in Africa including eliminating new HIV infections among children, keeping mothers alive and maternal and child health. The meeting will result in the “Harare Call to Action” to advance women’s empowerment and gender equality through HIV and Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights responses.

President of the GlobalPOWER Women Network Africa and Zimbabwe Deputy Prime Minister, Thokozani Khupe said that women must take an active role in ensuring their empowerment.

“To achieve the vision of zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths, it is critical to recognise women and girls as key agents in making this vision a reality – society has to invest in the health of women and girls,” Khupe said.

Addressing the conference, Zimbabwe President Robert Gabrial Mugabe said the launch of the network will take the issue of women’s emancipation and empowerment a step further.

Äfter the launch, the real work will begin and call for the same passion, unity of purpose and consistency in pursuing the goals which have characterized this Women’s Network thus far. Of particular note will be the challenge of giving unstinting support to women candidates of every hue and cry; of varying professional qualifications, driven by different talents and capabilities to realise their potential in the collaborative work of Global Power Women Network, the Africa Union and UNAIDS,”said Mugabe.

In Africa, women and girls carry a disproportionate burden of the HIV epidemic – they constitute 59 percent of all people living with the disease. To make matters worse, gender inequality compounded by gender-based vioence, increase women and girl’s risk of HIV infection.

Ëmpowering women and girls to protect themselves against HIV infection and gender-based violence is a non-negotiable in the AIDS response,”said UNAIDS Executive Director, Michel Sidibe.

Africa’s Quest for a Green Revolt

EARLY in the morning, Mary Kanyaire, 33, collects water and firewood, and then prepares a meal for her two school-going children before she heads out to the fields, approximately 3 kilometers away from her homestead.

Alone, under the hot sun, she weeds groundnuts in a sandy field with a hoe. Although she knows she will not get a good yield, she strives on, buckets of sweat pouring down her face. Continue reading

The Morality of Water

waterandsanitationPoverty, inequality and unequal power relationships are the main cause of the current global water and sanitation crisis, according to a paper titled “The human right to water and sanitation: benefits and limitations” which is contained in a UN report: The Right to Water – Current Situation and Future Challenges.

Despite the gravity of the situation, water and sanitation rarely make the headlines in the news media. The financial and human cost of the crisis is humongous.

“The global damage caused by diseases and productivity losses related to unclean water and poor sanitation is estimated at a staggering US 170 billion dollars per year with developing countries’ economies bearing the brunt of this burden. Sub-Saharan Africa alone loses 5 % of GDP or US 28,4 billion per year, a figure that exceeded total aid flow and debt relief into the region in 2003,” states the report.

Such a hemorrhage is clearly unacceptable, and for Sub-Saharan Africa it is clear that lack of access to water and sanitation is not only about health and development; it is an economic imperative. Continue reading

AIDS home-based care in Zimbabwe in dire need of support

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The HIV epidemic is shaking up Zimbabwe, like many countries in sub-Saharan Africa, and the shock is being reflected in the collapse of the public health-care system.

According to the World Health Organization’s (WHO) 2006 World Health Report, the African continent bears 24% of the global burden of disease but has only 3% of the global health-care workforce and 1% of the world’s financial resources.

The report identifies 57 countries that cannot meet a widely accepted basic standard for health-care coverage by physicians, nurses and midwives; 36 of these ‘critical countries’ are in sub-Saharan Africa.

The WHO estimates that it will take an additional 2.4 million physicians, nurses and midwives to meet current needs, along with an additional 1.9 million pharmacists, health aides, technicians and other auxiliary personnel.

In simple terms, the public health-care system can no longer accommodate the millions of ill people who require medical attention, care and support. Ironically, the money that is flowing into Zimbabwe to combat HIV has done little to resolve the problems of the poor and weakened public health systems – problems made worse by the ‘brain drain’ of qualified medical personnel.

Critically ill people, it seems, are being offloaded from the public health system onto the community. Increasingly, the burden of HIV care is being borne at the community level, particularly at the household level, where much of the care work and support costs for people living with HIV (PLHIV) are now being taken on. Continue reading

Zimbabwe’s Hungry Stomach Politics

In the run-up to the June presidential run-off elections in Zimbabwe, President Robert Mugabe’s government banned the distribution of food to poor people by NGOs. The government accused NGOs of using food to campaign on behalf of the political opposition.

More than anything else the government ban on food distribution is a revelation of how much the stomach has influenced political developments in the country.

Zimbabwe is a nation-state that has been increasingly built on the politics of empty stomachs since it attained independence from British rule in 1980.

A combination of widespread rural poverty and a legacy of the liberation war have in many ways nourished President Robert Mugabe’s rule since 1980.

Mugabe’s Zimbabwe African National Unity-Patriotic Front (ZANU-PF) has mastered the art of handing out Lazaric crumbs to the majority of the people, particularly in the rural areas, in exchange for political gain and control.

Continue reading

It’s so sad, as her death was avoidable

By Godsway Shumba

Guest Blogger

 

“Lord! Give me another chance. I want to live and look after my children. They are still very young.”

 

Vimbayi (not her real name) repeated this prayer for several nights during her last days. In spite of her desperate prayers, she died at the age of 28, leaving behind two children.

 

Perhaps the saddest part is that her death was avoidable if she had had the correct information and people to support her.

 

A relative of Vimbayi, I finally got a chance to see her five months after hearing of her failing health. By that time, she was very weak. I asked her husband whether she had been tested for tuberculosis. He handed me her medical records.

 

At first, I thought that this was a breach of confidentiality. Later, I realised time was running out and we needed to do our best from an informed position. In my community, before HIV/Aids, people easily shared medical records.

 

But the Aids stigma changed the way people share information about their health.

 

The records confirmed that two sputum tests for TB had produced negative results. Unlike her husband, I also realised that Vimbayi had tested positive for HIV. As someone who was working in the HIV/Aids field, I knew the meaning of phrases such as “patient referred to OI (Opportunistic Infection) Clinic” and “post-test counselling done and positive living discussed”.

 

Prophylaxis treatment had been prescribed but I could not see any signs of it. She told me she stopped taking it two months previously because there had been no improvement.

Continue reading

Is Fair Trade Simply Hype?

Imagine an elderly man toiling under the hot sun to weed a crop of cotton in a remote African village. When the crop is harvested, a middleman appears in the name of free market trade and purchases it at a ridiculously low price. Due to lack of information and access to markets, the poor farmer, like many others in his village, is left with little choice but to part with his crop.

 

Most likely, he will not be able to afford healthcare, or send his children to school, and all his sweat will go to fattening the purse of a huge conglomerate in the global north.

 

The conglomerate will process the cotton (or whatever product it is) into a good that the poor farmer can only dream of purchasing. In spite of all his toil, the poor farmer will live and die ragged, bequeathing his children a legacy of poverty.

 

With the Fair Trade label, an elderly farmer growing cocoa in Ghana is able to carry a sack of her beans to a certified shop where she knows the scales will be accurate and she will be paid for the full weight of her crop.

 

Through that system, she is guaranteed fair compensation, access to the market and potential demand for her product. Also, she has as much of a say as her male counterparts in decision making processes associated with the Fair Trade label in her community.

 

Thus, the Fair Trade label has improved the lives of people who produce goods, such as coffee, tea, chocolate, rice, flowers and more by putting a humane face to the global trade system.

 

Fair Trade is an alternative model that combines poverty alleviation and market based approaches to correct anomalies which exist in conventional free market trade. The system tips the balance in favour of poor producers, enabling them to become secure citizens of the global society and in control of their lives.

 

Through influencing socially oriented changes to trading systems of major businesses and governments, the Fair Trade label has significantly contributed to helping poor people escape the clutches of poverty through access to an equitable share of revenue.

 

According to Wikipedia, in 2006, Fair trade certified sales amounted to approximately US$2.3 billion worldwide, a 41 percent year-to-year increase. Approximately one and a half million disadvantaged producers worldwide benefited directly from fair trade while an additional five million benefited from fair trade funded infrastructure and community development projects.

 

Apart from fair compensation, the strengthening of community systems, gender equality and environmental protection through fair trade helps to build poor people’s self-sustenance and independence.

 

Contrarily, with free market trade, primary producers – often poor rural people – earn a negligible amount from the sell of their goods. Little attention is paid to the environmental impact of production processes or issues related to gender equality. As a result, statistics show approximately two billion people a third of humanity work hard to support themselves yet still struggle to survive on US$2 per day or less.

 

But through the Fair Trade certification system, poor producers and their families are able to earn respectable incomes which they can use to transform their lives. Also products obtained from poor people are competitively branded and marketed, which creates potential demand.

 

A key advantage is that the model is adaptable to different crops or products with the main goal being to create social capital essential for helping marginalized communities escape poverty.

 

With free market trade, huge conglomerates with access to lucrative world markets, mainly in the global north, benefit at the expense of poor people. On the world market, poor people’s toil is unseen as well-heeled customers jostle to purchase nicely packaged products that do not reflect the source of raw materials.

 

In a report titled “Tipping the Balance: The Fair Trade Foundation’s Vision for Transforming Trade 2008 -2012”, Fair Trade highlights how the label is increasingly gaining worldwide recognition.

 

“From being the preserve of a committed few, the Fair Trade Mark is now recognised by three out of five people, and appears on thousands of food, drink and clothing items as well as other goods. In this decade alone, the value of Fairtrade sales has grown more than tenfold reaching nearly 500 million in 2007,” states the report, which focuses on the label’s performance in the United Kingdom.

 

“Fairtrade is a response to failure of conventional trade to deliver a better deal to people in the poorer countries of the world. It has shown trade can be a powerful driver to reduce poverty and promote sustainable development if only it is clearly directed to those ends,” adds the report.

 

According to the report, in the Amazon rainforest straddling Bolivia, Brazil and Peru, among other projects in many parts of the world, the Free Trade label helps nearly 30,000 families earn a decent living from harvesting Brazil nuts.

 

“The fair and stable pricing and premium for investment at the heart of Fairtrade standards underpin sustainable development in these communities while protecting the precious natural resources of the rainforest,” states the report.

 

In addition, Fair Trade insists on democratically governed organizations in which men and women have an equal say on issues related to the use of the Fair Trade label premium.

 

This bottom-up approach has led to investments in health, education and small businesses, helping marginalized communities grow to their full potential.

The Fallen Grain

On a scorching day in Zimbabwe’s Buhera District, approximately 300 people queue to receive food handouts. All of them are beneficiaries of the food packs that local NGO Dananai Home-Based Care (HBC) has been distributing to people living with HIV and AIDS for the past five years.

 

Though Dananai HBC’s main mandate is to provide care and support to critically ill people living with HIV and AIDS it became apparent to the group that further interventions were needed to help improve patients’ living conditions.

 

In 2002, Dananai HBC partnered with Africare and WFP to provide food handouts in an attempt to meet the nutritional needs of people living with HIV and AIDS involved in the home-based care program and their dependents.

 

As the sun threw its hot rays across the sky, a slight easterly wind breezed through the slender gum trees at the local clinic, which serves as the food distribution point. The hordes of people chatted among themselves, some waiting for their turn to receive the food handouts, while others pushed wheelbarrows filled with maize sacks back and forth.

 

Some sat on the sacks, waiting for cattle-driven scotch carts to take them across the hot landscape to their homes. Meanwhile, an old woman crouched onto her knees and began picking at the grains of maize that had fallen to the ground, putting them slowly into a green plastic bag. As the bags of maize are pushed and shoved, some inevitably tear, and maize grains fall out.

 

Three women in the queue told her stop but she shot a retort back at them and they turned their attention back to the business of receiving food rather nonchalantly. The old woman began curtsying as she concentrated on picking the fallen maize grains.

 

‘We see this all the time. The people cannot tolerate the sight of maize grains on the ground. No grain can be wasted, so they pick it, one by one,” an Africare program officer responsible for overseeing food distribution said.

 

Africare, an INGO is responsible for the actual distribution of the food and the recipients of the aid are identified through the Dananai Home-Based Care project. If a recipient living with HIV dies, their family is allowed to continue collecting the food for six months before their handouts are cut.

 

The food handouts are popular in the community due to the high levels of poverty. The rainfall pattern in the area is erratic and subsistence farming, which many of the people in the district practice, has suffered immensely as a result. The district has experienced four consecutive droughts in the past decade alone.

 

“I have been to many households in the district, and many do not have any grain stocks. The situation is pathetic,” said Nonia Temberere, coordinator of Dananai Home-Based Care project.

 

Many of the households in the community are headed by women, either because they have been widowed or because their husband works and lives elsewhere. It is through the eyes of women that the impact of HIV and AIDS on this community is best reflected because they have been forced to work hard to feed their families as well as to provide care and support to the sick.

 

It is no coincidence that many of the people in the food queue are women. According to Africare workers, special care is taken to make sure that women are the main recipients as men tend to be less responsible with the provision of the stocks.

 

But the availability of food is creating a schism within the community and has resulted in increases in the numbers of people requesting HIV tests. Due to the levels of food, those receiving food through the home-based care program are perceived as better off than others because they have access to food.

 

So the demand for inclusion in the program is growing and hordes of people have been reporting to the HIV-testing facility at the Roman Catholic-funded Murambinda Mission Hospital.

 

“Some people get sad when they test HIV-negative,” said the coordinator of the New Start Voluntary Counselling and Testing centre, which conducts provider-initiated HIV testing at the Murambinda Mission Hospital.

 

If patients tests positive for HIV, they are immediately referred to the hospital or the Medecines San Frontieres (MSF) opportunistic infection clinic that distributes antiretroviral drugs (ARVs). Critically ill patients are incorporated into Dananai HBC programs through volunteer caregivers living in their community.

 

But testing positive for HIV is not enough and to enroll in the program patient must be on ARVs, in a critical and disadvantaged state and they must need food assistance.

 

This message does not seem to have reached some members of the community and there have been some accusations that community leaders, responsible for selecting beneficiaries, are biased and have only selected their friends and relatives.

 

As the old grandmother picked the fallen maize, it was clear from her bedraggled stature that she badly needed some assistance. She is, however, not on the list of beneficiaries and she is angry at the blood tests she took.

 

“I have taken three blood tests but they have not said anything to me. They can take more of my blood if they want, but for God’s sake, they should also give me food,” she said, scooping a handful of maize grains mixed with soil from the parched ground.

 

“I have a problem with my back from a pregnancy operation that I had in 1952,” she said, adding, “If my son was still alive, this could never happen to me.”

 

She pulls a wad of documents out of her green plastic bag and selects the record of her son’s death.

 

“I look after his three children. I also showed them this but they still refused to include me in the list. These organisations should go to the community and see the favouritism that takes place in the selection process,” she said.

 

“One of the problems is that as sick people receiving ARV treatment become well, and are able to perform normal duties and still receive food ahead of household that may be less privileged. There are always accusations of favouritism,” an Africare worker said. “The food is meant for those that are ill.”

 

According to Africare’s records, the number of people on the waiting list for food aid is overwhelming. MSF, which is also partnered with Dananai HBC, has seen a huge increase in the number of people needing ARVs.

 

The availability of food is one of the keys to helping Dananai HBC recipients to regain control of their lives. In the absence of nutritious food, the success of ARV treatments is severely compromised.

 

Many of the households in this district, which relies on subsistence farming, face food insecurity and find themselves hard hit by a disease that preys on society’s weakest. The challenges faced by Dananai’s HBC project mirror the challenges facing the country in general. At the heart of the problem is the need for food.

 

Poor access to water is also a problem for many communities. It is ironic that though the Bangure area in Buhera has the large 1970s Rundi Dam, the only benefit to the community is the supply of fish from the water catchment.

 

The need for food makes many of the communities in this area overly dependent on external assistance. Hungry stomachs appear to make many of the communities lie on their backs with legs crossed and lethargy seems to stalk the land.

 

The communities are just beginning to awaken to the need for HIV testing and the power of ARVs, but they are also fully aware of the fact that food security remains a big challenge.

 

 

Low Cost Technology Saves Poor

 

Most Zimbabweans –  about 70 per cent of the population – live in rural areas and are engaged in smallholder agriculture. These smallholder farmers, particularly in the country’s low rainfall areas, are extremely food insecure and have little or no access to new technology.

 

They suffer from low incomes and a generally low standard of living, poor health and nutrition, poor housing and an inability to send children to school. Soil degradation and outdated farming methods have kept rural families trapped in poverty.

 

Inadequate and unreliable rainfall and the recurrent threat of drought also restrict the potential of rain-fed agriculture, on which the livelihoods of most smallholder farmers depend. In a word, access to water for irrigation is one of the most critical constraints that small farmers face.

 

Making matters worse, AIDS is undermining agricultural systems and affecting the nutritional situation and food security of rural families. As adults fall ill and die, families face declining productivity as well as loss of knowledge about indigenous farming methods and loss of assets.

 

The devastating consequences of the epidemic are plunging already poor rural communities further into destitution as their labour capacity weakens, incomes dwindle and assets become depleted, with the latter affecting mostly women and children who have few property rights.

 

According to a survey conducted by the Zimbabwe Farmers’ Union, agricultural output in communal areas has declined by nearly 50% among households affected by AIDS in relation to households not affected by AIDS. Maize production by smallholder farmers and commercial farms has declined by 61% because of illness and death from AIDS.

 

Women and girls are especially vulnerable. They face the greatest burden of work – given their traditional responsibilities for growing much of the food and caring for the sick and dying in addition to maintaining heavy workloads related to provisioning and feeding the household. In many hard-hit communities, girls are being withdrawn from school to help lighten the family load.

 

The International Fund for Agricultural Development (IFAD) describes household food security as “the capacity of households to procure a stable and sustainable basket of adequate food” (IFAD, 1996). It incorporates: (a) food availability; (b) equal access to food; (c) stability of food supplies; and, (e) quality of food. All aspects of this are affected by both the household-level impact of HIV/AIDS and the wider impacts of a generalised HIV/AIDS epidemic.

 

In households coping with HIV/AIDS, food consumption generally decreases. The household may lack food and the time and the means to grow and prepare some food. For the patient, malnutrition and HIV/AIDS can form a vicious cycle whereby under-nutrition increases the susceptibility to infections and consequently worsens the severity of the disease, which in turn results in a further deterioration of nutritional status.

 

The onset of AIDS, along with secondary diseases and death, might be delayed in individuals with good nutritional status.

 

Nutritional care and support may help to prevent the development of nutritional deficiencies, loss of weight and lean body mass, and maintain the patient’s strength, comfort, level of functioning and self-image.

 

In effect, the nutritional status of HIV/AIDS patients can also help improve the effectiveness of antiretroviral therapy, when it does become widely available to poor rural people.

 

In such a context, labour-saving technologies that will adapt agriculture to new conditions generated by HIV/AIDS can help to compensate for the depletion of labour caused by sickness and death.

 

Drip-irrigation is a low pressure, low volume irrigation system suitable for vegetables, shrubs, flowers and trees, and can be helpful when water is scarce or expensive.

 

Already popular in countries such as Israel and India, drip-irrigation has been gaining attention because of its potential to increase yields and decrease water use, fertilizer, and labour requirements, if managed properly.

 

Drip irrigation (sometimes called trickle irrigation) works by applying water slowly and directly to the soil. It is the slow drop-by-drop, localised application of water at a grid above the soil surface. Water flows from a tank through a filter into lines then drips through emitters into the soil next to the plants. The high efficiency of drip irrigation results from two primary factors. The first is that the water soaks into the soil before it can evaporate or run-off. The second is that the water is only applied where it is needed (at the plant roots), rather than sprayed everywhere as in sprinkle or furrow irrigation systems.

 

Nutrients can be applied through the drip systems, thus reducing the use of fertilizers. Soil is maintained in a continuously moist condition. With a 100 square meter garden, equipped with low cost drip kit technology, a family of five can grow nutritious vegetables for consumption throughout the year.

 

This inexpensive kit offers a 50 per cent savings on water, over 80 per cent yields, and better quality vegetables and herbs. Because of its minimal labour requirements, the kit is well suited to serve HIV and AIDS affected households headed by orphans or their grandparents, where labour maybe in short supply.

 

In Zimbabwe’s rural areas, HNGs are widespread, yet they are largely neglected in spite of their potential to cushion disadvantaged and AIDS-affected families from food insecurity. Ordinarily, a HNG is cultivated close to home, thus eliminating the need for farmers to travel to distant fields.

 

HNGs can play a significant part in enhancing food security in several ways, most importantly through: 1) direct access to a diversity of nutritionally-rich foods, 2) increased purchasing power from savings on food bills and sales of garden products, 3) availability of food throughout the season and especially during seasonal lean periods, and 4) savings on water, time and labour.

 

Improving household gardening requires the optimal use of land and irrigation, as well as a dynamic integration of additional crops and crop varieties with specific value and uses. A well developed HNG has the potential, when access to land and water is not a major limitation, to supply most of the non-staple food that a family needs every day of the year, including roots and tuber, vegetables and fruits, legumes, herbs and spices.

 

Roots and tubers are rich in energy and legumes are important sources of protein, fat, iron and vitamins. Green leafy vegetables and yellow-or orange-colored fruits provide essential vitamins and minerals, particularly folate, and vitamins A, E and C. Vegetables and fruits are a vital component of a healthy diet and should be eaten as part of every meal, and are highly recommended for people living with AIDS

 

Smallholder farmers generally grow three cycles of crops per year. Typically, this includes at least one cycle of vegetable crops during the winter months, and an early maize or bean crop that can be harvested in December. The exact cropping cycles and systems will depend on regional climate, soils and input availability, in conjunction with the specific skills and nutritional needs of the household.

 

Farmers are encouraged to grow locally available indigenous crops that are highly nutritive but often neglected. The crops contain good nutrients and often require low labour-input. They represent a flexible source of food supply and can be easily preserved. Besides providing a source of income, they are adapted to cultural dynamics and local food habits.

 

They produce ample seeds without creating a dependence on external resources. Because the technology is new, smallholder farmers require technical support and training to help them tap into the full potential of the kit.

 

By strengthening the capacity to produce food at household level using low-cost technologies, negative impacts can be mitigated for AIDS-affected communities. Labour saving technologies and improved seed varieties can help to compensate for the depletion of labour caused by sickness and death, and assist farm-households to survive prolonged crisis, such as that caused by AIDS. Through agriculture and rural development, resilience against HIV can be built.

 

Drip irrigation technology offers much promise for landholders in the communal areas of Zimbabwe, where water application has traditionally involved the use of surface irrigation and “bucket watering”. Both methods are inefficient and waste a lot of water. Using the bucket involves hard work especially when the water is far away and scarce.

 

With drip irrigation, communal farmers, especially women, who are the primary carers and pillars of the community, can be able to maintain their gardens with ease, efficiently and at a low cost.

 

Also, drip technology will give quick returns on a small investment, and growing vegetables will provide both nutrition vegetables and year-round incomes.

 

As the old Chinese saying goes: “Give a man a fish; you have fed him for a day. Teach a man to fish; and you have fed him for a lifetime.”