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What's next after elections: The way forward for young women
Pretty Mubaiwa, Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe (SCMZ)
September 13, 2013

Highlighting young women's vulnerabilities in the present economic environment

It is hardly ever the first thought that comes to mind of how certain events whether in the country or in the world impact the women, even more so ordinary young women. Women in many cases are usually relegated to the back-burner when it comes to matters of decision-making and governance. Although numerous studies have shown that women in any circumstance of conflict whether war or economic upheaval are the most vulnerable and feel the effects of these crises the most, there is very little that has been done to include them and their views on different platforms. It is therefore a welcome challenge to look at what is next for the ordinary young woman in Zimbabwe in the post-election environment.

It is a known fact that Zimbabwe has one of the highest unemployment rates in the Southern African region, however statistics around the unemployment rate are widely disputed with some pegging unemployment rate in Zimbabwe to be above 95 percent (CIA World Fact Book 2009), and some at 7,7 percent. Regardless of statistics, reality on the ground is that there is a staggering number (24, 9 % of ages 15-24) of unemployed youths in Zimbabwe who have been unable, due to the present economic conditions, to secure employment in the formal industry. Unemployment has therefore become a bane to Zimbabwe's development and has led to a number of problems for young people in Zimbabwe. I believe that young women in Zimbabwe have been rendered vulnerable to many risk factors due to the high unemployment rate. It would be very reckless, however, to group young women into one category as it is very true that economic instability affects rural young women and urban young women differently, therefore it is important to note that difference although commonalities cannot be ruled out.

Due to the high number of graduates pouring out from our universities and slow or almost stagnant formal industry growth, it has become very difficult to gain meaningful employment. It is also safe to say that the glass ceiling that has always been existent in hindering women to gain employment has heightened even more. The Zimbabwe Congress of Trade Unions (ZCTU) in a press statement highlighted that the increase in economic instability is forcing more and more women into the informal sector and they make up plus minus 70 percent of the informal sector. Those who are unable to find means through capital to start their own small businesses are susceptible to looking at other means for survival. Therefore due to the very impeded opportunities, young women become susceptible to a number of things, these are:

Human trafficking

Because of lack of unemployment in the country, young women when offered a chance to travel outside the country to work, it is always a welcome opportunity. Young women are lured to foreign countries on the pretence of going to work either as au pairs or domestic workers, most times these women illegally migrate and therefore can find very little help through formal channels once they find out what they have to endure. Assistant Com Mugumira of Beitbridge police in January 2013 reported that there were 85 600 cases of illegal immigration. Soon after crossing the border, a harsh reality sets in as these young women get thrown into sex rings, drug rings, rape and forced prostitution in South Africa, Angola, Nigeria, UAE and Malaysia. The documentary, No woman's land that aired on SABC 3 shows the harsh realities that young women face when they cross borders into foreign land and how this experience exposes them to a number of dangers. The Beitbridge Bureau police in January this year reported that there had been 4099 cases of human smuggling, this was a sharp increase from the 2011 figure of 2011 (, however it is not clear how many women made up this number. It goes without saying that women especially young women entering the informal sector brings with it many challenges, cross boarder trading has become a lucrative source for livelihood. However, this industry of cross boarder trading exposes young women to foreign environments they are not used to but have no choice but to go to. They are now exposed to human trafficking, sex work (prostitution) or even death.


The United States Embassy in its 2013 Trafficking in Persons Report identified that women and girls especially those who reside in border towns are becoming more and more subjected to prostitution by working in sex brothels that cater to long distance truck drivers. This has also seen a rise in sex rings in the country and young women and girls being sold into prostitution by their parents. Economic instability and lack of employment opportunities have also led to a form of economic violence against these young women, this is because young women now find themselves lacking very basic needs like food, water and even things people hardly ever think about like sanitary wear. Thus relationships of exchange become favorable prospects of getting these things they desperately need. Young women are now enticed more and more by prostitution and its gains, but these relationships of exchange put them in a position whereby they are unable to negotiate for safe sex practices. This increases the risk of HIV/AIDS

Domestic violence and early marriage

A study by Development Alternatives with Women for a New Era (DAWN) showed that there is a positive correlation between an increase in violence against women and economic instability. Women especially young women enter into relationships of convenience whether forced or consensual; they enter these relationships as a source of livelihood as there are not any other avenues available. Young women in this case are often married to much older men or enter into polygamous relationships. This compromise works against them because they become victims of domestic violence. According to United Nations Women, as the exposure to violence increases, so does the women's exposure to HIV/AIDS infection. This is because violence, or fear of violence may intimidate a woman from negotiating safer sex . A scholar on gender based violence in Zimbabwe, Mary Johnson Osirimi (2003) noted that an estimated 80 percent of marriages in Zimbabwe are customary and therefore cultural practices that greatly inhibit women from expressing their fears and concerns in marriages. This inability and fear to express themselves in marriages puts women in a vulnerable predicament.

School dropouts

Due to widespread internal displacements caused by political instability or search for greener pastures, girl children (young women) especially in the rural areas have become more vulnerable to dropping out of school.


All the factors mentioned above trickle down to an increased vulnerability to HIV/AIDS infection in young women in Zimbabwe. This is because in search of better livelihoods, young women everyday put themselves in the line of fire. This is by either engaging in prostitution, through human trafficking or entering into relationships of convenience by marrying early or being forced into marriage. According to statistics from UNAIDS, in the 2012 Global Aids Response Progress report it was estimated that the HIV prevalence amongst adults 15 years and above in 2011 was 13, 1 percent amongst the highest in the world. Statistics for HIV prevalence in young women aged 15-24 although positively decreasing are still alarmingly high at just under 10 percent. This therefore shows how HIV is directly linked to economic instability and unemployment.

Growth of informal economy, what does that mean for young women?

The fact that 70 % of the economy is informal has different impacts for young women in the country both positive and negative. Firstly, it means that young women can become more creative and start their own businesses and desist from using other avenues for livelihood such as prostitution. However because of a lack of capital, this may not be possible for many ordinary young women in the country. Secondly, the informal sector is not really empowerment enough, as it is not sustainable and therefore renders many into perpetual poverty. Many women now face abuse by police or council police on a daily basis whilst selling their merchandise in the streets. The formal industry has thus become a very unsafe place for women to operate in.


After all is said and done, life must go on for young women in Zimbabwe. There is a need for civil society to push for the recognition of the informal sector as a source of livelihood for young women and these should therefore set up mechanisms of advocacy both at policy level and economically. For example this can be done by setting up markets like Mupedzanhamo for young women to sell their goods without fear of harassment and intimidation. Secondly, by creating platforms to encourage young women to desist and resist entering risky relationships of exchange through introducing various mentorship programs by either the relevant ministries or non-governmental organizations. Thirdly, by including policies that take into consideration historical gender imbalances for example the current indigenization policy, these policies should also consider gender protocol and enforce gender budgeting to ensure young women claim their space in empowerment. Lastly, the media has an important role to play in helping to address these issues young women face daily because of the current economic environment. It should act as an education tool rather than objectify women; it should be gender sensitive and create platforms for young women to air their views as well as inform them of the various opportunities open to them from various organizations.

Visit the Student Christian Movement of Zimbabwe fact sheet

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